Take a good look at this cover if you haven’t seen it before. It is the book of our times, chronicling what it is like to have ‘long covid’ step by horrible step. It is a stoical book, there isn’t a word of self-pity in it, but then you wouldn’t expect self-pity from a man like Michael Rosen, who is a superb communicator and admirably honest. He has spent his life writing books and poetry for children and knows exactly how to talk to children of every age. He never talks down or at, he talks with.
Here he is talking to a doctor whilst he was in hospital.
“A doctor is standing by my bed
asking me if I would sign a piece of paper
which would allow them to put me to sleep and pump air into my lungs.
‘Will I wake up?’
‘There’s a 50:50 chance.’
‘If I say no?’ I say.
And I sign.”
Superlative. No histrionics, just underplaying and accepting. Breathtakingly brave, as far away from the over dramatisation and self praise which the Prime Mendacitor indulged in when he went into hospital for a few days and came out declaring he’d been ‘at deaths door’.
There is so much in this book I hardly know which bit to turn to, to tempt you next (and I’ve read it three times now!). But first lets have a few facts. He was months on the wards, six weeks in an induced coma and many more weeks of rehab and recovery as the NHS saved his life and then got him back on his feet.
“In the gym
I walk five steps
and grab the bar.
The physio says that’s really good.
She says that she knows
children who like my books.
I’m proud again
but then I’m sad.
I’m sure I won’t be well enough
to stand in front of 500 children
telling them my poems and stories
hearing them laugh.”
While he was on the ward and quite unable to speak because he was intubated, he was watched over every night by a team of nurses and assistants of various kinds who’d been pulled in from other wards to help. There were scores of them and at the end of each night they wrote a message for him in a diary that was kept by the bed expressly for that purpose and which he prints in this book. They are all the most loving of messages. I found them almost unbearably touching, but it was wonderful to read them because they were so obviously fond of him and saw how much he was suffering and how he didn’t complain. Love and bravery writ clear. Here are just a few of their comments.
This is an early one written by Pat, a lung nurse specialist. “It’s lovely to see all the photos of your family smiling and showing how much you are loved. We will keep you comfortable and talk to you all through the shift to let you know what we’re doing. My kids were brought up on your poems and loved them. We have given you a lovely wash and brushed your thick hair.”
A nurse called Joe writes “You seemed quite agitated and I know this is such a confusing time for you, I am truly sorry. Everybody says hello to you every day as you have been with us for 29 days. Everyone knows you and is rooting for you to keep improving and getting stronger… Your family have been sending their love every day.”
A girl called Holly writes she is “unsure whether I will work with you again Michael… I wish you all the best with your recovery. You are a fighter and you can do this.”
A girl called Natasha writes: “My hope is that you will get lots of hugs and love from your family to make up for all this time you have been apart, once you are free to go home…
It’s been a true honour. As I mentioned before, my two children love your poems and books and it has been a privilege to help in looking after you.
Good luck for tomorrow and I wish you safely home soon.”
It was a very long haul and it’s still ongoing for as Michael and lots of others have discovered, long-covid can be very long indeed. Right at the end of the book he writes of a lovely, normal moment, with his lovely, loving, normal family.
“I’m in the midst of beginnings:
you love, are starting a big, new thing
our daughter is buying lamps
and wooden spoons
before she leaves for university;
our son hovers on the edge
of a return to school,
GCSE worksheets lie open on the table;
and my granddaughter
not yet two years old
sits on the blanket outside:
round and round the garden
like a teddy bear,
again and again and again,
she kicks a ball
and we all clap.”
If you haven’t read this book yet and thousands have – it’s a bestseller – may I recommend it to you?