TravelGuides – A moment that changed me: ‘After 102 days in intensive care, I finally came home’ | Health & wellbeing

TravelGuides – A moment that changed me: ‘After 102 days in intensive care, I finally came home’ | Health & wellbeing

I was in a wheelchair when they brought me home at the end of September 2020. I had been in intensive care for 102 days. For the first two months my wife, Plum, had not been allowed to visit, instead receiving daily reports on my condition – recurrent delirium, two heart attacks, stents, kidney dialysis, pneumonia, memory loss and tracheotomy – all brought on by Covid.

Three times she was told I wouldn’t be resuscitated if I suffered any further deterioration and she had come to dread the ringing of the phone. But only when I got home did I fully realise how much she and the families of other Covid patients had suffered.

There is something selfish about being critically ill, although you don’t realise it at the time, when all your thoughts are of yourself. Doctors and nurses do everything they can to relieve the pain, but they never let you know that the smile they are wearing at your bedside may be masking their own exhaustion and fears.


For the first month at home I hobbled about with a walking frame, but soon a physiotherapist encouraged me to walk with a stick, eventually going with me to buy my newspapers. One day she didn’t come, so I decided to go alone. Off I went on the 50 paces down the road and was just passing the bar on the corner, when …

Bang! My face hit the pavement. The manager of the bar had seen me fall. Rushing out, he helped me into a chair, then called an ambulance. My face was a mess of blood. The no-clotting pills, which were now part of my 11-pills-a-day routine, were doing their job very well.

There was no waiting in the A&E department, my Covid history at the same hospital pushing me to the head of the queue. But it took hours for the bleeding to stop, during which time I was given X-rays and a brain scan before it was decided that the only real damage was to my self-esteem.

For the next four months I never went out alone, and every night I would watch the Covid reports on television. There was a very good one about Michael Rosen, the children’s author, who had been in intensive care with Covid at the same time that I was, although in another hospital.

Ray Connolly (left, in 1973) with David Essex, the pop singer and actor who starred in That’ll Be the Day, for which Connolly wrote the screenplay. Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images

Shared adversity seemed to make us allies, so I wrote him a tweet saying that if things had worked out just a bit differently he and I might have met at the pearly gates.

To which he replied: “Yes, Ray, that would have been nice. You could have told me about John, Paul, George and Ringo.” (I interviewed the Beatles on many occasions when I was a young journalist.)

By this time in my recovery, I was joking on the phone to friends about my “brush with the reaper” – until my children stopped me. “It isn’t funny, Dad. You weren’t there.”

Indeed, I hadn’t been there. I’d been hallucinating my days and nights away.


By January I could walk a mile, so we went to get my first vaccination. I had to stop and sit down on a park bench on the way, but it was a start. Fatigue still swamped me every evening, but the walking frame, crutches and sticks eventually went and I continued to get stronger.

Then, just a year after I had been hanging on to life through a ventilator, I was invited back to the hospital where my life had been on the edge. This time, however, it wasn’t for more tests. I was there to cut a ribbon, make a speech and declare open the new intensive care unit.

To stand with Plum and the medical staff who had saved me changed my attitude to everything. Such a moment wouldn’t have been imaginable a year earlier.

I’m now 85% back to where I was pre-Covid. I still get tired at night, can no longer eat red meat or drink more than a glass of watered-down red wine, and I can’t run to the postbox, or anywhere any more. But I’m driving again and in every other way I’m fine.

Ray Connolly at home.
Ray Connolly at home.
Photograph: Alison Mcdougall/Evening Standard/Shutterstock

Until I was ill, all I liked to do was to work; writing was my hobby as much as my job. There was always another project.

Now I realise that I’ve travelled in the US and France far more than in the UK. There’s so much here to do, so much architecture and country to be admired, so much gardening to enjoy, so many books to read and so many family and friends to see.

I’ve been given a second chance. I’m not going to waste it.

Ray Connolly’s radio play, Devoted, about his six months in hospital with Covid, can be heard on BBC Sounds.

TravelGuides – A moment that changed me: ‘After 102 days in intensive care, I finally came home’ | Health & wellbeing

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