I am a 68-year-old retired college principal. My wife and I moved from London to Herne Bay in 2006; we were missing the sea as we had recently been living in Bermuda. For several years we continued to commute to London, where we both worked. We had two children and five lovely grandchildren, all of whom still live in Kent. In 2015 both my wife and I were diagnosed with lung cancer. Mine was operable, but sadly hers was more advanced and she passed away in November of that year.
I spent most of January 2021 in hospital with Covid-19. The nurses, working in very difficult circumstances, were wonderfully caring. I was very weak when I came out, but with my family’s support I returned to near-normal in a few weeks. However, I seem to have a case of ‘long Covid’: I now can’t walk or stand for more than about fifteen minutes without my leg swelling up painfully. I have a few other medical conditions (not uncommon at my age) but I try to keep active mentally and- subject to my limitations - physically.
While I was in QEQM with Covid, I agreed to participate in the RECOVERY research programme, which involved being randomly assigned to one of four experimental treatments, after which my observations (temperature, oxygen levels, etc.) were recorded, along with those of the thousands of other participants in the UK, for analysis. The RECOVERY programme produced extremely valuable data which resulted in hospitals in the UK and worldwide having very much clearer guidance about how best to treat severe cases of Covid-19: what worked and what didn’t.
One reason for participating in this research was that I knew how important medical research can be—I personally have no medical background (I was a mathematician), but my wife was a senior research nurse and, from conversations with her, I knew about its value and a little about how it was carried out. Much of her work was in genetics, particularly relating to breast and ovarian cancers: using research to identify those women most at risk of developing these tumours.
Scientists and technicians do great work in their laboratories—and have been truly heroic in their incredibly rapid response to Covid—but the effectiveness of their discoveries can only be known from observations of patients to whom the treatments are administered: not only physical observations such as the results of blood tests, but often also the emotional or functional effects, sometimes summarised as ‘quality of life’. Likewise, there is great value in understanding how to recognise when someone is likely to develop a disease before they have any symptoms. For that reason, after my lung cancer I participated in the ‘100,000 Genome’ project. I also self-report on a weekly basis to the ‘True Colours’ project run by the University of Leicester; its focus is Covid recovery.
These studies operate in different ways, some involving blood tests, others only questionnaires. I am happy to take part because I hope that my small contribution will help medical science and thereby help other patients. From time to time the study organisers send updates about what they have been able to learn from their ongoing research, and it is heartening to read how much progress is being made. In our darkest hours, when we are seriously ill, I think it is some comfort to have had the opportunity to do something to help others to recover. We know we cannot live forever, but maybe in our small way, we can help to leave an everlasting legacy of medical knowledge for the benefit of future generations. My experience of participating in research has been wholly positive, and I would encourage anyone, given the opportunity, to take part. Let’s do our bit to make the world a happier and a healthier place.