In November 2020, we interviewed, Graeme Scott, 49, who had recently returned home after spending over six months in three hospitals, receiving treatment for Covid-19 – one of the longest periods of hospital treatment for Covid anywhere in the country. During his time in hospital, which included a lengthy stay in two ITUs, Graeme was so unwell that his family feared he wouldn’t survive. It is now 12 months since Graeme first developed symptoms and we’ve been catching up with him at his home in Stanley

“In 2016 I had a kidney transplant and subsequently developed diabetes linked to the anti-rejection medication, so I was, and still am, in the group that’s high risk for Covid-19. So, catching it so early in the pandemic, on March 18, 2020, even before the first lockdown, was a real blow.

“My partner, Deborah, developed mild symptoms, recovering within days but my deterioration was fast and I quickly felt very unwell. The transplant specialist in Newcastle recommended I stop taking my anti-rejection drugs, advice she subsequently told me was very difficult to give as she had to weigh up the risk of my dying from Covid against my body rejecting the kidney where I would at least have the option of dialysis and the hope of another kidney donation in the future. In addition to being terrified, it was also emotionally distressing as the kidney was donated by my sister and it felt like, after only four years, her sacrifice was being wasted.

“Struggling for each breath is terrifying and, as I deteriorated, admission to University Hospital of North Durham was the only option. Being in the Emergency Department there is my last memory for many months. The staff were so kind but I can remember wondering if I’d ever see my family again.

“It’s easy to forget that, at the time, Covid-19 was so new. All the staff must have been scared for themselves and their families, as well as working under extreme pressure. Decisions were made quickly and, after a short time on a ward, I was admitted to ITU where I was ventilated and sedated.

Graeme Scott spent months in hospital

Graeme Scott spent months in hospital

“Unfortunately, after having a tracheostomy for a build-up of fluid in my throat as part of my intensive treatment, complications with my renal function meant I had to transfer to ITU at The Freeman Hospital, Newcastle. This was linked to my transplant and I understand it was touch and go whether I would survive. Miraculously, against all the odds, my kidney gradually started working again and after about three weeks, as my breathing improved, I was able to transferring to a renal ward where I spent four and a half months before moving to Bishop Auckland Hospital, where my recovery really began.

“While I don’t remember my time in ITU, but the rehabilitation team at Bishop Auckland Hospital became a second family. Seeing my wasted legs for the first time was a real shock especially as my hobbies previously were walking, mountain biking and scuba diving, but the team there cared for me both clinically and emotionally, with kindness and humour. With a gym attached to the ward and amazing physiotherapists, I was able to slowly start building my strength back up. In many ways it was difficult to leave, especially after being in hospital for such a long time. But I’ll never forget the staff lining the corridors clapping as I left.

“Of course, I was delighted to return home and my family were delighted too – though it’s been very hard for them. A wound on my back resulting from the long period of immobility in ITU, became infected, and has taken many months to heal. It’s given me a lot of pain and slowed other aspects of my recovery, including walking.

I’ve had a visit from a district nurse every day since I came home, changing the dressing on my back. There are about six of them who take it in turns and they’ve become friends. After all, I’m still essentially housebound, so they’re just about the only people I see. Beth and Lyndsey visit the most. As well as maintaining a very high professional approach to their visits they also have a human touch – a friendly chat, lots of laughter and they always leave us smiling when they go. I cannot speak too highly of these two, or indeed any of the others from the Derwentside District Nursing team.

“My mobility is slowly improving and I have regular visits from a physiotherapists – although these stopped for a while in January when the number of hospital patients with Covid rose and they were needed on the wards – I still did the exercises they gave me. I’m also under the care of the tissue viability team – all these specialists come from County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and I’m not sure where I’d be without them – nothing is too much trouble.

County Durham man spent seven months in hospital after contracting Covid-19

“Using crutches, I can sit up by myself now, stand and in recent weeks, walk – I can even climb the stairs now and have been outside for short walks. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to finally leave the house! Everyone is very honest, they don’t know how far I’ll recover but I appreciate that. I feel fortunate not to have any on-going respiratory problems and haven’t been diagnosed with long Covid like some people. My issues relate to the wound on my back and general deconditioning resulting from the long period I spent immobile in ITU.

“I’m a fairly optimistic person and prefer to focus on the future rather than the past – which I’m certain has helped me mentally and emotionally. I think once I am out and about though, social distancing will be difficult – I haven’t had to do it! In many ways, the effects of the pandemic have passed me by personally, as I can’t really go anywhere anyway. I’m a big one for shaking hands – at work especially – but I’ll adapt just like everyone else has had to.

“At the moment, I’m concentrating on being able to look after myself so Deborah can get back to work this month which will give her a bit of her life back. So, standing up from an ordinary chair, making myself a coffee, that sort of thing.

“I have one big aim, which is to drive. I was always a bit of a petrol head and would be devastated to think I’d never have the independence again that driving brings. I’ve sat in the passenger seat for a few short drives with Deborah – before my back starts becoming uncomfortable. I can’t believe how much Stanley has changed in the 12 months since I was last out and about. There’s even a new roundabout! I’m like a kid in a sweet shop when we go out. I’ve suffered nerve damage in my feet, so I was worried I might not be able to feel the pedals which would mean no more driving, but I tried just sitting in the driver’s seat a couple of weeks ago – and could feel both pedals which has been a huge boost – I wasn’t tempted to turn on the engine though.

“My employer, bus company, Go North East, has been very supportive and hasn’t put me under any pressure to say when I’ll be able to return. All in all, things are looking up thanks to the care I’ve had – from Deborah, and the amazing NHS professionals who continue caring for me and giving me hope that, at some point, the last 365 days will become nothing more than a very bad memory – I’m so grateful.”

Jeremy Cundall, executive medical director at County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We’re very grateful to Graeme for his appreciation of the care he’s received and are delighted his progress continues. One year into the pandemic, I can’t speak highly enough of everyone in the NHS, working together in the community, in hospitals and behind the scenes, saving lives and helping people recover from Covid.”