It began with a cough. But within 48 hours, a 999 operator was asking if her housemate knew the location of the nearest defibrillator.
The harrowing story of one woman’s dramatic descent from good health into a condition where paramedics were battling to stabilise her breathing has reverberated around the world.
Bryan Stubbs, 49, shares a house with the woman, who we are not naming, in the Bishopthorpe Road area of York.
After she fell ill with what medics told him was coronavirus, Bryan posted the story of what happened to make people aware of how serious the illness is.
That story has now been shared 10,000 times.
‘It got a lot worse very fast’
It began last Saturday (14 March) when they went out for a night in York city centre.
By Monday the woman, 42, who suffers from asthma, had developed a cough. She didn’t think it was serious but decided to self-isolate.
The next day the cough was very persistent and she was much more poorly. Answering the questions on the NHS coronavirus symptoms checker she seemed to tick all the boxes, so they called 111.
“Within an hour of that call a doctor had rung her back. And the doctor went, ‘yeah, it sounds like you’ve got coronavirus, and we will despatch a doctor or medics to you just to check on you’,” Bryan told YorkMix.
“From five o’clock it got a lot worse very fast.”
Her breathing got worse. Her colour kept going from red to white, blowing hot and cold, and then she started to lose lucidness and consciousness.
I’m obviously starting to panic a little at this point, the girl is going to die on me, she could barely breathe.
‘Where’s the nearest defibrillator?’
Bryan dialled 999 every two hours from about 6pm. On the third call he said the operator asked if he knew where the nearest defibrillator was – in case he needed to resuscitate her.
“It had suddenly got very serious,” he said.
He did (it’s at Costcutter on Bishopthorpe Road) but they decided it was too much of a risk for him to leave her unattended.
Bryan said at about 1am on Wednesday two paramedics arrived, wearing face masks, visors and aprons. “They got her breathing back. They checked her vitals. They were here the best part of an hour to get her stabilised.”
The woman was ready with toothbrush and a change of clothing to go into hospital. But she wasn’t taken in.
“It kind of shocked us both really,” he said.
“Basically they said the capacity’s not there and it’s only really, really serious cases that are being admitted to hospital.
“Apparently asking me where the defibrillator is and her practically passing out in front of me is not a serious enough case.”
‘Take this more seriously’
The woman is recovering at home. They both have to self-isolate for a minimum of 14 days.
Bryan, who is a well-known music promoter in York, running Ziggy’s Rock Night for 27 years among other events, has recently been made redundant from his job as an electrician – but he says he has a good support network and has received lots of offers of help.
He decided to share the story on Facebook to ensure people knew how serious coronavirus was – so they would follow public health advice on social distancing and thorough hand washing.
As of Sunday afternoon (22 March) it had been shared nearly 10,000 times. Bryan said:
I wanted to bring the story home to people. Because a lot of my friends are not taking it seriously.
I thought, if sharing what I’ve seen and done this week helps people comprehend the possibility of what’s coming around the corner, take this more seriously and take some wiser decisions over the next few weeks, then it’s a story worth sharing.