Coronavirus doctor's diary: A couple inseparable in sickness and in health

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Image source, Michael and Mary Blessington

On Tuesday, Dr John Wright of Bradford Royal Infirmary recounted the story of a couple who married on a Covid ward hours before one of them died. Here he meets two other people in love - but this time both are on the road to recovery.

25 April 2020

When a couple in their 60s were brought to hospital by ambulance within hours of one another, both were a cause for concern. Their oxygen levels were very low. Michael David Blessington, 68, had also recently been diagnosed with lung cancer, while Mary Elizabeth Blessington, a year younger than her husband, has severe asthma.

The situation was troubling enough for staff to ask Michael if he would wish to be resuscitated in the event of a sudden crisis.

"At first I said, 'If I'm going to get bad with this and there's no way out of it, then by all means…'" Michael says. "But after, when I spoke to Mary, she said, 'You don't say that,' and I changed my mind."

"I told him he wasn't leaving me that quickly," Mary says.

Image source, Michael and Mary Blessington

Michael was taken to ward 29, Mary to ward 23, and this upset their oldest son, Craig, who started calling the hospital repeatedly, asking for his parents to be given adjacent beds. He knew how much each would worry about the other.

"They haven't been apart since they were 13," he says. "They were at Rhodesway School and had just started seeing each other when Mum got hit over the head with a rounders ball. Dad jumped out of the school window to get to her," he says.

"They'd do anything for each other, they're always together. On their holidays Dad fishes and Mum sits with him and reads. Dad is full of tattoos and is a real character, but their relationship is unique."

Image source, Mary and Michael Blessington

Eventually it was possible to fulfil Craig's request, and Mary was moved to lie next to Michael, in a bay on ward 29.

"They went into hospital on Saturday [11 April] and by Thursday we got a mobile phone to Dad. I was phoning the relatives' information service and they were helping us. When Dad got the phone, we called, and the first thing he said was 'I've got her,'" Craig says.

"We think that was the turning point for Dad - he'd been so ill we thought he would die. He was grey, couldn't breathe and was getting worse. When they moved him and Mum together that was the turning point. You could see it from there, for Dad definitely."

Front line diary

Prof John Wright, a medical doctor and epidemiologist, is head of the Bradford Institute for Health Research, and a veteran of cholera, HIV and ebola epidemics in sub-Saharan Africa. He is writing this diary for BBC News and recording from the hospital wards for BBC Radio 4's The NHS Front Line

Both Michael and Mary also feared the worst for a while.

"It is a terrible thing, I thought I was going to die. On the first night I asked the doctors to give me an injection to let me die," Mary says.

"It's an absolute horrendous thing. I've gone through childbirth and severe asthma attacks and there's nothing like it.

"And it's frightening on the ward. The staff are all in these protective suits and you can't see people. They are running down the ward when someone crashes, and there are people dying. So we have felt sometimes, you know, 'What will happen to us?'"

Image source, Michael and Mary Blessington

We are getting better at celebrating our survivors - every patient who leaves the ward is a triumph. But this joy cannot make up for the tragedy of patients who are dying in numbers that we've never seen before.

Michael is one of our triumphs, though, and I hope Mary will soon be too. Seeing them side by side, looking so much better, is especially poignant because their illness came after a number of other troubles, including Michael's diagnosis of lung cancer and the sudden death of their middle son, Paul, in February.

Image source, Mary and Michael Blessington

You can judge Michael's current state of health from this excerpt of our conversation -

Michael: I want a double bed.

Me: A double hospital bed… we should try and put in a special request. Do we have a honeymoon suite?

Michael: Yes, we never had our honeymoon!

Mary: You wouldn't have the energy!

Michael: Don't you test me on that!

It's clear they lift each other's spirits and are looking forward to the day when Mary, like Michael, is well enough to be discharged, and they can leave together. Michael says he's dreaming of a full English breakfast, while Mary is thinking fondly of fish and chips.

Image source, Michael and Mary Blessington

And they have their 48th wedding anniversary to celebrate in September.

"We've been so well looked after here - but we want to get back home, together," says Michael. "That's what we're waiting for now."

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