‘I was frightened to go to sleep in case I didn’t wake up’

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July 20, 2021
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    Cotterill 'lucky to be here' after long battle with Covid

    Shrewsbury manager Steve Cotterill has no trouble remembering his darkest moment in his desperate battle with coronavirus.

    It was during his first stay at Bristol Royal Infirmary in January, when the repeated coughing and his struggle to breathe were compounded by the effects of a punctured lung and emphysema.

    His neck was swollen inside and out and he likened it to a packet of Rice Krispies because it crackled if he was touched.

    "I was frightened to go to sleep because I wasn't sure if I was going to wake up," he told BBC Sport. "My eyes opened around 4am. I thought 'this is good, at least I have woken up'."

    Sitting with 56-year-old Cotterill, listening to the harrowing tale of how he caught Covid on the back of being 'fatigued' after a few job-related sleepless nights and an intense training session, is sobering and shocking in equal measure.

    His positive test came the morning after he'd "excitedly" joined in a session with his squad. He had woken at 2am, with the bed in his hotel room "absolutely drenched" – hours after complaining he "didn't feel right". He returned to the hotel for a 10-day spell in isolation during which he "lost a stone-and-a-half and barely got out of bed".

    "Then the cough started," he recalls. So he returned home to Bristol.

    "It was really bad. I was force feeding and drinking. I felt awful. I remember coughing one morning thinking 'I am going to pass out'. We had to call an ambulance. That is when I started to get a little bit worried."

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    Cotterill spent over an hour telling his story. "I am still not right," he said. "I am a bit fat in the face and around the middle. I don't like that. I still have some scarring on my lungs."

    He feels it is important to use this time to get the message out; to offer some positivity to those suffering from 'long Covid', and to say thank you to those who sent goodwill messages.

    "I had 2,000 texts," he added. "I don't even have 2,000 people in my phone."

    Nearly 129,000 people in the UK have died of coronavirus-related issues since the pandemic began, including former England defender Norman Hunter. Cotterill is one of more than 5.4m to record a positive test. Many have no symptoms. Cotterill most definitely did.

    Shrewsbury fans displayed this banner in May to manager Steve CotterillShrewsbury fans displayed this banner in May

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    "You are in a room," he said. "You can't leave. You can't have a waltz up the corridor. From the hotel in Shrewsbury, to coming out of hospital for the second time, I had 69 days out of 80 in bed."

    The finer details are tough to comprehend; 14 hours in a holding bay waiting to be admitted, checking to see if the nurses were "sombre" because it probably meant someone on the ward had died.

    "Unless you have experienced it or seen it, you will never know what they have been through."

    In his own words, Cotterill said his veins had so much blood taken out of them "they were starting to collapse". It was in trying to solve that problem he got the punctured lung.

    "Being ill was really getting me down then. I was thinking 'is there going to be any daylight here?'.

    Cotterill followed the instructions of his specialist – but there was one disagreement.

    "She would say I need oxygen. I would say I needed strength," he said.

    A compromise was reached. With the aid of an extra-long tube that allowed him to keep his oxygen mask on, Cotterill devised a set of exercises to build himself up and give him a better chance of recovery.

    He was on the mend. He left hospital. He was happy.

    "[But] After the sixth day, I started to feel my breathing going backwards," he added. "I started to think the cough had come back a little bit. I am thinking 'Oh my God, I am struggling'.

    "I got up one Sunday morning and I thought 'I need to go back in'. I remember walking into the hospital, going through the doors and turning back round, looking out and thinking 'I am going to see you again'.

    Steve Cotterill has now returned to the dugout and took charge of Shrewsbury's pre-season friendly at AFC Telford last weekSteve Cotterill took charge of Shrewsbury's pre-season friendly against AFC Telford

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    Thankfully for Cotterill, the second time, improvement was swift. He continues to make progress and while he accepts it may take some time before his recovery is complete, he is starting to delegate.

    If he expresses frustration at the speed of improvement to his specialist, he gets told: "Steve, stop. Do you know how poorly you were? You nearly died. You need to remember that."

    Cotterill regards his story as a positive one. He says he wants people to make sure they have the vaccine. To those who are ill, he urges them not to give in.

    Undoubtedly, it will make him look at life with a different perspective.

    "It has been an incredible experience," he says, with plenty of emotion. "When I am better, it may be the best experience of my life. Maybe."

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    July 20, 2021
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