Michael Rosen on his Covid-19 coma: ‘It felt like a pre-death, a nothingness’

Earlier this year, the beloved children’s writer spent six weeks on a ventilator with coronavirus. He talks about the magic of the NHS, the mismanagement of the crisis and how his near-death experience has changed him

“I’m drinking lemon tea,” Michael Rosen says. “Would you like some? It’s what my mother used to call Russian tea, by the way.” And before I am through the kitchen door of his north London home, he has given me a potted history of Russian tea. It is classic Rosen. Rarely does a sentence pass without the much-loved children’s poet and author teaching you something. There are anecdotes within anecdotes, tangents galore and an astonishing frame of reference – from the Palestinian professor Edward Said on “othering” to the former footballer Gordon Strachan on resilience, the poet Benjamin Zephaniah on us all being migrants and the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, on memory banks – and back again. “Sorry to inflict the Arsenal mug on a Man City fan,” he says with a wicked smile. Rosen, it seems, knows everything about everybody.

Earlier this year, the 74-year-old contracted Covid-19. He spent seven weeks in intensive care, six of them on a ventilator. His hair is white and thinner (although still pretty lush), he wears a hearing aid because his left ear is buggered, the bags under his eyes are more scrotal than ever, his left eye is fogged over, his voice is underpowered and he struggles with his breathing. Then there is the dizziness, numb toes, increased arthritis and blood clots on his lungs. Having said that, he is doing amazingly well. He is not hobbling around his kitchen, but cantering. He is writing books and newspaper columns, performing on his YouTube channel (run by his son Joe; 86m views), tweeting like billy-o. And yet there is something different about him.

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