‘I’m lying in an ambulance bed thinking I’m done’: Chester FC boss Anthony Johnson on his battle with Covid-19

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Anthony Johnson, joint manager at Chester FC, was admitted to a Covid ward at Fairfield General Hospital in Bury where he suffered kidney failure. Credit: Anthony Johnson

Seeing hospitalisation figures and death counts in the evening news has become an all too familiar scene over the past 18 months but it’s only when those numbers are humanised that the real tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic is realised.

It is no less upsetting but easier to accept that the amount of people falling victim to this virus are only older people with underlying health conditions – but that is not the case, coronavirus doesn’t discriminate.

This is something joint manager at Chester FC Anthony Johnson found out just a couple of weeks ago when he was rushed into hospital with complications from his Covid infection.

Lying in a hospital bed with Covid pneumonia, his blood oxygen levels dangerously low and failing kidneys, the 38-year-old realised how close he was to dying.

The 38-year-old father of three didn’t want his children to worry when they saw him wearing an oxygen mask on facetime. Credit: Anthony Johnson

“It was the scariest time of my life without a shadow of a doubt,” the father of three bluntly stated.

“I thought for a day or two that was it.

“I was worried.”

On July 19, just a week before the football manager had to be hospitalised, he returned a positive PCR test a day after his nine-year-old daughter Bella tested positive following outbreaks in her class at school.

This wasn’t the first time the Johnson household had been affected by the virus – he’d already had Covid in November 2020 and only suffered flu like symptoms which is also what he was experiencing during the first few days of this new infection.

However, things took a sharp turn for the worse as the days went on and his wife, Kayla, 40, had to call an ambulance a week after he tested positive, and paramedics were forced to use a defibrillator on him after he passed out to try and find a pulse.

“At this point I’m thinking I could have been dead because if they hadn’t found my pulse, I wouldn’t have known any different,” he revealed.

Johnson alongside co-manager Bernard Morley when they were in charge at Salford City between 2015-2018. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It would be quite understandable to think that Johnson needed to be seen by doctors straight away when he got to Fairfield General Hospital in Bury given his blood oxygen level had dropped to 71, his temperature was at 41⁰c, and he only had a faint pulse.

But this didn’t happen until hours later simply because there were too many people needing treatment which meant the former Salford City manager had to wait in the ambulance until he could be admitted.

He said: “The weather was horrific because it was so hot outside.

“Two weeks ago, we were going through that heatwave, but I had a temperature.

“I’d just had this defib on and I’m lying in an ambulance bed thinking I’m done.

“Those paramedics were with me for nearly five hours so whilst they’re sat with me not being able to do anything apart from making sure I don’t die there’s other people not being seen to.”

https://twitter.com/BernMorley84/status/1419969899372367872?s=20

When the head coach was brought to the Covid ward at 1.30am following his stint in resus, the doctors were frightened at how low his blood oxygen levels were dropping which led them to be concerned about something else – kidney failure.

Over the next few days, he was diagnosed with Covid pneumonia, had a scan for blood clots on his chest and was prescribed a permanent oxygen mask – meaning the self-confessed control freak couldn’t do anything without the use of a wheelchair or he’d lose his breath.

Everyone on the Covid ward with him were in their 60s, 70s and 80s which led Johnson to think he was a “fraud” as he didn’t believe he was as ill as everyone else and was wasting a bed, but he was given a massive shock when the doctors told just how serious his condition was.

“I was saying to the nurses and doctors I know I’m not as poorly as everyone else in here.

“And the doctor said: ‘You are, your kidneys are failing, and your blood oxygen level is lower than anybody else’s in here, you’re as poorly if not poorlier than everybody else.’

“When he said that it struck a chord with me at how close I was to probably dying.”

To make things even worse Johnson couldn’t see his family – he’d never been away from his children, 16-year-old Lewis, seven-year-old Zac and Bella, for that long since they’d been born.

Although Facetime has helped people dramatically during the pandemic and he had calls from his family at least twice a day, he didn’t want his kids to see all the machines he was rigged up to and worry them.

“My daughter read me a couple of stories at night before she went to bed,” he explained.

“Obviously I’ve got the mask on when I’m talking to the kids, and I didn’t really want to do that.

“Because when they see that they fear the worst.”

Before becoming ill Jonno hadn’t had a dose of the vaccine unlike his wife who is double jabbed and only experienced cold-like symptoms when she picked the virus up, leading him to believe that if he’d had the vaccine he wouldn’t have had to be away from his family.

However, the Chester FC boss is keen to get his first dose as soon as he is well enough to leave his house, something he hasn’t done since he was discharged from hospital last week.

“Because I’m busy, because of what’s going on and because I’m stubborn and because of my age I felt like I’ll get it when I need to and when I’ve got time,” he said.

“But after going through what I have, thinking about what I was thinking, it’s embarrassing really.

“If you’ve got an option to get something that potentially saves you or makes you better or helps and the fact that I didn’t get it done as soon as I could just shows how thick I was.

“Having been through what I’ve been through I would pay every last penny I’ve got in my bank to make sure I didn’t go through what I went through over the past couple of weeks.”

Johnson was discharged from hospital on August 2 having still not recovered from Covid-19 but given he’d already reached the limit of how many steroids and antibiotics he was allowed there was no reason for him to stay any longer.

Nevertheless, he has nothing but praise for the NHS and the staff that treated him after he experienced their care first-hand and saw just how overrun the nurses and doctors are.

But he admitted that it was only because of his time in hospital that he truly appreciated the pressure that they’re under.

“I cannot believe the amount of work that they go through,” he stated.

“They do not stop.

“It’s something that they’re very highly trained for but how do you train these people for the pressure that they’re under?

“You can’t.

“The way they looked after me was unbelievable, they can’t do enough for you to the point where I told them off one night because I wanted to go to sleep but that’s the job, they’re constantly checking on you.

“When they took me from resus to the ward there were lines of beds in corridors, people in beds just waiting to be seen.

“It’s given me a better understanding of how broken the NHS is.”

After seven nights in hospital the Bury resident is now feeling “a million times better” after recovering at home for the past week and has been overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and love he has received.

When he shared the news to his 40,000+ followers on Twitter that he was getting discharged he was flooded with well wishes and was even trending on the social media platform.

But it was also those closer to home who made a profound impact on Jonno, particularly the players, staff and board at Chester Football Club who have been “amazing” while he’s been ill and kept him on full pay.

He revealed: “The support has been absolutely unbelievable.

“You realise how important you are to some people.

“I’m a nobody, I’m not a celebrity, I’m not a famous football manager.

“But I’ve had thousands and thousands and thousands of messages from people.

“The players sent me a montage video with them and Bernard (Morley).

“I cried.

“Never cried in my whole life.”

This experience hasn’t made Johnson want to make any drastic changes in his life, nor has it made him want to start ticking things off his bucket list – but it has made him put his life into perspective.

He might not want to go skydiving or swimming with dolphins, but he does want to assess his priorities.

He stated: “Things can happen in the click of a finger.

“One minute you’re out having a beer with your friends, a day later you’ve got Covid and a week later you’re in hospital hooked up to every type of machine.

“Life is very, very precious.

“I want to get myself right and have an understanding of the most important people that I want to spend time with which is ultimately my wife and three children and the rest of my family and friends.

If Johnson has learnt anything from what he’s been through over the past few weeks it’s that just like in a football match, things can change so quickly.

And Covid doesn’t care about who you are or what you have planned.