Flu put me in a coma. Christ­mas woke me up

Laura Spacagna, 33, from Torquay, thought she could fight off her flu, the next thing she knew she was wak­ing up from a coma…

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My fam­ily loves Christ­mas.

Every year there’s tons of presents un­der the tree, Christ­mas mu­sic play­ing, and enough roast turkey to feed an army.

And last year in early De­cem­ber, we just couldn’t wait for the fes­tiv­i­ties to start, so me, my hus­band Tor­ryn, 26, and our daugh­ter Mylie, three, hopped on the train to Dis­ney­land Paris, where Christ­mas was al­ready in full swing.

Bun­dled up in our coats and woolly hats, the three of us watched the fes­tive pa­rade, as Mickey and Min­nie Mouse danced around wear­ing Santa hats, and

Frozen’s Anna and Elsa stole the show.

Mylie was ut­terly hyp­no­tised, a big grin across her face.

‘Christ­mas day is go­ing to have to be amaz­ing to beat this!’ Tor­ryn said.

I started to laugh, but it soon turned into a hack­ing cough.

I’d had a tickly chest for the past few days, but I wasn’t about to let that ruin our hol­i­day.

But I was feel­ing icy cold, de­spite wear­ing a fur scarf and hat.

Later that evening, back at our ho­tel, I was cough­ing non-stop.

‘But I’m never ill,’ I grum­bled. ‘Why did I have to get the flu now?’ It was true – I hardly ever got sick. I went to the gym four times a week, and went run­ning reg­u­larly, and even with a tod­dler in the house, I man­aged to avoid germs. I’ll just have to power through,i thought, de­ter­mined not to let it ruin Christ­mas.

The next day, we posed for pic­tures with Mickey and Min­nie and spent hours in the cold, queue­ing for rides.

Two days later, I had a full-blown flu.

My head was sore, my bones were aching, and I felt ex­hausted.

Af­ter a mis­er­able train jour­ney back home to Devon, I went straight to my GP.

‘I’ve never had the flu,’ I ex­plained, al­most em­bar­rassed. ‘But I feel so aw­ful.’

I was pre­scribed painkillers and cough syrup, and went home to rest.

But the next morn­ing, it felt as if I was breath­ing solid air.

Then, that evening, limp­ing to the bath­room, I got a shock when I looked in the mir­ror. My lips were blue! Look­ing down, I no­ticed my fin­ger­nails were blue, too, and my hands were shak­ing.

As a health­care as­sis­tant at Tor­bay Hospi­tal, I’d seen enough on the ward to know there was some­thing se­ri­ously wrong. Tor­ryn knew it, too. ‘We need to call an am­bu­lance,’ he said, see­ing the state of me.

Within min­utes, our bed­room was swarm­ing with paramedics.

By this point, I was so weak, they had to put me in a wheel­chair to get me down the stairs and into the am­bu­lance.

‘I’ll fol­low in the car,’ Tor­ryn said, call­ing my mum, Jan, over to watch Mylie for us. I just need to rest, I thought, con­fused. I couldn’t un­der­stand why paramedics were fuss­ing over me. And I was even more baf­fled when I was taken straight to the In­ten­sive Care Unit. All this for the flu?! Look­ing around, there were beep­ing ma­chines sur­round­ing me. This is all for re­ally sick peo­ple, I thought. Doc­tors and nurses were

rush­ing around, say­ing things I couldn’t re­ally un­der­stand.

Some­time later, Mum was there.

But, with an oxy­gen mask strapped to my face, I felt too tired to speak to her.

I just need to sleep, I thought. So I closed my eyes… Then, blink­ing awake with a start, I saw ev­ery­one stand­ing around me – Mum, Tor­ryn, and my sis­ter Lucy.

Try­ing to speak, I rolled my tongue around my mouth like I’d never felt it be­fore.

‘Where’s Mylie?’ I even­tu­ally man­aged to mumble.

But be­fore I could hear the an­swer, I drifted off again.

Peo­ple talked to me, but I couldn’t seem to hold on to what they were say­ing. Fi­nally, a doc­tor’s words stuck. My flu had nearly killed me. It had led to dou­ble pneu­mo­nia, then my or­gans had started to shut down, one by one.

I’d had just a 20 per­cent chance of sur­vival and doc­tors had put me into an in­duced coma to help my body rest. I’d been trans­ferred to

Pap­worth Hospi­tal in Cam­bridge and back – a 500-mile round trip for emer­gency treat­ment on my lungs – and I’d been in a coma the whole time. Now, I was awake… But there was an­other shock... ‘It’s Christ­mas day,’ Mum said, tears in her eyes. ‘What?’ I said, con­fused. I’d been ad­mit­ted more than two weeks ago!

‘Mylie…’ I croaked.

Where was she? Had Fa­ther Christ­mas been? Who had wrapped her presents?

But a few hours later, she was there, bound­ing ex­cit­edly into the hospi­tal room.

‘Mummy!’ she smiled, rac­ing to­wards me.

Tor­ryn ex­plained they hadn’t wanted her to see me un­til they were sure I’d pull through.

Mylie hadn’t seen me since the day I was ad­mit­ted.

‘Look what Santa brought me!’ she grinned, shov­ing a mer­maid doll in my face. I vaguely re­mem­bered it. I wanted so badly to wrap my arms around her, but I couldn’t lift my arms.

There were no cheesy Christ­mas tunes, no piles of presents un­der a tree, no golden turkey or York­shire pud­dings. We’d been plan­ning on hav­ing our Christ­mas lunch at a pub with Mum and my dad, Paul. This was a long way from all that… But, even though it wasn’t the Christ­mas I’d imag­ined, it was enough. ‘I love you,’ I said to Mylie, still in shock as to how close I’d been to dy­ing. ‘We thought we’d lost you,’ Tor­ryn said, squeez­ing my hand. But I wasn’t com­pletely out of the woods just yet. Over the next few days, I bat­tled through aw­ful hal­lu­ci­na­tions – wak­ing up and think­ing ev­ery­one around me was out to get me, com­pletely for­get­ting where I was. But slowly, I was weaned off the strong med­i­ca­tion, and the haze fi­nally lifted. I’d had a feed­ing tube and my weight had dropped from 10st 7lb to 8st 2lb. My mus­cles had be­come so weak, I couldn’t walk. That New Year’s Eve, I was still in hospi­tal, but Tor­ryn and I cel­e­brated as best we could. ‘Here’s to the best year yet,’ he said, smil­ing. We had to share a lit­tle plas­tic cup of warm wa­ter, rather than our usual glasses of fizz. Fi­nally, on 5 Jan­uary, I was al­lowed home. In a wheel­chair, I was thin and shaky, but I was alive. Over the next few months, Mum took time off work and I stayed at my par­ents’ house.

I’d gone from be­ing a mum to be­ing a baby.

Mum had to wash, dress and feed me every day. But I had to get bet­ter. Cling­ing onto Mum’s arm, I climbed to my feet each day and shuf­fled a few steps more than the day be­fore.

And in April, we all gath­ered for our fes­tive feast.

‘Merry Christ­mas!’ I laughed, rais­ing a glass.

It was out of sea­son for turkey, but the roast chicken was nearly as good, and I was des­per­ate to recre­ate what we’d missed.

To­day, I’m fight­ing fit, and the only re­minder of my or­deal is that my feet still tin­gle some­times.

Back at work, there’s one thing I tell ev­ery­one I meet: ‘Have the flu jab if you’re of­fered it!’

Flu might seem harm­less, but, es­pe­cially if you’re vul­ner­a­ble, it can be re­ally dan­ger­ous.

As an NHS worker, I’m of­fered the jab every year, but I’d never taken it be­fore.

I can’t be­lieve that de­ci­sion nearly cost me my life.

I al­ways have it now, and make sure that Mylie does, too.

And, as I wake up this Christ­mas morn­ing, I know I’ll be smil­ing more than any­one.

And not just be­cause I love tacky dé­cor, the de­li­cious grub and the gifts, but be­cause – what­ever’s wait­ing for me un­der the tree – af­ter wak­ing up from a coma one Christ­mas morn­ing, noth­ing beats be­ing alive!

Mum never left my side

We were on our dream hol­i­day

I’d been so close to death

Now I en­cour­age oth­ers to be safe

I could have lost ev­ery­thing

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