Last March, Geoff Woolf went into hospital. He returned home 306 days later
Nicky, speaking to his dad, Geoff: Okay, so you want to wheel yourself to where youāre comfy and we can sit? Show me how slowly the number one setting moves.Ā
Nicky, narrating: Thatās me, Nicky. And Iām talking to my dad, Geoff.Ā
Nicky, speaking to his dad: Oh, thatās good. Thatās great.Ā
Nicky, narrating: Weāre sat in his living room in his home in north London. In the background, you can hear Tsonka ā sheās dadās care coordinator. We call her the colonel. Sheās currently living in the spare room while dad settles in.
Nicky, speaking to his dad, Geoff: Right, ready to go.
Geoff Woolf: Now?Ā
Nicky, narrating: Only a couple of days before this recording, on 21 January 2021, Dad had come home from hospital ā 306 days after being admitted with Covid.
Geoff Woolf: Paddy. I gave you a silly response to your requestā¦
Nicky: Right now, Iām helping dad draft an email to Paddy OāConnell. Heās the presenter of Broadcasting House, Radio 4ās Sunday magazine show. He interviewed Dad soon after he came home.Ā
Geoff Woolf: Elizabeth Bennetā¦
Nicky: And he asked him about Pride and Prejudice. So the email heās drafting is about Elizabeth Bennet ā yes, that Elizabeth Bennet. Pride and Prejudice became a motif for us over the course of a hellish, rollercoaster of a year.
Geoff Woolf: The response should be to her first request to marry him from Mr. Darcy, stop.Ā
Nicky: Dad hasnāt always spoken like this. Before he was taken, last March, in an ambulance to the Whittington hospital in North London, he spoke more than fluently.Ā
Geoff Woolf, my dad, inherited his love of words from his own father and passed them on to us ā his three sons. Our earliest memories are of him reading stories to us at night, or tracing the letters with his hand as he taught us to read for ourselves. We grew up in a house full of books, and we all read voraciously. Family holidays entailed hauling a libraryās worth of extra luggage.Ā
Dad would regularly recite Shakespeare from memory, or fetched the well-thumbed Complete Works to retrieve a particular quote. Friday night dinners were lively with readings, as we competed to dig out the right line from Robert Frost, Virginia Woolf or Kurt Vonnegut, Sylvia Plath or e.e. Cummings. Or Jane Austen.
Then, 2020 happened. It feels almost dreamlike to try and think back to those early days of the pandemic, now. How we thought. How we behaved. How innocent we were. How naive.
This is a story with a hopeful ending. Dad is back with us. Heās talking about Jane Austen again.Ā
But it bears thinking about how we got here.
[Archive news report: The outbreak began in December in the central city of Wuhan, home to more than 11 million people. Chinese health officials insist the situation is in handā¦.]
Nicky: Cast your mind back to the middle of January last year. 41 patients in a hospital in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei Province in central China, are sick with whatās been confirmed as a novel strain of coronavirus.
On 20 January, it claims its first victim.
[Archive news report: In central China, a man has died following an outbreak of an unknown pneumonia-like virus, which officials say comes from the same family as the deadly SARS virusā¦.]
Nicky: By 22 January, six of those infected ā thatās one in ten ā have died.
[Archive news report: ā¦and Chinaās new coronavirus is spreading. The US has confirmed its first caseā¦.]
Nicky: But it remained low in the news agenda, partly because Trumpās first impeachment trial is reaching a crescendo in the US Senate. I was covering the trial, so I wasnāt paying attention to the news from China. It still felt distant and unimportant when, on 31 January, the virus officially reached the UK.Ā
[Archive news report: Unwelcome but expected. Itās inside this hospital in Newcastle where two patients from the same family are now in isolation and are being treated by specialist NHS staffā¦.]
Nicky: In the months that follow, we all become intimately familiar with the grim calculus of survival that living during a pandemic requires.
In late January, researchers finally begin to raise the alarm: that this variant of coronavirus appears to be much, much more dangerous than at first thought. The World Health Organization declared a āPublic Health Emergency of International Concernā on 30 January.Ā
[Archive news report: Two months since Covid-19 spread out of Wuhan, Italy is silent and, as the number of cases continue to rise past 100, the north of this country is on lockdownā¦.]
Nicky: By March, it is beginning to dawn on us that this is going to be a real thing. People have started panic-buying toilet paper, for one thing. By the time Prime Minister Boris Johnson issues an advisory against non-essential social contact, and hints that a lockdown is coming, Iām paying attentionā¦.
[Boris Johnson press conference: There is more that we need you to do now. So, secondā¦.]
Nicky: Still, the night before lockdown is dropped, I decide to go with a friend for one last pub trip.Ā
Iāve obsessed over that night in my head a thousand times. I didnāt properly calculate the risk. But, then, nobody seemed to be taking it particularly seriously. If the danger was imminent, why was lockdown on a time delay? What happened in Italy couldnāt really happen here, could it? Still, the thought still haunts me. Was what was about to happen my fault?
The next day, UK coronavirus deaths pass 100. Princess Beatrice cancels her Buckingham Palace wedding. Glastonbury is cancelled, too. The dam breaks. The ceiling collapses. The flood finally penetrates our daily lives. Itās in every nook, every freedom. It laps around our feet. There is little we can do but build a small raft of face coverings and anti-bacterial spray. We bob around barely afloat in the ruins of our comfort.
Dad is 73, but heās fit and healthy and active. He goes to the gym three times a week. In his whole career as a solicitor, he barely missed a single dayās work from illness. But on 21 March, he starts to get sick.
By the following morning, he is so fatigued he can barely move. I find him face-down on the breakfast table, an uneaten bowl of muesli and blueberries beside his head. By early evening, his temperature has started to climb. I call 999 and get an automated message.
Eventually, when we get through, they tell us to wait. Dad is shaking and shivering now. He doesnāt appear to have difficulty breathing. But heās also become an unreliable narrator. He just wants to go back to bed, heās just tired. He tells me heās checked his temperature with a thermometer, but he hasnāt. I canāt tell if heās drinking water or just telling me he is so Iād leave him alone.
I call the NHS hotline back. They put in the call for the ambulance just after nine. Dad goes to the bathroom again, and is in there for more than half an hour. He seems scared, too. That shakes me more than anything else so far.Ā
The ambulance arrives at 10:38. They do some preliminary tests, but will need to take dad to the hospital. My last few moments at home with dad are spent frantically searching for a phone charger. They take him into the ambulance. Then they drive away.
The hospital calls at around midnight. I am sitting in the dark, chain-smoking. By the time dad arrived, his temperature was above 40. They donāt know what it is yet, but theyāre treating him with antivirals and antibiotics to be on the safe side. The doctorās name is Rachel. She says sheāll call back in an hour with an update. She calls back at 1am. The tests were inconclusive.
The next day, dad messages the family group. He seems in good spirits. āThe hospital is being very thorough,ā he says. āChest X-ray. Brain scan. Bloods. Urine. I think theyāre practising on me.ā
I canāt get the ward to pick up the phone, though. āAre you in Mary Seacole North?ā I message dad. āYes, I think it is Mary Seacole,ā dad replies five minutes later. āI donāt know the point of the compass.ā
They still havenāt answered the phone. āYou donāt have a compass in that bag of yours?ā I message.
There are no conclusive results that day. But dad is still messaging, which must be a good sign. The doctors seem to be implying that theyāre just waiting for the results of the test before he can go home. His temperature is still up and down, though, which isnāt great.
Dadās nephew is on the family WhatsApp. Heās a consultant cardiologist at a teaching hospital in Hertfordshire, and has now been pulled off to help with their coronavirus response. At his hospital, he says, āWe are keeping patients in until fever settles, but as things become more desperate patients will go home with paracetamol.ā He sounds scared too.Ā
I get a call from the hospital around 3. They say he had a comfortable night, but still no results back from the tests.Ā
There is another around half 7 that evening. Dadās temperature is spiking. They might need to put him on oxygen.
The next day itās announced that retired doctors are being called in to help with the pandemic. When I call, the ward have trouble tracking dad down. I finally get through to a rushed-sounding ward sister, who at first gives me the details for a patient named Jan. Eventually, she tells me dad is now on a ventilator. Itās unclear if she means full mechanical ventilation or just oxygen support. The Covid test has still not been processed.Ā
Dad is now on CPAP ā oxygen assistance ā which isnāt full mechanical ventilation but is still bad news. His O2 requirement seems to have peaked, though; down to 40 percent in the afternoon, from 60 initially.Ā
I donāt sleep that night, so I miss the next morningās hospital call. My youngest brother Sam calls and speaks to dadās nurse, but she says sheās swamped. When I call at noon, it is engaged. I keep trying. When I get through 45 minutes later, they say dad has just been taken to intensive care.
The world turns into numbers after that. Cases, deaths, days, weeks, oxygen percentage, oxygen pressure. The one we are all trying to gauge: likelihood of survival. I am the point of contact for the hospital as I am down as next of kin. I am updating the family ā mum, my two brothers and dadās sister Carrol.
Between us we will be on the receiving end of dozens of āwe arenāt hopefulā chats. The only thing to do is aim for facts alone, or the hope-despair cycle is too much to bear. But it has to be shared with someone.
I am spending my nights obsessively reading just-published papers out of Wuhan.Ā I spend hours cataloging case fatality rates. A treatment called āECMOā gives the best chances of survival, but there are barely a dozen ECMO machines in the country. Dadās new ICU doctor, Freddie, calls me that afternoon to tell me dad is sedated and comfortable, and that theyāve been able to bring his oxygen mix down to 75 per cent from max. Max is bad.Ā
The test was inconclusive, he says, but they are treating it now on the assumption that it is Covid-19 ā a disease that had barely registered in my mind just weeks earlier. At this point, the treatment is the same either way.Ā
Another doctor calls me the next afternoon, starting a routine that would go on for the next three months. Itās now too risky to do a CT scan, because it would mean unhooking him from the machine and wheeling him across the hospital. Theyāve been able to reduce the oxygen a little bit more, but now his kidneys are failing.Ā
There is a lot of information, and I have barely slept. Is he still on the same antibiotic? I forget to ask, trying to take notes in email drafts as the doctor talks. She sounds hopeful, I think, that dad is going to be okay. But, she says, he will need to be sedated and on a ventilator for a bit ā maybe as long as a week.Ā
He will be on a ventilator 67 days. He will be in intensive care 127 days. He will be hospitalised for 306 days in total ā one of the longest Covid hospitalisations in the country. When he comes home, he will have aphasia, a cruel condition which means, while he can think clearly, he struggles to put those thoughts into words. He will be in a wheelchair, paralysed down one side.
Sam Woolf: Itās interesting trying to put oneās mind back. Thereās so much that we know now that we didnāt know then. I donāt think I was immediately worried for his lifeā¦.
Nicky: This is Sam, my youngest brother.
Sam Woolf: OK, testing one, two, three four, fiveā¦
Nicky, speaking to Sam: Ok. Hold on. Hold on. Do us a test.Ā Ā
Sam: Voila! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of fate. This visageā¦
Nicky, narrating: He, as you might be able to tell, is an actor.
Nicky, speaking to Sam: So take us back to that first day when we realised something was up with dad.
Sam: I was at home and had just gone into lockdown a few days ago with me and my flatmate, Joe. And it was all a bitā¦. there was still a sense at the beginning of that, that I think a lot of people felt that no one quite likes talking about, is that there is excitement when something huge like that is happening. Thereās worry as well, but you kind of go: oh, wow, well, you know, stuffās happening in the world. This is a bit different. Thereās a bit of energisingā¦ not quite frisson, but, you knowā¦.
Nicky: Itās exciting.Ā
Sam: Itās exciting. Something different is happening. And we didnāt know how deadly this thing was. It still felt like a thing that was very far away. And the fact that dad was feeling illā¦ I still, none of us thought that it was the virus that strongly. We wanted to be really sure, which is why we delayed going to hospital, because we were worried that, going to hospital, he might get it. And he was always a very stoic guy with illness as well. And just kept saying he was tired, heāll sleep it off.
It wasnāt an acute feelingā¦ it was the anxious neutrality of, okay, somethingās happening, I guess we just have to wait and see. And then that just steadily got worse.
Nicky: And tell us about those daysā¦ I remember them as just interminable, like everyday the same. For me it narrowed down because I was the one getting those hospital calls. But what was that like for you, waiting on the updates?Ā
Sam: Hmm. I have written on my mirror ā still, because I havenāt taken it off ā the sentence: I can handle it, whatever happens, I will handle it. And you look at it and, in looking at it, it becomes true a little.
Maybe having a cry, maybe having a glass of wine, maybe having a cigarette, but notā¦ you know, fundamentally holding my shit together because you had to. Thereās nowhere to go. Thereās nowhere to rage. Thereās no space to externalise whatās happening. Youāve got the four walls. Youāve got your once-a-day exercise. Thereās nothing to do but experience the thing that is happening and try not to experience the future at the same time, because the present is enough.
Nicky, narrating: Ventilation ā mechanical ventilation ā is really, really awful.Ā
[Archive news report: For this hardest hit by coronavirus, a ventilator can be the only hope. āMy husband would have died without a ventilatorā¦.ā]
Nicky: A tube is shoved down your windpipe. In order to not reject it, dadās been placed in an induced coma.
[Archive news report: Putting someone on a ventilator is not like flicking a switch and turning on your car. Intubating somebody is a high-risk scenario where youāre taking over their breathing from their bodyā¦.]
Nicky: The hospital allows us to video call in, through some arcane NHS system. Dad has been āproned,ā which means placed on his front, something theyāre finding helps with Covid patients. It means the ventilation tube cuts into the corner of his mouth. When we video in, we can see the dried blood. He doesnāt look good. Itās scary. The hospital are putting pictures of the patients before they were intubated by the beds, just so the doctors can see the people theyāre treating the way they were, beforeā¦ before they looked like this.
We were worried dad would be bored, deep down there in the darkness under all those tubes. It was Sam who came up with the idea of sending dad an MP3 player to listen to audiobooks on.Ā
Sam Woolf: And he said, if Iām ever ill, if Iām ever in a long hospital stay, this will be the book I want to read because itās so comforting me, Pride and Prejudice, itās so comforting. And that stuck with me. I liked that about him because he was often a serious, quite a serious manā¦ not that he wasnāt lighthearted, but, you know, he doesnāt suffer fools gladly, and I at 16 was often foolish. So it was nice to see that side of him. That Jane Austen would be his comfort. This kind of powerful, intellectual lawyer person, focused on the accuracy of language and the specificity of thought, and he loves Austen. Thatās nice. It was a nice facet to his personality.
And we wanted to be able to have this in his ear while he was unconscious, knowing that we would never know if he would be able to hear it or not, but it was some kind of communication. It was some kind of connecting branch between us and the unconscious body with so many tubes that you canāt see the person. But if we can be reading to himā¦ and thereās a bit of a parent-child reversal there, in some ways. We were read to a lot by him as a kid, and hereās a chance to read to him, and maybe he can come back a bit.
[Archive radio programme: Broadcasting House (Radio 4). Presenter, Paddy OāConnell: But first we meet two brothers, who sent audiobooks to their father who is on a ventilator and now want this scheme to expand. Geoff Woolf is 73ā¦.]
Nicky: Dadās doctors who told us that all their other patients wanted one, too; and thanks to the kindness of Audible, who donated a whole bunch of devices, Sam and I set up a project we called Books for Dad. Weāre now in dozens of hospitals across the UK, and moving into more each week.
[Archive radio programme: Broadcasting House (Radio 4). Nicky: One of the most tragic things about this whole disease is that families of patients, you canāt go visit your loved one in hospital. So loneliness and boredom and fear is a real problem. So when we asked his doctors if we could get him audiobooks to listen to, his doctors said universally that would be actually great for all our patients. Loneliness is such a problem and itās such a long recovery from the diseaseā¦.]
By 9 May, dadās oxygen stats have finally returned to something like normal, and he is taken off the intensive mechanical ventilation. I get the first good news in a really, really long time that day, when a nurse calls me to tell me he has opened his eyes.
But thatās basically all he does. His infection markers are dropping, but he isnāt returning to consciousness. On a CT scan, the hospital has seen the signs of a massive stroke event in the brain.
When you want to test consciousness at the basic medical level, you do a little pinprick to the finger. Even low levels of consciousness can respond to pain. But dad doesnāt flinch. The sedation has, by this point, been lifted and has processed out of his system. His eyes have opened, but there is no evidence of consciousness itself.
Heās not moving. When a light is shone into his eyes, they react; the iris opens up, the pupils dilate. But he is not tracking. His milky, blue-grey eyes are fixed, wide and staring straight ahead as if at an unseen terror.
Dadās oxygen requirement, our metric that anchors the hope-despair cycle each day, has been coming down day by day. Thatās the ironic thing: he finally seems to have beaten the disease. He no longer has Covid. They have been able to fit a tracheostomy, thatās a hole straight into his windpipe, so the ventilator tube is no longer forced through his vocal chords.Ā
I tell the family group: āThe neurologists want to meet with us to discuss next steps.ā
Sam: Something Iāve forgotten is that we had been pretty positive ā maybe positiveās not quite the right word ā but we, for some reason, had the impression things were starting to get a bit better because oxygen levels were improving and had been a bit from the previous week. At one point they were really, really dire. I mean, when an ICU unit is telling you that your relative is the patient theyāre most worried aboutā¦.
Nicky: The meeting-room is bleak. The window opens only to a three-inch crack, the air is too still and too hot. We sit, masks on, six feet apart, in a wide circle. The neurologistās scrubs are black, and he is calm and patrician. He tells us that the damage to dadās brain is too great. That his body is there, breathing, but it is a shell. The thing that lived in it ā dad ā is gone.
Sam: I remember thinking this is coming as a surprise because I thought things were getting better. And then you had: āHeās already gone.ā That was the takeaway. That was the main sentence that stuck with me. You need to anchor onto something in those moments; your bodyās in overdrive, is shaking, is struggling to hearā¦. family members tend to not to take in that much information when doctors are giving that kind of news. So I latched on to: heās already gone. Which is pretty unequivocal. And then went and started to say goodbye. And started to grieve from that moment.Ā
Nicky: One by one, weāre allowed into dadās room to say our goodbyes. Sam, when he goes in, reads himĀ āDo not go gentleā¦ā by Dylan Thomas.Ā
Dadās friend Larry, with whom he hitchhiked across Canada in the 1970s, sends him a farewell recording. When itās my turn to go in, I open the email, hold the phone to dadās ear, and hit play.Ā
Larry, in his recording: Hello, Geoff. Iām just writing to send you a message of support and love, and here it is: [āThe Logical Songā begins playing, and continues in the backgroundā¦]
Nicky: When I play him this, I feel like something breaks a little inside me. It was like a sudden bridging of the gap in time gives me a glimpse of dad at my age, even younger, tan and fit, traveling the world. Thinking about thinking.
I am an insomniac. I feel my mind works like dadās does. And suddenly, when I hear the song ā his favourite ā and imagine how he heard it too, I feel closer to him than I ever have before.Ā
And then, like a terrible weight, the sadness hit, as I realise I will never be able to share that moment with him. Like dad, I never cry. But I do now, uncontrollable, wracking sobs. The unfamiliar, salty taste of tears.
That night, I listen to the song over and over and over.
There is a decision to be made. Now we have to choose a time to turn off the life support. If we hold on, if they keep weaning him off the ventilator in this condition, we could end up in the scenario where we are keeping his body alive medically, but losing the option of him peacefully slipping away. If his body can breathe on its ownā¦ thereās no euthanasia in this country, so weād have to withdraw nutrition over a period of months. And we couldnāt even start to do that until heās been in a vegetative state for six months. He wouldnāt have wanted that.
Sam: And he didnāt want to fade away, he wouldnāt have wanted to fade away. He hasnāt been conscious of whatās going on. Those are the positives you hang on toā¦.
Nicky, narrating: Gotta say, the others are dealing with this better than I am.
Sam: You didnāt accept so much the reality of what was happening, I think.Ā
Nicky, speaking to Sam: I was in denialĀ
Sam: Yeah. And mom and I spoke aboutā¦ that that was happening, and I remember you saying that night, āIām not ready to give up yet.ā And I thought, well, what weāre ready for isnātā¦ the world doesnāt care about what weāre ready for. You canāt fight existence, canāt fight reality.
But, at the same time, I tried to hang on to positives ofā¦ the fact that you werenāt accepting, because, you know, if there is hope, maybe I can feel it through you a little bit.Ā
Nicky, narrating: I am spiralling. I am in the hospital every day. I am refusing to accept what they are saying, refusing to believe the light has gone from dadās eyes. The doctors are adamant, but I am pleading. Just one more test. āHe canāt just be gone,ā I think. āHe canāt have come this far, fought this hard, for nothing. He must still be in there. He must be.ā I am in denial.
Outside the walls of the hospital, Covid numbers are falling. London is opening up. But we are trapped in our private nightmare.
Nicky, speaking to Sam: I mean, maybe it was partly how much I ā and sort ofĀ still do, which is obviously not hugely psychologically healthy ā about how much I was blaming myself for it. You know, I was living at home. When he got it, I still think it almost certainly would have been through meā¦.
Sam: Youāll never know. Youāll never know,Ā
Nicky: Iāll never know, but that was on my mind. You know, there was like a lastā¦ I mean, they brought in that delayed lockdown; the night before it, I went, like a lot of people did, for one last pint because that was essentially what the government was implying people should do. And I donāt think Iāll ever shake from myself the idea that thatās where heā¦ thatās where it came in.
Nicky, narrating: I grasp at every straw. One day, a nurse tells me she thought dad responded to one of the pin-prick tests, just a little. The other medical staff said that was unlikely, but I latch on to it. Sat at his bedside ā dad is out of the Covid part of the ICU now, and, having let us in to say goodbye, the doctors seem to feel they canāt stop us coming in now ā I am searching for any sort of sign. On 30 May, I swear I saw dad twitch his eyebrow.
One inconsistency obsesses me in particular. The EEG, the brain scan, found low activity everywhere ā brain-death. But the stroke was just on the left side of his brain. Surely the scans would have hemispheric differences. Maybe the test is wrong. It is a desperate play for time. If the limbo, the time when dad is sick, never ends, then he can never die.
Sam and mum have a quiet conversation outside out of earshot. āNicky is bouncing around the early stages of grief,ā he says. āHeās fighting it. Thereās nothing to fight. Already gone,ā they said.
But the hospital, more out of kindness than hope, agrees to humour me with another test. It shows slightly more brain activity than the last.
Then, slowly, dad begins to wake up.
Nicky, speaking Geoff: Letās do the more serious interview part of this. So just going back, what do you remember from before? Do you remember anything from before?
Geoff: I donāt remember the story of my getting sick and from then on I have no recollection until I woke up in hospitalĀ
Nicky, narrating: Dad had been in an induced coma for almost the whole span of the pandemic. When he regained consciousness, he couldnāt really speak: I scrawled conversation trees on a clipboard for him to point at. āI would like to know about: medical stuff; the family; the world.ā Dad tapped on each one in turn.
Nicky, speaking to Geoff: Whatās it been like slowly coming to learn, once youāve started reading the newspapers and stuff, realising how much of a globalĀ catastrophe youāve been part of?
Geoff: I donāt feel as though I was part of that. What happened to me is so personal.
Nicky: In July, dad was finally discharged from the Whittington Hospital and sent to the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in Putney to continue his treatment.
Geoff: And to my surprise, they all showed up to clap me and cheer me on my departure. That was a big surprise.
Nicky: What heās saying there is hard to make out, but heās describing how all the staff at the Whittington turned out to clap and cheer when he was discharged.
[Audio clip: The staff of the Whittington applauding Geoff.]
Nicky: This was a huge moment ā not just for us, it turned out, but for the country. He had become emblematic of hope. Strangers who had lost loved ones to the disease or had family in hospital still sent emotional emails telling me their stories.Ā
The messages of support made me feel guilty, sometimes. People were going through hell. Dad had been discharged ā but wasnāt home yet. He was on his way to a neurological hospital to try and recover from the devastating wreckage of the disease. He was paralysed; he couldnāt speak. What everyone else saw as a triumph, we knew as the beginning of a long and difficult road.
Nicky, speaking to Sam: Yeah, I donāt know. I donāt know if heād have chosen this.
Sam: No, I mean I donāt know. But I think itās important to voice those thoughts, at the same time while knowing they donāt change anything. I think so often weāre worried about saying stuff like: is this, was this, the right decision? Because, of course, itās the thing thatās happening now, and we will make the best for him for whatever there is now. But itās okay to have them. We all have them. And I certainly find to say it out loud, feel it a bit, and then go, okay, well, thatās done with for a bitā¦.Ā
Did we make the right choice? You say that, and you can have a wail. But there are no right choices. There is just this, just the thing thatās happening. And thereās no other way things could have ever happened. We took examined choices. As best we could. All choices are made without sufficient data. You just do your best.
Nicky, narrating: Dadās time at the neurological hospital was worse, in a way. He was conscious ā we could speak to him on the phone, his voice was slowly coming along ā but we had been able to see him in the summer. Just after he woke up, the doctors kindly let us keep coming in.
In Putney, we couldnāt see him. I saw him just twice in six months. Worse, he was bored. For neurological recovery, human contact and conversation is crucial ā but the hospital was strictly locked down. Understable; thereās a lot of very vulnerable people in there. But dad was depressed, frustrated at his lack of progress ā and lonely. It was awful.
Meanwhile, we were sprinting to get everything ready for his return. Putney gave us a discharge date ā 21 January, ten months to the day since he had been rushed off in the ambulance. Everything at home had to be torn out and rebuilt. The yard at dadās house had to be taken up and levelled for wheelchair access. Door lintels had to be lowered.Ā
Dad would not be able to climb the stairs at home ā he may never be able to walk again at all ā so we partitioned the living room to give him a bedroom area on the ground floor, and built a disabled bathroom.
Over the holidays, the builders worked tirelessly, but it was still a close-run thing. Work on the inside of the house was finished at 10pm the night before he came back.
It was a magical day. Dad had one request for when he came out: a plate of steak and chips, which I duly cooked. And I nailed it, by the way. Just to have him there, to eat with him, to chat about our days ā these are the things you never realise how much you will miss until they are gone.
[Archive radio programme: Broadcasting House, Radio 4:]Ā
Presenter Paddy OāConnell: Finally, with your permission, Nicky, if I could talk to Geoff?Ā
Nicky: Okay, here he is.
Paddy OāConnell: Thank you.Ā
Geoff: Hello again.
Paddy OāConnell: Hello, Geoff. Welcome back.
Geoff: Thank you.
Paddy OāConnell: Itās a miracle, really, this story of yours. Do you remember hearing Pride and Prejudice? Do you think that Elizabeth Bennet was right to reject Mr Darcyās first proposal?Ā
Geoff: Blatantly, otherwise the second half of the book would never have been written!
Nicky, narrating: This isnāt a clean story. This wasnāt a fight, nor was it a victory. Life will be very different now.Ā
Nicky, speaking to his dad: What recoveryā¦ what does the recovery process ahead look like?Ā
Geoff: Iāve no idea.
Nicky, narrating: But dad is back. And heās writing that letter to Paddy we heard him drafting earlier ā a longer answer to his question about Elizabeth Bennet in the interview. We know weāre incredibly lucky for that.
The families of the more than two million this disease has killed donāt get to have that. Covid has changed not just dad, not just our family, but humanity as a whole. We will, none of us, ever be the same again.