Author Michael Rosen criticizes the government’s Covid response

GMB: Michael Rosen recalls his battle against coronavirus

Michael Rosen is reflecting on his feelings towards health secretary turned I’m A Celebrity bug muncher Matt Hancock and our elected leaders on their handling of the covid pandemic that nearly cost him his life. “How do I feel about the way Matt Hancock and the government handled the Covid crisis?” he wonders aloud.

“People have the right to be bitter, but I try not to be bitter. I don’t feel angry, I just feel contemptuous. He was a fool to have been wrong and a fool to have broken the Covid rules himself when he was hugging his girlfriend”.

While Rosen, now 76, spent six weeks on a hospital ventilator in an induced coma in the spring of 2020 after first contracting covid and then pneumonia, his family diligently obeyed social distancing guidelines and a ban on visitors. to hospital. As we all know, the then secretary of health had a clandestine relationship with his co-worker.

“I don’t buy it completely, ‘We fell madly in love, what else is there to do?’ thing,” continues Rosen, who was a Children’s Laureate from 2007-2009 and has published more than 140 books. “We have all fallen madly in love. Sometimes we just have to sit on opposite sides of the room. Hancock made a fool of himself then, and continues to make a fool of himself.”

Rosen was treated in the same ward as broadcaster Kate Garraway’s husband, Derek Draper, who still requires 24-hour care.

“She was fighting back tears while interviewing Matt Hancock on GMTV recently,” recalls Rosen. “And all she could do was make small talk, saying, ‘I know how you feel.'”

He pauses, leaving the obvious next line unsaid, which is, “I don’t think you will.”

Rosen lives in leafy Muswell Hill, north London, with his third wife, Emma, ​​and the eldest of their two children, 18-year-old Emile. He has just published his latest book, Getting Better, a deeply moving memoir recounting his near-death experience and the lessons learned from it. .

Nearly three years after her ordeal at Whittington Hospital in Archway, north London, she is still learning to live with a variety of post-COVID-19 health issues.

Michael Rosen joins striking nurses at a rally outside University College Hospital London

Rosen has just published his latest book in which he recounts his near-death experience and the lessons learned (Image: Getty)

He now suffers from blurred and double vision in his left eye and has 90 percent hearing loss in his left ear. “I’m a little unbalanced,” she admits. He has intermittent balance issues, so his damning verdict on Hancock and his ministerial colleagues may not come as a surprise.

“Obviously Hancock was the health minister, but the mistakes must have been a cabinet decision. There were some key moments where they got it wrong,” he continues.

“They screwed up the PPE thing terribly by going with their peers and spending billions, and they never thought about test and trace.

“The first thing you need to do, if you have a contagious infectious disease, is to think about how you can isolate vulnerable people and how you can trace infected people. They did the exact opposite by taking people out of hospitals and into nursing homes, which was absolutely terrible.

“In the hands of Boris Johnson at the start of the pandemic was the greatest public health instrument the world has ever invented: the NHS. But his first reaction, crucial and lethal, was to say: ‘We don’t have to worry about this. I’m not segregating the market.’”

Rosen doesn’t think poor decision making is the only culprit. But there’s clearly simmering anger, bubbling below the surface, as he speaks.

“I’m not saying that no one would have died if different decisions had been made, but it would have mitigated it. The UK had over 200,000 covid deaths, and I’m not saying that number would have been zero, but it could have been a lot less.”

Thanks to the heroism of the NHS, Rosen, who has had five children from her three marriages, is not among that horrific number, but she is aware of how close she came to death and the lasting effect the drama has had on her family.

Michael spent six weeks on a hospital ventilator in an induced coma, in the spring of 2020.

Michael spent six weeks on a hospital ventilator in an induced coma, in the spring of 2020. (Image: )

“The doctor told me I only had a 50-50 chance of making it and when I got this secondary infection, it’s called Klebsiella, they were very, very worried. It must have been horrible for my family when they put me in a coma.

“Every time they called the hospital or every time the phone rang, it could have been to say that he was dead, so it was a nightmare for them.

“And then I came out of the coma and came home. I was in this weird hallucinating and delusional state and I couldn’t stand up and they didn’t know if I was going to be in a wheelchair forever. And who was going to take me in the wheelchair?

With his prominent eyes and gangly frame, Rosen arguably resembles one of the most fantastical characters from one of his many children’s books, perhaps most famously his iconic and best-selling 1989 book, We’re All Going Hunting. a bear. was adapted for television in 2016, starring the voice talents of Oscar-winning actress Olivia Colman, but he was unaware of the physical toll Covid had taken on his body.

“I was thrilled to be home and had no idea how terrible I looked until several people six months, nine months, a year, even two years later said to me, ‘My God, you look so much better. And I said, ‘Oh, did I look bad?’

“And they said, ‘Yes. Your skin was like paper. And you looked haggard. And you had gray under your eyes and you looked a little bewildered.”

Matt Hancock giving a speech

Rosen doesn’t think poor decision-making is the only culprit (Image: Getty)

Three months shy of his 77th birthday, mystified is the last adjective I would use to describe Rosen, whose latest book also explores with heartbreaking candor the sudden death in 1999 of his son Eddie, just 18, from meningococcal septicemia.

“It’s been incredibly cathartic to write it all down,” says Rosen. “It has been both a release and a relief.” He has inadvertently turned Rosen into a willing but unqualified grief counselor as well.

“People have stopped me on trains and I’ve gotten emails from people sharing their grief experiences and obviously I’m not a guru and I’m not trained but people seem very happy to share their stories with someone who has tried to put the words of his version of grief in order because when something tumultuous like grief happens in your life, it’s like chaos in your head.”

Inevitably, Eddie’s death and Rosen’s own brush with mortality have also brought his future into sharper focus.

“My daughter told me that I am an optimistic nihilist. I don’t think there’s an afterlife, or that there’s some kind of deity looking out for me, which makes me something of a nihilist, but I’m not someone who thinks nothing makes sense,” she smiles.

“I think that life has no meaning; it doesn’t make sense, but that’s a good reason to be optimistic and think, ‘Well, I’d better make the most of it.’

“I have to accept the fact that it could go off at any moment and there may not be much time left, so I have to find out how I feel about it, but I don’t feel the urge to rush it. I’m glad I have things to do. And if I don’t finish them all, well… I actually know I won’t finish them all.

Michael Rosen joins Cambridge Schoolchildren for a fundraising benefit concert at Great St Mary's Church, Senate House Hill, Cambridge

You could say that Rosen resembles one of the most fantastic characters of one of his many children. (Image: Warren Gunn)

“I imagine fading away, going, ‘Oooh, I could write that great 500-page novel right now,’ and then, Clunk. Dead. I can well imagine that he would be in that frame of mind.

Time will tell if Rosen’s great work will ever materialize, but one certainty is that his lifelong love affair with books, and with the fundamental role of libraries in increasing literacy in all strata of society , will prevail, regardless of current government policy.

“It may not seem like a big disaster to everyone, but in my world, cutting funding for libraries is one of the big disasters,” he says.

“It’s relatively easy for people who are very well, well, and fairly well to get all the reading material they want, but for poor people, it’s actually hard.

“You either need a computer, which a lot of people can’t afford, and a library also gives you that beautiful free space, that access, that peace, where you can take a book off the shelf and they don’t ask, ‘Sorry, I have, did you buy a computer?’ drink?

“And when you have children, you can take away ten books and give your children this fantasy path, this gateway to education.

“It is an incredible platform and the idea that we are closing them down and preventing them seems to me like a form of class warfare and it fills me with fury and very, very deep anger.

“But I still have hope for the future. I hope we have a change of government within two years, and if Labor sticks to their historic ideals of access for all, they will do something to secure the future of libraries in this country.”

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