DR MAX PEMBERTON: Phone off, pyjamas on and eat what you fancy

Phone off, pyjamas on and eat what you fancy, DR MAX PEMBERTON gives you his guide for making a proper recovery from illness

  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

The news that the Prime Minister had been moved to intensive care on Monday night was a shock to every one of us.

Proof, if we needed it, that anyone is vulnerable to the ravages of Covid-19.

Thankfully, Boris Johnson is now out of the ICU at St Thomas’ Hospital and said to be walking. But if we take one lesson from his traumatic experience, it should be that we all learn our limits.

Mr Johnson’s work ethic during the crisis that has so suddenly engulfed us has been admirable.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is currently being treated for the coronavirus in hospital, where he was taken to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of St Thomas’ Hospital. He is now said to be walking

Dr Max Pemberton has urged Boris Johnson not to return to work until he is fighting fit

Boris Johnson is said to be back on his feet after being hit hard by the coronavirus having been treated in St Thomas’ Hospital’s ICU

But I’m sure the fact that he kept working after his initial diagnosis was a factor in his inability to fight the virus as colleagues such as Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty managed to do.

That said, I’m sure that we’ve all been guilty of this. How many of us have gone in to work with a cough or a cold when we should have been at home and in bed?

We soldier on in the belief that we’ll be letting others down if we aren’t pulling our weight. In our ignorance — and dare I say arrogance — we refuse to give our bodies the chance they need to heal and recover.

Before the advent of antibiotics and other powerful drugs and before the great advances in medical technology, getting better was seen as an important part of being ill. But in our fast-paced world we have lost the art of convalescence. So now is a good time to rediscover it.

If you’re at home with symptoms of coronavirus infection and self-isolating — or laid low with any other illness — here’s my guide to making a proper recovery.

Don’t check emails

Don’t even think about it, let alone answering them. Yes, it’s tempting to keep on top of things, but this will soon escalate as colleagues realise that you’re available. Switch on the auto-reply saying you are out of the office.

Limit your messaging

Don’t engage in long text messages with colleagues or even family or friends — you can do without the mental stimulation. Tell them you’re fine but resting.

Watch films not TV

It’s much more relaxing than watching live TV because there are no reminders of the time, such as news breaks. Get lost in a movie and doze if you feel like it.

Allow yourself treats

Forget the diet. Eat whatever you fancy. And if you have a craving, give in to it — it may be for the exact nutrients your body needs to help fight the infection.

Dr Max Pemberton suggests to anyone who might be recovering from an illness, suffering from symptoms of the coronavirus, who is self isolating, or poorly with any other illness to relax as much as possible

Listen to your body

Sleep when you want, eat when you want and let your body take charge.

Don’t get dressed

It’s just too tempting to start pottering round the house. Keep your PJs on and keep warm. By all means have a shower, but put on clean pyjamas rather than regular clothes afterwards.

You know yourself best

Trust your intuition about how you are feeling and what you need.

Accept help

Let others make you meals or cups of tea. If people offer to help, take them up on it.

Drink plenty of water

It’s the most important thing you can do for your body, as it helps to flush out toxins.

Rest At every opportunity

If there are household tasks you can’t avoid, sit down to do them when possible.

Pace yourself

Break down tasks into steps that can be performed with breaks and try to do them when you have the most energy, typically in the morning or after a nap.


Please, take it easy. This is a marathon not a sprint.

We want you back to work when you’re fighting fit and not a single day before.

The PM has the perfect place for a period of convalescence, too. The country retreat of Chequers was bequeathed to the nation in 1917 by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Arthur Lee, and his American heiress wife Ruth as ‘a place of rest and recreation for… Prime Ministers’.

There has never been a better time for him to take advantage of their wish. 

Dr Max’s personal tip to Boris is to go back to work only when he is fighting fit, and not a single day before. The Prime Minister’s country retreat, Chequers, was given to the nation in 1917 for the express purpose of the Prime Minister to have somewhere to relax

Support is such a vital booster

This pandemic is showing us how important friends are and how even small gestures can have a great impact.

As regular readers of this column will know, I was off work last week with suspected coronavirus and had to self-isolate for seven days.

I was so touched by the get-well-soon messages I received from readers, as well as those from many of my patients.

I’m now much better, thank you. And a special thank you has got to go to my fellow columnist Jan Moir, who sent the most amazing food parcel, brimful of goodies, including delicious home-cooked meals.

It gave me a real boost. If you hear about someone self-isolating, do make contact to see if they need anything. It can make a world of difference.

When confronted with something as infectious and insidious as the coronavirus, it’s easy to feel powerless, which can then breed fear and anxiety.

But the good news is that there are at least two things we can do to maximise our chances of survival should the worst happen.

A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 25 per cent of the people who have to go to ICU are smokers. And several studies have shown that people who are overweight are at increased risk of complications.

An ICU is shown on television where a patient is being treated by doctors and nurses for the coronavirus. The patient can be seen hooked up to a ventilator. People who smoke or are overweight can be impacted more by the virus

A leading French epidemiologist, Professor Jean-François Delfraissy raised this particular concern this week, warning that America — where almost a third of citizens are classed as obese —faces a major problem.

Yes, there are factors, such as age, that we can’t do anything about — but the lockdown is an opportunity for smokers to think about quitting and the overweight to take steps about cutting their calories.

Tell us when the end will come

When people are going through a painful ordeal, what gives them the most solace is an assurance that the end is in sight. And so it is with the current lockdown.

Study after study has shown that individuals can withstand a remarkable amount of adversity if only they know it won’t last for ever.

One such clinical experiment investigated how people managed mild pain. If they were told how long their discomfort would last, the majority were able to hold out until the appointed time. But those who weren’t given an end point stopped the experiment far sooner. I learned at medical school how midwives use this technique to help women in labour. They remind them a contraction will only hurt for 60 seconds then pass.

This has been shown to reduce not only the quantity of analgesic drugs an expectant mother requests, but the likelihood of birth complications, too, as the woman is calmer and more relaxed. That is why the Government must give us a clear time frame relating to the lockdown. Even if it has to be revised later, it will give us hope to cling to. From a psychological perspective, it will also keep us motivated and engaged with the rules.

We’re keeping our side of the bargain. It’s important that ministers keep theirs.

I’ve been horrified to hear of councils closing parks on the grounds that people are not adhering to social-distancing rules.

This is a reason to increase park-keeper patrols, not to punish everyone because of a minority who flout the rules.

Such bans affect the poor disproportionately because they are more likely to live in smaller properties without a garden. It’s woefully short-sighted from a mental health perspective.

People need to get out and enjoy a change of scenery. Young children need to run around.

Access to parks isn’t a luxury that can be withheld if someone is naughty. It is an essential form of recreation that will help us all get through this crisis in one piece.

Police on horseback recommend to people sitting in St Jame’s Park, London, that they should go home and follow government guidelines on social distancing

Dr Max, however, says bans on parks affect poorer people disproportionately, as they are less likely to have outdoor space, such as a garden, to enjoy the outdoors in

Dr Max prescribes… Free taxis for NHS workers

Hats off to the Fishmongers’ Company’s Charitable Trust for a fantastic initiative in partnership with Minicabit, the largest taxi-comparison service. The £150,000 scheme pays for minicabs to take NHS workers to and from work during the pandemic.

This will be helpful for workers coming off late shifts and staff in rural communities who often have long journeys. It will also enable frontline staff to avoid public transport, thus reducing their chances of infection.

Rides are free while funds last and cover trips up to £50. If you know NHS staff, tell them about it. You can help keep it going by donating online at gofundme.com/f/free-cabs-for-nhs.

Dr Max prescribes free taxis to help NHS workers with travel, and has praised Minicabit, the largest taxi comparison service, for an initiative helping NHS workers who live in rural communities and have long journeys to work for covering trips of up to £50

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