What surviving coronavirus has taught me
Amar Latif contracted coronavirus in March 2020. He tells us about what it was like to be admitted to hospital as a blind man and what the experience taught him.
“This is it,” I said to myself. “This is coronavirus.”
I’d been feeling breathless since coming back to my flat from filming in London, just before lockdown. Between doing TV, running my company Traveleyes and serving as an Ambassador for Leonard Cheshire, I’m a busy guy – you could be forgiven for thinking I was just tired!
But I knew this was something worse.
Normally very active, I found I could barely walk to the kitchen. I had a high fever. I felt terrible. Finally, when my cousin heard how ill I sounded over the phone, she called an ambulance.
I’m one of the lucky ones; I recovered. And, as horrible as the experience was, I learned a lot from it. I am a very positive person – but coronavirus is enough to shake anyone to their core. It certainly did for me. But it also taught me some valuable life-lessons about staying positive in dark times.
What it is like being a blind person in a hospital
First and foremost is that ‘heroes’ doesn’t even cover it when talking about people working on the frontline. I won’t say that being in hospital is a positive experience. Still, the nurses were incredible: tireless, always positive, and always there to look after the people in my ward. They can stay cheerful in the most challenging circumstances. I know that Leonard Cheshire’s carers are doing just the same, staying strong while they help residents stay safe and live life to the full throughout the crisis.
Going to the hospital as a blind person isn’t easy. Like most places, they aren’t built and run with us in mind. Communication was one barrier – but again it’s a credit to the NHS that they listened to my suggestions about making it work and changed things around so I could let them know what needs were more effective. When I showed them my video about how to communicate with blind people, they shared it across the entire hospital.
Making hospitals more accessible
The big lesson I took from coronavirus was finding opportunity in adversity. I started Traveleyes this way because of the lack of accessible tourism on offer. In this case, I was able to change practices and make going to the hospital easier for blind patients, which I’m really proud of.
Still, it was tough. I was in an isolation ward with locked doors and no toilet. I was more ill than I’d ever been before. For a while, I really doubted whether I would make it.
Then the doctor told me I’d be going home in a few days and it was the single best bit of news I have ever had.
This leads me to the last lesson in positivity. It’s one you hear often, but I have been reminded of it the hard way. That is to love the little things. There is so much that we take for granted.
Appreciating the little things
When I was in the hospital, I was still thinking in terms of everything I’d worked for. When I got back, what struck me instead was the kindness of those around me.
My neighbour, Rob, had been taking care of my flat and the beautiful green space near where I live while I’d been gone. Through the magic of video calling, my friends have been kind enough to guide me through it all from a socially responsible distance. It’s beautiful: the bluebells, the trees, the way people find a way of getting out and enjoying it even while social distancing.
It’s a lesson for everyone worrying about ‘lockdown to-do lists’, I think, when it comes down to it, it’s simple pleasures like a walk and the kindness of neighbours that matter most. And if I can get out and enjoy them, so can anyone – but how many people make sure looking in on neighbours and seeing nature are in their lockdown schedules?
Because that’s my key message to you right now: good health and wellbeing are so precious. We should be taking care to stay safe and protect ourselves, but we should also be making sure that we’re appreciating the good things while we have them.