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From cold to coma to homecoming: one woman’s 100 days of coronavirus | Devon


When Mandy Mitchell was admitted to hospital in the small hours of Mothering Sunday, the UK had not yet gone into full lockdown and the prime minister was thanking the country’s sons and daughters for FaceTiming their mums.

On Wednesday, after 93 days in intensive care during which time her body and mind were buffeted by the effects of coronavirus, was able to go home.

It has been a surreal time for Mitchell, 58, a phlebotomist. She doesn’t remember falling ill and has had to come to terms with having spent five and a half weeks in an induced coma, the breakdown of most of her vital organs, the possible part-amputation of her fingers still to come, and fears of brain damage, thankfully avoided.

Doctors realised how critical her condition was the moment she arrived by ambulance at North Devon district hospital. She was immediately put into a coma and her husband, Kevin, was told that her chances of survival were 50/50.

“We were reminded of that 50/50 statistic a good few times during her time in hospital,” said Kevin. “The virus would attack one part of her body and then, when the doctors had fought it off there, would just go straight off and attack another part of her even worse.”

Despite her having no underlying health conditions and being fit and well, it had taken just a week for Mitchell’s health to deteriorate from feeling like she had a slight cold to lying in bed almost lifeless. Her husband, who came down with the virus on the same day, recovered quickly.

“I barely remember any of it,” said Mitchell, who before she left hospital on Wednesday proudly completed a 45km (28-mile) simulated cycle ride home. It was a journey that her physiotherapists had programmed into the hospital’s cycling machine at the start of what Mitchell calls “my healing journey”.

“I began this cycle ride when I was sedated,” she said with enough breath to laugh, cycle and speak at the same time. “I was unconscious but they attached to the machine, and it did the cycling for me.

“I can do it for myself now but the journey has been really helpful,” she added. “I’ve been on my way home since I regained consciousness and now I’m about to get there.”

It hasn’t been a straightforward journey. While comatose, Mitchell suffered kidney failure, heart problems, two seizures and an internal bleed. Her blood circulation became so bad that three of her fingers went black and she is now waiting to learn whether she will have to have them part-amputated.

At one point, her family were told that her blood was losing oxygen more quickly than the hospital was able to replace it. A specialist medical team in London was readied to travel the 200 miles to bring her back to the city, where she could be put on one of only 15 machines in the country that pumps oxygen into the blood of patients on ventilators outside their bodies.

“At the last minute, the consultant in London asked the team here to try putting Mandy on her stomach,” said Kevin. “Two hours later, they were able to actually reduce the amount of oxygen they were pumping into her from 100% to 85%. From then on, they turned her every four hours and her oxygen levels were fine.”

Two days after Mitchell was admitted, her 91-year-old mother, Barbara Richards, was taken to the same hospital with a non-coronavirus issue. After a stroke three weeks later, she died in hospital from pneumonia. Before she passed away, Kevin told Richards that her daughter was better and would be coming home in a couple of days.

“It was a lie but I couldn’t let her pass away like that,” he said. When Mitchell regained consciousness weeks later, Kevin had to break the news. “That was hard,” he said.

Mitchell remembers being told her mother was dead. “But I’m not thinking about it yet,” she said. “I want to get home and take one thing at a time. It’s hard and surreal enough to have gone through what I’ve gone through. I will grieve for mum, but only when I’m back with my husband and we can grieve together.”

When Mitchell was considered well enough to be brought out of her induced coma, doctors found that her recovery wasn’t as fast as they hoped. “She had hallucinations, delusions. She was panicking,” said Kevin. “They were bringing her out of the coma and then having to dip her back in again. She was still fully ventilated.”

After two weeks, Mitchell still wasn’t strong enough to be brought out of the coma. The doctors gave her a CT scan and held a virtual meeting with experts from across the country. “They decided to put a drain in her lung to get out the fluid produced by the scarring,” said Kevin. “They said it was a risk; that the procedure might cause her lung to collapse, requiring surgery that she wasn’t strong enough for, but that it was worth the risk.”

Two hours later – hours Kevin and his family had spent wondering whether Mitchell was alive or dead – the doctors rang and said they had decided the risks of the procedure were too great after all. “They were just going to continue as they were,” he said. “We just had to hope.”

Since then, Mitchell’s recovery has picked up pace. Last week, she stopped using the ventilator and her tracheostomy tube came out.

At the moment, to everyone’s relief, Mitchell believes she is mentally unscarred. “I don’t have any memory problems,” she said. “My fatigue will, I think, improve a lot once I’m able to sleep in my own bed. I’m apprehensive about leaving hospital today but I’m looking forward to the simple things: giving my husband, kids and grandkids a great big hug.”

As Mitchell returned home to Holsworthy in Devon, crowds lined the streets to applaud her. It had been a long journey.


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