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…
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