COVID-19: 'Patients are younger and sicker than in the first wave'

·3-min read

David Parrott is just 19 years old and he sits in isolation wearing an oxygen mask that help his COVID-ravaged lungs to breathe.

Sitting alone in Bay 5 gives him too much time to think. And his young head is full of worrying thoughts about how his health might be permanently damaged.

"I'm only 19 - it shows you that anyone can get it. You can see by the seriousness I'm having to be on oxygen," the drama student tells me.

"I've been on oxygen since the time I've been here. I haven't had any medical conditions really and all of sudden I can be like this in a bed, in hospital stricken down, not being able to do anything because of this virus. It's terrible."

There's an incredulity in his voice. Almost a self-questioning. I can see his eyes darting side to side. He's asking himself: "How did I end up here?"

David tells me he observed all the rules. But what is really worrying him is the future. Long COVID is something to dread.

"It goes around in my head that this could damage my lungs a bit, this could potentially stop me doing stuff I want to do."

David is a patient in a high-dependency COVID unit at the Royal Surrey County Hospital. It is a purpose-built ward erected last year after the peak of the spring wave. It is this forward-thinking that has probably saved the hospital from becoming overwhelmed in this wave.

"It's relentless, the admissions come fast," Dr John de Vos tells me. He is a former cancer doctor who is now the hospital's leading COVID-19 consultant.

He says he is treating an increasing number of patients like David.

"They are sicker now, sicker than the first wave. Sicker and younger. And when you are sicker you are going to be in hospital for a longer period of time and then you can't really always predict what way things will go. We are seeing some tragic situations."

The hospital is seeing a relentless rise in admissions, including people who were infected over Christmas. Dr de Vos says some of these patients are sick with the virus and sick with guilt.

"We are seeing patients who had gatherings over Christmas and New Year, which were allowed, but we are now seeing the after-effects of that and it brings a lot of guilt and emotion with it."

I have been in this ward for 90 minutes. In that time there are three patient transfers to other parts of the hospital, one patient is moved to ICU and two more patients are admitted. It is like this all the time, says Elaine Walsh, a senior sister on the Guildford COVID-19 ward.

"Since we've opened we are very busy," she said. "One patient out and one patient in again. It's in and out constantly.

"For us we are viewing it almost like we are in a tunnel. We know there is a light there but we just can't quite see it yet."