Bridgend's Simon Charlesworth's wife refused to sleep with him as his toes kept falling off

Welshman’s toes falling off during the night see’s wife leave the matrimonial bed

A man in Wales who survived flu, pneumonia, and sepsis said his wife refused to share a bed with him when he started losing his toes in case one fell off during the night. Simon Charlesworth spent 10 days in a coma and a further four weeks in intensive care as doctors battled to keep him alive when his health dramatically deteriorated in 2018. The 61-year-old got through the worst of it, but then had to endure a torrid two years watching his toes gradually turning black before falling off one by one.

Simon, from Brackla, Bridgend, 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 part-way through a teaching assistant’s course for a local primary school when he was admitted to the Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend in 2018. He recalls waking up one morning feeling like he had the flu and his wife later finding him sprawled ‘virtually unconscious’ on the bed in the spare room, but only ‘bits and pieces’ from then on including being helped down the stairs and doctors telling him he would have to be put in a coma. Simon added: ‘It still amazes me how little I can remember (of it). I had the flu once before about 15 years ago but other than that I’ve had no health issues whatsoever.’

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

He went on: ‘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.’ Following his discharge at the end of April 2018, Simon admitted that his wife of 35 years, Caroline, had to treat him ‘almost like a baby’ for the first two months at home. He said: ‘I was basically sat in a chair dribbling. That’s probably the best way to describe me at that time. ‘I couldn’t get up the stairs, so we managed to get some grab rails fitted the day after I got home. But the whole thing was probably more difficult for my wife than for me.’ Simon said he lost his first toe four months after his return home, in August 2018. He said: ‘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. He said: ‘I was offered amputations at the feet but I didn’t want that as I knew that would really hinder my ability to walk.’ Simon said he felt isolated and alone in dealing with his traumatizing condition, with medics in Wales having very little specialist knowledge of how to treat it. He was also set to undergo corrective surgery on the remaining stumps this month, but the coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to that. Simon added: ‘Given the hue and 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.’

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