For Ian Hawkins’ family the last seven weeks have been a complete rollercoaster – from fearing they were going to lose him just a few days ago, to being given the chance to wave at him through the window of his room in the Intensive Care Unit at Walsall Manor Hospital.
The 57-year-old is battling COVID-19 and up until Monday 20 April his wife Helen and daughter Georgia and son Oliver hadn’t seen him since Sunday 29 March when he had been able to walk into an ambulance, although feeling unwell. And he hadn’t seen his first grandchild, baby Mia, who was born during his first week in ICU.
“It is such a hard time for us because Ian has also had pneumonia and sepsis and this is someone with no underlying health conditions. Thank goodness because he may not have still been with us,” said Helen.
Ian, who owns his own domestic appliances business, became unwell on the day lockdown was declared, Monday 23 March. He developed a cough and had to come home from work early. He also went on to develop a temperature and Helen had noticed that he seemed tired and wasn’t as lively and active as usual.
“When he started having difficulty breathing we got in touch with NHS 111 and our own GP and he isolated at home. But he became worse and we had to call paramedics. At that time he was still able to walk into the ambulance so to receive a text from him in the early hours of the following day letting me know he was having to go on a ventilator was a huge shock,” she said.
“We asked if he could come to Walsall Manor as a friend’s daughter works there on ICU, even though Wolverhampton was considered closer to our home in Heath Hayes. When we asked that we had no idea that he would actually end up there, we thought he’d be on a ward, given some oxygen and be sent home but having the connection with a member of staff could be helpful for getting clothes and toiletries to him. It just shows how serious this virus can be and how it takes its toll so quickly.”
Ian has been seriously ill and at one point his family were told to expect the worst. But on Monday 20 April, Helen’s late father’s birthday, he was able to be moved into a different room with a window and see his wife, daughter, son, daughter-in l-aw and three week-old granddaughter Mia for the first time.
“We wanted to see him but were full of all sorts of emotions including fear and excitement, said Helen. “We didn’t know what to expect but it was so special. My daughter just cried and cried and I held it together for a while but cried as well. He was trying to wave to us. And my son had to hold Mia up to the window which reminded me of a scene from the Lion King!”
Ian had a tracheotomy and staff arranged for another window visit on Sunday 26 April, this time inserting a speech valve so that Ian could communicate.
“We bought the dog Indi to see him and we could lip read him saying: “That’s my dog,” which was wonderful. We managed to see him for half-an-hour before he tired and that meant so much.”
At one point Ian’s bed was brought outside so he could see his beloved pet.
Helen, a former mental health nurse, has praised ICU staff for working with Ian’s loved ones to try and build a relationship that helps them cope at this difficult time.
“In the first few days I could only bear to hear critical but stable,” said Helen. “I couldn’t process anything else I just felt numb but now I hear what’s going well and what’s not going well and it’s important that the staff and I have that understanding. This situation has taught us all how important that communication is. The staff have been marvellous; thank you just isn’t a big enough word to use. I hope they know how appreciated they are.“
Helen has found it helped her to have something to focus on and as she isn’t religious she chose a dove, representing hope.
“When my neighbours realise this they all put dove symbols and images outside their houses and that is so lovely of them, to show they’re thinking of us.”
Helen said Ian still has a long way to go but he is making progress and is now on a ward.
“This is another fantastic part of his care – his rehabilitation,” she said. “I want him to retain his loveable humour and personality and be on the go and while that will take some time he’s got the best people helping him. We have to stay positive and look towards the future .
“I’m sure now he’s seen us that will help spur him on as well.”