Zainab (Jeneba) Deen, 56, spent a month as an inpatient at University Hospital Lewisham, where she works as a staff nurse, after being diagnosed with Covid-19. She was discharged on International Nurses Day (12 May) to thunderous applause from her colleagues
“I started to feel unwell on Saturday 4 April after coming home from work. I went straight to bed and by Sunday I’d developed a fever. I self-isolated from my husband and two sons, but soon my younger son was also feeling unwell. The Trust arranged for us both to be tested for Covid-19, and two days later I found out it was positive. My son’s result wasn’t clear but we assumed he was also positive.
“I was advised to continue self isolating at home, but my symptoms became progressively worse, with a high temperature, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, vomiting and breathlessness.
“In fact I became so breathless that I couldn’t talk, which was terrifying, so I called NHS 111 and, at 11pm on 13 April, I was taken to the emergency department at University Hospital Lewisham. I didn’t want to go – I kept thinking: “What if I go and never come back?”. I was feeling really frightened, but I knew I didn’t want to go anywhere but Lewisham. I needed familiar people and familiar surroundings.
“I was so scared, but the nurse who assessed me in the emergency department was lovely. She could see I was nervous so she reached over, took my hands and said: “You will be OK”. I am so grateful to that nurse for her reassuring words – they made all the difference.
“An X-ray showed I had Covid pneumonia on both lungs, so I was put on intravenous antibiotics and transferred to a ward. The next day I was transferred to Juniper ward, where lots of my colleagues were working. I knew most of the nurses there and I felt completely safe – it was so good to see them. They were regular visitors to my room and they did everything for me.
“I’m a joker when I’m at work and I always used to say to my colleagues: “I’ll give you hell if I ever become a patient” but to be honest I didn’t have the strength!
“The doctors were fantastic. Every time they came to see me they would use my phone to Facetime my family and keep them updated.
“My breathing was still deteriorating though, and a day after being admitted to Juniper Ward I was transferred to the high dependency unit (HDU) to be put on a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to help me breathe. I was there for two days and then I went back to the wards. I still needed the CPAP machine, but only at night. Eventually I was taken off it altogether.
“By this time I was feeling a lot better and the physiotherapists started to help get me moving again. At first they would help me get out of bed and sit in the chair, and then walk a little bit, and then walk to the toilet and back. Physio is so important to get you moving to clear your lungs – physiotherapists play a vital role in helping people recover from Covid-19.
“Finally, I was well enough to go home – on International Nurses Day. As I was wheeled out of the ward I was completely taken by surprise to be given a guard of honour, with staff lining the corridors and clapping. It was so overwhelming and emotional. If I’d known I was going to get a round of applause I would have walked!
“I’m feeling much better now and I’m continuing with the exercises I’ve been given to get back to full strength. I’m looking forward to getting back to work and seeing all my wonderful colleagues who cared for me with such professionalism. They are all marvellous and I’m so grateful.”