Sooty puppeteer Matthew Corbett first experienced symptoms of Covid-19 when he went down to the cellar to look for a bottle of wine on his birthday.
As he was walking up the stairs on March 28, just days after the lockdown began, the 72-year-old began to sweat, feel dizzy and was suddenly convinced there was a huge party going on in his House.
âThe house seemed to be full of people, they were very nice but didn’t speak to me,â Matthew says. âThey looked a bit strange because they were all gray in color.
“Then it all got confused and my wife Sallie put me to bed telling me there was no one there.”
The party was, in fact, a hallucination, an early symptom of the virus. Within days, Matthew was admitted to the hospital, suffering from a series of severe symptoms, including chest pain and pneumonia.
Seven months later, the ordeal left him breathless, tired and so frail that he was no longer able to do the DIY and gardening jobs he once loved.
Matthew Corbett pictured recently at a party in August bidding farewell to the village of Lymm where he lived
Matthew Corbett, with Sooty (left) and Scampy (right). Sooty’s puppeteer first noticed symptoms of Covid-19 on March 28
Corbett wears a mask around his chin as he celebrates with friends in August
Struggling to cope and without NHS follow-up, reluctantly he and Sallie sold their beloved home in Cheshire and, in August, moved to a retirement village in West Sussex, closer to their three children and five grandchildren, where more help would be at hand.
Matthew’s experience is not uncommon, says Professor Lynne Turner-Stokes, one of the experts who recently began writing new fast-track guidelines for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to help the thousands of people who need follow-up care and rehabilitation after Covid infection.
Matthew Corbett on ‘Lorraine’ ITV, September 2015
An estimated 300,000 people in the UK suffer from ‘long Covid’ – symptoms that persist for months after their initial illness and may differ from the original symptoms – although the actual number may be much higher as all patients did not seek medical help.
Those who recover at home and have never been to hospital may have organ damage without knowing it, warns Professor Turner-Stokes, director of the regional hyperacute trauma unit at Northwick Park Hospital in London.
“We have all been surprised by the scale of this pandemic and its effects – and we have not seen the end of it,” she said. “Some parts of the country are mobilizing with the follow-up, but most of the time it’s very uneven.”
Matthew took over as the puppeteer of Sooty, Sweep and Soo in 1976, after his father Harry Corbett, who created the trio, suffered a non-fatal heart attack. The Sooty Show flourished on television and on stage, with the tagline, âIzzy Wizzy, let’s go!
He retired in 1998, at the age of 50, having sold the brand to the Bank of Yokohama for Â£ 1.4million, and over the next 20 years he developed a number of health issues, including type 2 diabetes. However, nothing could have prepared him for the devastating impact Covid-19 has had on his health. Within days of the onset of his symptoms, Matthew developed a cough, felt weak, and did not eat for ten days because the taste in his mouth was “foul and disgusting.”
Upon discharge from hospital, Matthew (pictured with Sooty) was delighted to reunite with Sallie, who had not been allowed to visit him due to Covid rules
“On April 3, six days after I fell ill, Sallie called the GP because my symptoms had worsened and she was told she should take me to the hospital as it was an emergency.” , recalls Matthew. âI tested positive for Covid and was admitted to the intensive care unit.
âMy memories of that time are fuzzy, but I was sweating a lot and hallucinating – I kept thinking the bed was spinning. My youngest son is a GP and has been monitoring my progress, explaining everything to Sallie and the other kids. ‘ Despite the hallucinations, Matthew was released three days later – a decision he now believes to be a mistake.
Covid-19 changed Matthew Corbett’s life due to long-term symptoms
âI think it was too early because the hallucinations got worse,â he says. âI was convinced that Sallie, a former sister in a psychiatric ward, was trying to put me in a mental hospital.
âI absolutely thought she wanted me severed and I got a little weird, arguing a lot. She said at one point that she was afraid of me, because I was quite aggressive in pushing certain facts.
Eventually, Matthew spent an additional six days in the hospital, where he was diagnosed with viral pneumonia, a complication of Covid, and atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm. He was given antibiotics for the pneumonia and medicine to regulate his heart.
Upon his release from the hospital, Matthew was delighted to find Sallie, who had not been allowed to visit him due to Covid rules. Although he did not need further hospital treatment, his road to recovery has been slow. When he tried to take his first walk in the village, âit was traumatic,â he says.
âI fell to my knees after a few steps and had to get up. Thank goodness no one saw me.
Matthew Corbett, with Sooty (center) and Sweep (left), celebrating 21 years with Thames TV 1990
âConcerned friends and family kept ringing and wanted to hear that I was feeling better. If I said, ‘Not quite’ they’d say, ‘Good, as long as you get better.’
âThe problem was, I didn’t feel better. A phone call that would take too long would be tiring, and it still is. I have to stop talking and lie down. I have a hoarse voice, with a lack of power and voice control. ‘
In May, seven weeks after the onset of symptoms, Matthew began to run out of breath, and until August he also suffered from visual disturbances on exertion; his vision became “hazy and dark with red spots moving” when he walked uphill.
HOWEVER, despite these persistent health issues, Matthew received no follow-up care from the NHS. âI was not contacted by the hospital,â he said. ‘No one seemed to care about me.’
The key to recovering from any virus, says Prof Turner-Stokes, is not to stop doing activities, but to do them in a “carefully paced manner.”
âWe first need to find out if it is safe for them to do this,â she said. âThen rehabilitation and therapies such as those offered by physiotherapists come into play,â she adds. It is hoped that the new NICE guidelines, expected at the end of this year, will offer this kind of help for a long time Covid.
The plan is to set up a network of one-stop clinics for long-term Covid patients where they can undergo a range of tests and see different specialists depending on how they have been affected.
And it can be complicated. As Professor Turner-Stokes says: âWe initially thought Covid was a respiratory disease, but now we know that it can affect the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, brain, nervous system and muscles – you name it, Covid can affect it. ‘