A teaching assistant who may not have survived if she hadn’t sought medical treatment when she did, is warning others about the dangers of the flu.
Vicky Allen, 53, of Sutton-in-Ashfield, spent Christmas in isolation in the Critical Care Unit at King’s Mill Hospital.
She had been feeling under the weather for a few days with what she thought was a cold but was well enough to go to work and attend a hairdresser’s appointment.
Almost a week later, Vicky’s condition suddenly deteriorated, leading her partner Wayne Key, 53, to call an ambulance on the morning of Friday 23 December 2022.
Wayne, who is an engineer, said: “Vicky was turning grey and was a right mess. She texted me on arrival at King’s Mill to say she’d tested positive for flu. We were both really surprised that the flu had done this.
“Within hours she had been placed into a coma because being on 100% oxygen wasn’t enough and she needed more support with her breathing.”
Vicky was admitted to Critical Care and put onto a ventilator – without which she would have died.
Wayne said: “I was told if I’d been an hour later calling for an ambulance then it could have been a different story. When I asked the doctor for a prognosis, they could only say that age was on her side.”
Although normally fit and well, Vicky has asthma and receives a flu jab every autumn.
Wayne said: “I thought the flu was just like a cold and you get over it – people need to be aware that it’s not like that for everyone.
“We both fear it could have been even worse if Vicky hadn’t been vaccinated so our message is to get vaccinated if you are eligible. Also, be aware of the symptoms and how quickly things can go downhill.
“We had been planning to kick our shoes off after work and relax and enjoy a quiet Christmas together – it was so far from that.
“I couldn’t visit while she was in isolation so had to rely on updates by phone three times a day. It was a nightmare.”
Vicky, who was later diagnosed with pneumonia and then Strep A, came out of the coma after six days on 28 December. After a total of 12 days on the Critical Care Unit she was discharged on 3 January and Wayne has been caring for her at home ever since.
Doctors have told Vicky that it will take several months to return to full fitness, although she may not get back to doing everything she did before this illness.
Vicky said: “I’m getting better and stronger every day. My mind is still cloudy and I’m using a stick to walk. The stairs are still a bit of a struggle, but I realise it will take time to recover.”
Wayne said: “What’s behind us isn’t very nice so the best thing to do is to look forward and advise people to be cautious and get vaccinated.”
Although the number of patients with flu in Sherwood Forest Hospitals has decreased since figures peaked on 4 January 2023, there is still the equivalent of more than one hospital ward full of patients who have Covid, flu or RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus).
On 4 January 2023, there were 68 patients who had flu, including five receiving treatment in the Critical Care Unit plus 64 COVID cases, including four patients in Critical Care.
David Selwyn, Medical Director at Sherwood Forest Hospitals, said: “Although the number of flu cases in our hospitals has decreased, we will have to see if it remains that way now that schools are back and people are mixing more.
“Generally, the patients we are seeing are ‘incidental’ cases rather than flu and COVID being the main reason why they’re in hospital. However, we are treating people every day who are really poorly with flu or Covid.
“If you’re not feeling well, protect others by staying at home and avoiding close contact with others if you can. The vaccine helps protect against the main types of flu viruses but there’s still a chance you might get flu after having the vaccine.
“If you do get flu after vaccination, it’s likely to be milder and not last as long.
“When you visit our hospitals, please wear a mask in areas where they are required.”
To check your eligibility for flu and Covid-19 vaccines and where to get them, visit the NHS website.