Tom’s story

WARNING: This video contains flashing images

Tom was admitted to King’s with suspected pneumonia and ended up in a coma for three weeks. He tells us about the experience he and his wife Ellie went through during his stay in the Critical Care Unit, and why he supports our Support Life Appeal.

‘I thought I had bad flu. I was in bed for about a week feeling really rough, then I started to hallucinate, and my wife called an ambulance.

‘I was quickly diagnosed with pneumonia, but I didn’t respond to the antibiotics and couldn’t manage with the oxygen mask on my face. So, after three or four days, I was put in a medically induced coma to get a tube down my throat and to get the infection under control.

‘Then I developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome which is quite rare, and really dangerous – there’s a 50% mortality rate. It happens to some people with pneumonia and no one knows why. Basically your lungs inflame and then sort of collapse and harden. And at that point, there’s almost no oxygen getting in to your bloodstream.

‘So it suddenly got very serious and I was in the coma for about three weeks. My family were told to expect the worst but eventually the infection started to die down and they brought me round. That was when I had these really wild hallucinations which is quite common because being in critical care is so disorientating for lots of reasons: you’re sick, you’re on loads of drugs or you’re being brought off loads of drugs. So you go into a kind of withdrawal.’

Waking nightmares

‘I become really paranoid. I wanted to be moved out of the hospital, I didn’t trust anyone. I kept thinking we had all been moved to some weird hotel in Kent by the seaside. The hallucinations were like waking nightmares and they were really vivid.

‘The critical care environment, for 24 hours a day, is noisy, with almost no natural light. There’s people around all the time. The noise is pretty relentless, even at night. Constant machines, constant beeping, alarms go off all the time. Like a constant emergency kind of situation.

‘You have no sense of where you are at all, what floor of the building. I don’t really remember there being any windows or natural light. And it was really hot, because obviously there’s tonnes of machinery and people need to be kept warm.

‘And you can’t get up, even to go to the toilet. You’re not capable of doing that. So you’re in a really weird bubble where you have no markers for where you are. I would look at the clock and it would say 10 to 7 and there were days when I had no idea if it was 10 to 7 in the morning or in the evening.’

Back in the world

‘One of the consultants felt, because I’d been in there for so long, that it would be beneficial to get me out of the ward. So with one nurse pushing me, and another carrying my oxygen tank, and another pushing my drip, they wheeled me out, down in the lift. This was the first time in about six weeks that I had been in daylight. They wheeled me out in the foyer and then to the top of the steps of King’s, looking out over the car park. It was a really sunny day and I felt the sun on my face…

‘Being out there, suddenly feeling like I’m back in the world, it was a bit of real life, and it gave me a bit of an appetite for getting better. It was a really positive thing and made me feel like I was desperate to get out.

‘I think being in the new Critical Care Centre, with natural light, where you can tell the difference between day and night, overlooking the park, would lessen hugely that sense of disorientation and vulnerability. And not just for patients like me, but for family, and for the people who are looking after you. The difficult bit is that once you know where you are, when you’re beginning to recover, you’re not in a very nice place. I would imagine you would improve much more quickly and it would be a more pleasant place while you were recovering.’

Our new Critical Care Centre will provide a more natural, stimulating and healing environment that will help thousands of people like Tom make a faster and better recovery – please donate today to help make this a reality.