The poet Michael Rosen is only alive because his wife, Emma-Louise Williams, and a GP friend recognised that his condition was deteriorating and took him to A&E in the nick of time, he told the Observer Magazine in an emotional interview this weekend.
Rosen, 74, who came down with coronavirus in mid-March, returned home last week after spending 48 days in intensive care at the Whittington hospital in north London. He spent a further three weeks on a rehabilitation ward, learning to walk again.
In his first comments to the media since he went into hospital, Rosen said: “I’m only alive because my wife and our friend, who is a GP, had a sense that I was on a downward spiral with coronavirus and got me to A&E. But I’ve got no recall of being critically ill because I was in an induced coma.”
He added: “I’m only finding out now how the NHS saved my life in several different ways as different parts of my body were on the verge of giving out while I was in intensive care for nearly seven weeks.”
He paid tribute to the health service workers who looked after him: “The NHS is an incredible feat of the imagination – complete strangers care for you and this means that it is social medicine and social health at its best.”
Williams, a radio producer, said: “The past three months have been a strain and it’s a great relief to have Michael home now, but I know we are in a new phase of the illness, the after-effects, which is not going to be easy.”
She described the night their friend, a GP, lent them her pulse oximeter so that they could test Rosen’s oxygen levels. That was “the terrible night”, recalled Williams, that she and their daughter then took Rosen to A&E.
She said she was “full of admiration and gratitude” to their GP friend, the staff at the Whittington hospital, its Kanitz critical care unit and the rehabilitation department at St Pancras hospital in London “for getting Michael through this”.
“When I think of my grandparents and Michael’s parents, who lived through the second world war and voted for the founding of the NHS, this crisis has reaffirmed its necessity and worth, so we can’t lose it.”
Rosen, who has five children and two stepchildren, has not yet fully recovered from his ordeal. “I hobble with a stick and only over a few metres, struggle with stairs, become breathless and dizzy and only have full sight in one eye and full hearing in one ear,” he wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
The poet Lemn Sissay, who has known Rosen for about 25 years, called his friend “the reluctant king of poets… the kindest, most expressive, hardworking, articulate, laughter-inducing, tear-jerking poet in the business”.
He said he had often wept during the lockdown, worrying that Rosen was dying: “In fact he was living. He was fighting for his life. He has always been fighting for his life in the face of death. Like all heroes.”
Rosen, he said, should be given a statue in his home town of Pinner: “Welcome back, Michael Rosen. We love you.”