LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II, after her own recent bout with COVID-19, empathized with patients, doctors and nurses at a London hospital last week as she listened to their stories about life on the front lines of the pandemic.
The monarch spoke to patients and staff at the Royal London Hospital during a virtual visit that marked the official dedication of the Queen Elizabeth Unit, a 155-bed critical care facility built in just five weeks at the height of the pandemic. Elizabeth tested positive for COVID-19 in February and suffered what Buckingham Palace described as “mild cold-like symptoms.”
“It does leave one very tired and exhausted, doesn’t it?” she told recovering COVID-19 patient Asef Hussain and his wife, Shamina. “This horrible pandemic.”
The unit has treated about 800 coronavirus patients from across northeast London, with staff recruited from throughout the region, including retired doctors and nurses and even soldiers drafted in to help.
With friends and family members barred from the hospital by strict virus-control measures, nurses did their best to comfort seriously ill patients, senior nurse Mireia López Rey Ferrer told Elizabeth.
“As nurses, we made sure that they were not alone,” López Rey said. “We held their hands, we wiped their tears and we provided comfort. It felt at times that we were running a marathon with no finish line.”
Hussain was the third member of his family hospitalized with COVID-19 at the end of December 2020. His brother died first, then his father passed away while Hussain was on a ventilator.
“I remember waking up one morning and just finding it really, really difficult to breathe,” he said. “I remember waking my wife saying that I feel like there’s no oxygen in the room. I remember me sticking my head out the window, just trying to breathe, trying to get that extra oxygen.”
He was on a ventilator for seven weeks and only recently was able to stop using a wheelchair.
Nurses helped lift Hussain’s spirits by arranging video calls on a tablet computer. Shamina Hussain told the queen that 500 friends and family around the world dialed in to one conference call to pray for her husband.
“So you have a large family, or a large influence on people,” the queen quipped.
The couple smiled.