Thursday, 2 July 2020

Britain, assailed by coronavirus, is still, thankfully, a country for its old and much-loved writer of poems and teller of stories for children, Michael Rosen

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Michael, who is 74, contracted coronavirus in mid-March and subsequently, in hospital, was within a whisker of death. He returned home last week after spending 48 days in intensive care at the Whittington Hospital in North London and spent a further three weeks on a rehabilitation ward, learning to walk again.

As a children's author and poet, he has written 140 books and served as Children's Laureate from 2007 to June 2009 and is has also been a tv presenter and a political columnist. Fellow poet, Lemn Sissay said of him, that he was : “The reluctant king of poets, the kindest, most expressive, hardworking, articulate, laughter-inducing, tear-jerking poet in the business”.

Interviewed on the BBC Radio 'Today Programme this week Michael said : "In March I thought I was coping with the flu, in the way that we do, or that it was the coronavirus and I was going to be one of those people who experience it as a 'kind of flu' and it was only then when things started moving very quickly".
He recalled he had an oxygen saturation test and "suddenly there was a kind of, I won't say panic, but : "You've got to go into A & E. Now." In A & E, suddenly things started buzzing all around me, but I don't think that I sensed, at that moment, that I was probably 2 or 3 hours off departing this planet" 
In fact, he is only alive because his wife, and a GP friend recognised that his condition was deteriorating and took him to A & E in the nick of time.

"It was 'touch and go'  because my respiratory system was conking out, but also so was my liver and kidneys and I did't know that, but found out afterwards. 
I have a memory of somebody saying : "We can put you on a ventilator"
They handed me a piece of paper and said : "You've got a 50:50 chance"
I said : "Are you telling me that's better than the chance I've got now ?" and I said : "Are you saying I might not wake up ?" And they said : "Yes"
And then I signed something, but I think I was a bit light- headed, but remember thinking :'Oh  
well, a 50:50 chance'. I was sort of flippant about it really, to myself."

Michael spent the next 7 weeks in an induced coma and on a ventilator.

"Coming out, I've got little patches of memory. 
I can see some doctors standing around me arguing about what would be the best oxygen mask to have. 
I remember waking up, once in the night, and asking nurses where I was ? I didn't really know about the 7 weeks of being in this 'induced coma', till I came home and then they told me about it. I got quite upset about it actually. I had no idea I was in that induced coma for that long and I just have this picture of Emma and our family and wider family and so on, just on the edge, not knowing if I was going to survive or not. That's full of emotion for me : that the people were hanging in there."

Attention was drawn to the poem 'These were the hands', which Michael had written in 2008 to mark the 60th Birthday of the NHS. He told the BBC Radio listeners : "There's a wonderful symmetry to this. Yes, I wanted to say the NHS is this wonderful, incredible feat of the imagination that people who don't know each other care for each other for the social good. Whether it's the person who comes in to clean, the person who empties the bed pans and the bottles and so on, or whether its the top-flight consultants. The whole thing works together and I wanted to say that in the poem and that it happened to me. I was so near to going and that's on a knife edge it's a reminder of how life is very important, but it's what we have. But there's a vulnerability about it and that's part of life. It's not separate from life."

When it came to his present state he said : "The first word I would use to describe myself is 'feeble' My legs feel very feeble. I think of them as cardboard tubes full of porridge. When I ask them to do things they don't do it. So I've learnt how to walk with a stick and a bit, without a stick. I can hear that my voice is a bit feeble as well and then I get tired very quickly and I've also lost some sight in my left eye and from my left ear. So I feel a bit lop-sided, feeble and lop-sided".

"I get these not exactly, nightmares, but recurring images. You know when a dog gets something and shakes its head in order to try and get rid of it, but it doesn't work well. It's a bit like that. I get recurring images and I don't really want them there. but I can't get rid of them. So there's a strange psycho-block in my head that comes for that time."

Britain almost lost - the creator of  :

"I am an optimist, definitely. There’s no point in pessimism, because all that happens is you feel pessimistic – and then you die. You’ve wasted your life. So you might as well be optimistic."

Michael's 'These are the hands updated in April 2020 for 'NHS Charities Together' :

"These are the hands
That touch us first
Feel your head
Find the pulse
And make your bed.

These are the hands
That tap your back
Test the skin
Hold your arm
Wheel the bin
Change the bulb
Fix the drip
Pour the jug
Replace your hip.

These are the hands
That fill the bath
Mop the floor
Flick the switch
Soothe the sore
Burn the swabs
Give us a jab
Throw out sharps
Design the lab.

And these are the hands
That stop the leaks
Empty the pan
Wipe the pipes
Carry the can
Clamp the veins
Make the cast
Log the dose

And touch us last."

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