Man describes 'gruelling' five-month recovery from coronavirus after nearly dying

·4-min read
Builder Stephen Gilbert, 60, in rehab. (SWNS)
Builder Stephen Gilbert, 60, in rehab. (SWNS)

A builder has documented his recovery from COVID-19 to show what rehabilitation can look like after the virus.

Stephen Gilbert, 60, spent 26 days in an induced coma after contracting the virus in April.

He was just 20 minutes away from having his ventilator switched off when he began to make a “miraculous recovery”.

Despite having survived coronavirus, the father-of-two has faced a slow rehabilitation process, a process which one photographer has captured in a bid to show people how serious the virus can be.

A specialist COVID-19 recovery team at the Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust have been helping Gilbert, which he hopes will allow him to play golf again.

Read more: People warned to snip straps from disposable masks

He has already seen a huge improvement in his recovery after the virus left him with muscle atrophy - the wasting or loss of muscle tissue - meaning he had to learn to walk again.

Gilbert in the intensive care unit at Russells Hall Hospital. (SWNS)
Gilbert in the intensive care unit at Russells Hall Hospital. (SWNS)
Gilbert had to learn to walk again after suffering muscle atrophy. (SWNS)
Gilbert had to learn to walk again after suffering muscle atrophy. (SWNS)

Gilbert is still unsure whether the coronavirus will have long-term impacts.

He explained: “I get so frustrated every day because I’ve always worked - that’s who I am. All of my life.

“But now I can’t do anything. It’s impossible for me to work. I can’t even form a fist with my hand.

“I can’t even hold a screwdriver and that’s my livelihood.

“People think you just recover from COVID and that’s it - but it could be a lifelong issue.

“I sure hope it won’t.”

Read more: Parents share their relief as twins born with coronavirus are allowed home

Gilbert was rushed to hospital in West Midlands on 2 April after experiencing breathlessness. Within five hours of arriving, he was placed in an induced coma to save his life.

This stay marked the first time he had ever stayed overnight in a hospital.

After believing the worst was going to happen, he said goodbye to his wife and children.

“I felt a bit ill but I thought maybe I just had the flu - I was really hoping so, but it was COVID. I’m diabetic but I’m reasonably fit. But I had to call an ambulance because I just couldn’t breathe.

"I have never in my life had a hospital stay– this was the very first time. They told me my body was not functioning and I knew it wasn’t looking good.

“I spoke to my wife and my daughter, who is a nurse, and told them I loved them. It was a heartbreaking conversation that still haunts me today.”

Gilbert has had to re-learn simple functions like making a fist. (SWNS)
Gilbert has had to re-learn simple functions like making a fist. (SWNS)

His experience has had a big impact on his family, too, who admitted to struggling through the night waiting for a call to tell them he hadn’t made it.

Read more: People in poor relationships during lockdown more likely to be depressed

Like many people recovering from the coronavirus, Gilbert assumed that he would be able to return to work as usual but found that he now needs the assistance of an oxygen machine to help him breathe while doing simple tasks like walking and making tea.

For the time being, Gilbert said “normalcy was out the window” as he finds himself in unimaginable pain just trying to make a cup of tea.

Speaking about the seriousness of the illness, Gilbert concluded: “People don’t take it seriously – but if they experienced any of this they would be wearing masks, they would be social distancing, they would take it seriously.

“This virus is a killer at the end of the day.

“They haven't seen the badness of COVID.”

What is ‘long COVID’?

“Long COVID” is a colloquial term that refers to those people for whom the symptoms of coronavirus continue after the initial two-week period detailed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Those who suffer from coronavirus symptoms after that are sometimes known as “COVID long-haulers”.

What are the symptoms?

Last month, a cross-party group of MPs identified 16 symptoms of long COVID after examining submissions from patients.

These are:

  • Exhaustion

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhoea

  • High temperature

  • Hair loss

  • Chest pain

  • Hallucinations

  • Lasting breathing problems

  • Purple toes

  • Chills

  • Disorientation

  • Muscle/body ache

  • Insomnia

  • Arrhythmia (a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat)

  • Tachycardia (where the heart beats more than 100 times per minute)

  • Cognitive problems - memory loss, confusion

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