Great Britain

‘My wife refused to sleep in same bed as my toes kept falling off’, says man whose flu turned deadly

SIMON Charlesworth found himself in a coma fighting for his life in hospital with the flu, pneumonia, and sepsis three years ago.

Despite surviving, the 61-year-old's nightmare had only just begun - as he has now had to watch his toes turn black and fall off one by one as a result of his illnesses.

His wife of 35 years, Caroline, refused to sleep in the same bed as him - worried that she would wake up with a detached toe under the covers.

The 61-year-old, from Brackla in Wales, said: "My wife refused to sleep in the same bed as me as she didn't want to wake up with a detached toe beside her.

"Some have come off in my hand while applying antiseptic lotions, some in bed and, by far the worst, some have come off in the shower.

"Can you imagine putting your socks on in the morning and thinking 'I'm sure that toe was there last night'?"

Simon was admitted to the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend after his health took a dramatic turn for the worse in 2018.

He spent 10 days in an induced coma and a further four weeks in intensive care before coming home.

Simon continued: "I'd just started the practical side of a teaching assistant's course for a local primary school.

"I woke up one morning and I felt like I had the flu. I thought I'd have a shower and see how I felt afterwards but I ended up pulling down the shower curtain.

"My wife came home in the afternoon from work and found me virtually unconscious on the bed in the spare room."

Simon said he can only remember "bits and pieces" from then on, including his wife helping him down the stairs, her calling an ambulance, and the moment hospital staff told him he'd need to be put into a coma.

After coming round from the coma, Simon said the first thing he recalled was the terrible state of his toes which had turned black.


The 61-year-old said: "I remember looking down at my toes and wondering why someone had put black finger bobs on them.

"At some point when I was in a coma my blood pressure dropped and they gave me [medication] to increase it rapidly again.

"But in doing so, it pushed blood towards the organs while starving the extremities – it's basically like suffering frostbite.

"The soles and heels of my feet came off all bar an inner layer of soft skin, my fingers peeled, my nose peeled, but luckily it was just my toes which got it really badly."

Simon said he was determined to get himself up and walking as soon as possible - despite the pain he was experiencing in his feet.

He added: "The last 10 days in hospital I was on a post-ITU ward receiving no treatment apart from painkillers and physiotherapy.

"I discharged myself as there seemed to be no reason for me to be taking up a bed."

Following his discharge at the end of April 2018, Simon admitted that his wife Caroline had to treat him "almost like a baby" for the first two months at home.

Simon said his first black toe came off four months after his return home from the hospital.

"The actual falling off bit was not painful. I used to have a shower every day and then spray all my toes with antiseptic to try and stop any infections.

"The toe came off as I was rubbing it with Germolene.

"It was a shock more than anything else. Even though my toes were in a terrible state I still wasn't expecting it to happen."

The last of his 10 toes finally dropped off around 18 months later in December 2019 – a moment of strange relief for Simon.

"I was offered amputations at the feet but I didn't want that as I knew that would really hinder my ability to walk."

There are times where I wish I hadn't come out of the coma

Simon Charlesworth

Simon said he felt isolated and alone in dealing with his traumatising condition - sometimes wishing that he hadn't come out of the coma.

And the coronavirus pandemic has also taken a toll on his health.

He was set to undergo corrective surgery on the remaining stumps this month - but the pandemic has put a stop to that.

Simon added: "Given the cry about the possible psychological effects caused by nearly a year of lockdown, what do you think are the psychological effects of nearly three years of the same on someone who would previously think nothing of walking 15 miles around the Brecon Beacons and who is now exhausted by walking a few hundred yards?

"There are times where I wish I hadn't come out of the coma."

Greg Dix, director of nursing, midwifery and patient care for Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, said: "We are sorry if anyone has felt let down by the care or level of support received by our health board.

"As with all NHS organisations, the pandemic has created unprecedented issues for our organisation and has required some very difficult decisions to be made.

"These include pausing or limiting many services in the interests of patient and staff safety and focusing resources on responding to Covid-19 and patients who need the most urgent care.

"We recognise that postponing treatments is upsetting for patients and this is never something we do lightly.

"However patient care and safety has always remained of the utmost importance in making these decisions.

"Our teams are continuing to work really hard to provide this urgent care to our patients during these unprecedented times.

"We are also looking at ways we can provide alternative support to patients waiting for elective treatment to help them manage their conditions.

"We would encourage anyone who has any concerns or worries to contact us so we can discuss their care with them."

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