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Not yet a flu fighter? "Why take the chance?"

BCHC associate director of nursing Linda Lockwood has rarely spoken about the loss of her brother Mark, who died at the age of just 31 after catching the flu virus.

But 20 years on, as part of efforts to convince colleagues of the importance of protecting themselves, friends, relatives and patients against catching the virus, Linda has shared her moving story in the hope that it prevents any other family suffering a similarly unexpected and preventable tragedy.

 

"Mark knew exactly where and when he caught the flu.  It was in a supermarket when a lady, who obviously wasn’t very well at all, sneezed on him. He was a fairly fit 31-year-old and wasn’t considered to be at risk any more than anyone else. But the flu virus really affected him and knocked him right off his feet.

He stayed off work, in bed, for a couple of weeks but like most of us, he felt he should do his best to get back up and about as soon as possible. He was a head chef at the Law Courts . He was keen to get back to it. So as soon as he started to feel better, he dragged himself downstairs. But he was still very ill and he suddenly collapsed. We found out later that he’d suffered a cardiac arrest. My father did his best to resuscitate him and dialled 999.

I was working as a practice nurse at the time and I got a call from my mum to say they were taking him to hospital. By the time I got there, he was on a ventilator in the intensive therapy unit and, as the day wore on, it became obvious he was very unwell. Eventually, the doctors asked my dad if they could speak to him privately.

They told him ‘we’re sorry but there’s nothing we can do for your son, you need to make the decision to turn the ventilator off’.

I’ll never forget the look on my dad’s face – that helpless expression of ‘what shall I do?’ By then, I’d been sitting with Mark for a few hours. I knew he wasn’t coming back.

My dad said he just couldn’t bear to watch his only son die. He said ‘I was there when he was born, I just can’t watch him die’. He walked out of the ITU and told the doctors what he knew had to be done. Then they came back in and turned the ventilator off. At the age of 31, my brother Mark was dead.

The official cause of death was ‘pneumonia due to the flu’. My whole family but, particularly, my father, changed forever that day. He was never the same man. Every day of his life until he died last year, he questioned whether he had done the right thing; whether there was something else that might have made a difference.

Although it was 20 years ago this winter, I remember every single detail as if it were yesterday. Back then, we didn’t have the flu campaigns we do now - lack of awareness shouldn’t be an excuse.

Each of us just needs to take that moment of reflection – we may think or hope it’s not going to happen to us, or someone we know; we might be lucky, we might not. It happened to my family and it has coloured my life ever since. Why take the chance?"