For many of us coronavirus feels like something that is happening to other people.
We hear about the tens of thousands of deaths across the UK and sympathise with those who have lost loved ones; we keep a social distance to stop the spread; we wait and watch the news for what is expected of us in the ongoing fight against the silent killer.
For Mark Hosking and his family, however, the virus entered their lives when many of us were still seeing it as a far-off threat, setting in motion a chain of events that took Mark hundreds of miles away from home for an anxious 17 days in hospital as his body fought Covid-19.
On the evening of February 27 Mark received a call from Public Health Wales at the home he shares with his wife and two teenage children in Mumbles, Swansea.
The person on the other end of the line asked 53-year-old Mark to “please sit down”.
The day before medics in full PPE had been to the house to test mark for coronavirus and the results had come back positive, making him the first person in Wales to be told they were carrying the contagious virus that was sweeping across the globe.
“We’d been skiing in Lombardy, Italy, in half term and when I got back there was no indication I had anything. We had a great holiday with some friends from Preston.
“On Saturday (February 22) in the afternoon I started feeling peculiar. It was like aching that came on really quickly and rapidly got worse and worse.
“We were having dinner with some friends up the road and I had to excuse myself and went home to bed. I felt dreadful,” he said.
Mark felt a little better the following morning but saw a report on the news about Lombardy being a hotspot for coronavirus so he called NHS 111.
Mark Hosking and his wife, Gemma, skiing in Lombardy in February
(Image: Mark Hosking)
“I did a lengthy 20-minute discussion and questionnaire with them but they assessed me as having a holiday flu and advised me to take paracetamol and left it at that.
“I felt worse and worse over Monday and Tuesday and there started to be a lot more on the news about Lombardy. I was feeling so bad I called Public Health Wales [on February 25] and that was when they advised us to take the kids out of school and start self-isolating.”
Two days later Mark became Wales’ first confirmed coronavirus patient.
By this point rumours were spreading locally that someone had tested positive for the virus and had been out around Mumbles and even drinking in bars there.
“There was a lot of gossip going on saying that I had been to nightclubs and bars in Mumbles but I hadn’t really been out at all.
“The media attention was difficult, especially for my family. Reporters were turning up on the doorstep after I was taken to London.
“I even got a call from a Sun reporter when I was in the isolation ward but there was no point speaking to anybody I had no idea what was going to happen,” he said.
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After testing positive Mark was advised that ambulances would be arriving to take him to a specialist ward at the Royal Free Hospital in London. Contact tracing began for everyone who had been in contact with Mark since he returned from Italy and they were advised to isolate for 14 days.
“The kids were freaking out because there were helicopters landing nearby (which later turned out to be part of an RAF training exercise). They sent three ambulances – I was put into the second with a nurse in full PPE.
“I had no idea what was going on or what to expect. I was feeling poorly but wasn’t really bad at all. The journey to London took about four hours and I got admitted just before midnight.
“I didn’t know how long I’d be there. The way the disease worked was totally unknown I wasn’t really thinking of myself but my family must have been wondering what was going on.”
Mark wants to tell his story to show that there is hope of surviving the virus
(Image: WalesOnline/ Gayle Marsh)
Mark spent 17 days in isolation at the Royal Free Hospital, including four days in an induced coma on a ventilator as the disease progressed.
“I was in an isolation room on my own with locked doors and one window looking out. I never saw outside of that room. People were coming in with full PPE on. I was in that room for five days before they took me to the intensive care unit (ICU).
“I was being monitored for oxygen levels and breathing capability. I had fevers but didn’t feel they were terrible. The problem was they were spiking and that was of the most concern.
“There was a decline in my ability to breathe and sustaining oxygen levels.
“One thing I remember is having chest X-rays and being told to take a deep breath. Holding it became more and more difficult to do and I couldn’t hold it for even a second eventually.”
Mark spent 17 days in isolation at the Royal Free Hospital in London
(Image: Mark Hosking)
Mark was taken to the ICU where he spent seven days, including the four on a ventilator an in an induced coma.
“My wife, Gemma, called the consultant at one point and asked: ‘How ill is Mark?’. She was told I was the sickest person on the ward.
“Being put on the ventilator was the scariest bit. When you’re conscious you at least have some control and can give consent and understand what’s going on.
“I just didn’t want to be put out and on the ventilator.”
When Mark woke up from the induced coma he wasn’t fully conscious but does remember seeing his brother, who works in London, on the other side of the protective window of his isolation room.
“I couldn’t talk because I had the tube in still so the only way we could communicate was with writing. I couldn’t see properly so a nurse had to tell me what he was writing.
“I had to concentrate, I just couldn’t write, but I worked out if I wrote joining all the letters up so I didn’t take the pen off the paper that worked.”
As Mark started his recovery he said it became obvious that the Royal Free was becoming busier with Covid-19 patients. He said it was a “traumatic time but also a relief” to be well enough to go home.
“I wanted to get out of there. I got the overriding sense that I didn’t want to take up any more of their resources. I can only applaud the medical professionals – they had such a positive attitude and always wanted the best for me,” he added.
After 17 days Mark was discharged from the Royal Free Hospital and made his journey back home.
While Mark was in hospital his daughter also contracted a mild case of coronavirus so the family’s isolation period was extended even further.
Although Mark is back at work as a sales director part-time he still feels the effects of the virus weeks after being discharged.
Mark has returned to work but it has been a long road to recovery
(Image: WalesOnline/ Gayle Marsh)
“I was told it would take months not weeks to recover. My expectations were set really well. It’s time you need – individuals need to be given time to come to terms with what they’ve been through.
“Most symptoms have gone but you have to build up against the fatigue because your body has been ravaged so much.
“When I came back it was very weird. The thing for me was I’d lost a lot of weight and muscle so I really had to build up my strength.
“Just doing anything was hard work for a long time.”
Mark is also seeing a therapist to come to terms with the mental effects of his experience.
His family have started a tradition of playing music for their neighbours on Thursday nights to show their appreciation for the healthcare system that saved Mark’s life.
He watches the latest about the virus on the news and thinks a “cautious approach” is the right way forward.
“A more cautious approach is the best one right now – there are concerns about the economy but I’m alarmed at the numbers of deaths in the UK still, it’s not insignificant numbers,” he said.
Mark is pragmatic about being the first coronavirus patient in Wales and wanted to share his story to show that there is hope and that people can recover from the virus.
“Being the first, rather than some arbitrary number, does interest people but it could have been anybody.
“I was lucky in a way with it being so early in the pandemic at least I was taken to a place where there was the expertise.
“I feel very lucky and privileged to be able to come home to my family,” Mark said.