Healthy one day, ventilated the next – a Covid-19 survivor’s story

Sharon Vickery spent six days on a ventilator in a Dublin hospital during a torrid April

Healthcare worker and Covid-19 survivor Sharon Vickery is nervous about contracting the virus again. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell / The Irish Times

Sharon Vickery cannot understand how someone in good health could become so severely ill with coronavirus, or how quickly she deteriorated after she contracted the disease.

The 51-year-old home carer from Dublin began to feel what she thought was the onset of flu one Thursday in late March. By the following Thursday, she was in hospital, on a ventilator and fighting for her life.

“I thought I was only coming down with something. A week later, I was nearly gone,” she said.

The Coolock woman suspects she contracted the virus from a client. She admits that, back then, carers were not wearing masks when they were working.


She initially put her illness down to being very busy and having a stressful job given the number of fellow carers who were ringing in sick and having to self-isolate.

By the following Tuesday, Vickery’s condition had deteriorated significantly and her sister convinced her to have an ambulance pick her up after seeing how she looked on a selfie she had sent her.

The texts and photos from that traumatic period in March and April now help her piece together a time when everything was “all gobbledegook”.

“I looked like crap. It kind of reminded me of what happened because I don’t remember most of it. I just got worse,” said Vickery.

She was texting her sister right up to the day before she was ventilated with photos of herself.

“By Thursday I was on the ventilator and I was on the ventilator for six days. All hell broke loose. They didn’t think I was going to make it. Organs started to shut down,” she said.

Vickery's kidneys failed. She had pneumonia and sepsis. For two days while she was in the intensive care unit of Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, her family did not believe she would survive.

Her condition improved and she was moved to a high dependency unit. She was discharged from hospital in mid-April after three weeks.

Now she is generally in good health, she says, though she still experiences shortness of breath.

‘It took over’

“Some days it hits me now: what the hell happened? I did not have one sick day in 14 years at work. I don’t take days off,” she said. “It just got me and took over, and I still don’t know how or why. A lot of people that I know can’t understand how it could happen to someone my age who is healthy.”

State health statistics show that 12 per cent of Covid-19 cases admitted to ICU during the pandemic had no underlying health condition.

Of the 455 Covid-19 cases admitted to hospital ICUs during the pandemic to September 12th, some 93, or 20 per cent, were around Vickery’s age, between 45 and 54, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

An older age group, 55-64, account for the highest percentage of ICU admissions, at 29 per cent, followed by the 65-74 age group at 25 per cent.

As Covid-19 infections rise again, so too are hospital and ICU admissions.

Vickery believes that there will “definitely” be a second wave of the virus. Her 16-year-old nephew told her the students in his school were not social distancing as they left school after classes.

“They were all getting each other in headlocks and everything – it is all the same,” she said.

She says she tries not to be neurotic but she is worried about catching the virus again. “I am terrified because I wouldn’t survive getting it again. I don’t think I am strong enough to survive it a second time,” she said. “It is a horrible, horrible disease.”

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times