It's now 11 weeks since the last time Jolene Greer saw her husband Allen in person. Instead, she's counting the days until she can visit him again at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast as she stays in contact via video call.
Dad-of-three Allen (46) has been fighting for his life after suffering a terrible workplace fall in October and undergoing multiple surgeries. He had experienced setback after setback, but his family were always able to be there to hold his hand, until the pandemic reached Belfast.
Jolene (41) said her goodbyes to Allen after she realised lockdown was on the way with the announcement that cafes, pubs and other premises had to close.
"I went up that night and I tried to explain it as best I could, but he was still very, very tired, going in and out of sleep, and it broke my heart because I thought, I don't want to stop seeing him," she says.
"I want to see him but if I carried anything in to him, I'd never forgive myself because he couldn't deal with Covid, with a tracheostomy. So, I last saw him that Friday, 11 weeks ago, and the ward closed the following Tuesday to visitors."
Allen, from Newtownabbey, is self-employed, fitting roller shutters, PVC and roof lining for a living, and was doing a roof job on a house in Randalstown on October 1, the day that life changed suddenly.
"He went to work as normal, gave me a kiss, told me he loved me and went to work as normal," Jolene recalls.
That evening, the family were waiting for Allen to come home for dinner when the police arrived to say he'd been in a fall at work.
"Basically, he fell 13 feet off a ladder and he hit his head on the left hand side," Jolene says. "He'd actually got up, with the adrenaline, and got into his work van. The ambulance driver said he was okay to go on the road, but when they were travelling to the Royal he started deteriorating."
Jolene went straight to the Royal Victoria Hospital and discovered Allen had been taken to theatre for lifesaving surgery after doctors discovered a bleed on his brain. He had to be put into an induced coma.
"The minutes were like hours, and the hours were like weeks, and any time I looked round there was a clock to the right of me… it was like the clocks were haunting me," Jolene says.
Despite the operation, within 24 hours Allen's condition was deteriorating again and he had to be rushed in for emergency surgery. He remained in a coma for another three weeks before being moved to the neurology ward for the next seven weeks.
"They needed to put the skull cap back on, but they also needed to fit a shunt because he has a condition, hydrocephalus, where the fluid doesn't drain from the brain properly because of this head injury," Jolene explains.
After six weeks, there were early signs that Allen was on the road to recovery as he started to come round.
"I was up on a Monday and he was sitting there as bright as a button. I was like 'oh my goodness, look at you', and he was holding my hand and lifting my hand to kiss me," Jolene says.
"He was tucking my hair behind my ear and I thought this is brilliant, I've got my husband back, we're gonna be alright."
But there was more bad news to come. Surgeons told Jolene the shunt was over-draining and Allen would need more surgery to rectify it.
Within days of that operation they found that the shunt was now under-draining and he had to undergo another procedure.
Afterwards Allen spent two weeks on a ventilator in ICU until his tracheostomy (a tube installed in the windpipe) was fitted, which means he is unable to speak. Disaster struck again when surgeons removed the shunt, just 10 days before Christmas, and Allen had to undergo emergency surgery after suffering a blood clot.
"The surgeon explained what had happened - the blood clot had actually damaged more of his brain, as it was like a shotgun pellet effect this time, where every part of his brain would have a slight bit of damage on it," Jolene says.
The family ended up spending Christmas in ICU with Allen.
One of the nurses moved him over in his bed so that they could all get in together and watch the Disney movie Moana on TV.
"It was like the best Christmas present ever," Jolene says. "Even though he was in the coma state, he knew we were there."
In the middle of February the doctors began working with the shunt again.
"They gave him daily lumbar punctures, which is the needle in the back, and they drain the fluid which is connected to the brain. And by the end of February, Allen had started coming round more.
"He was more alert - he still wasn't good but he was far better than he was. I said 'Allen, squeeze my finger' and he squeezed and it was so hard and I was like 'okay, okay we get it'."
But with the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, hospital visiting shut down and the family could only see Allen by video call.
The ordeal was having a terrible impact on the family. Jolene had only been back to work for a week when Covid-19 hit, and her children, Alanna (16) and twins Jay and Amy Nicole (12) were struggling.
However, during half-term, she became concerned about the impact of the situation on her son.
When Jolene mentioned this to one of the nurses, she advised contacting Calm in Antrim and they put her in touch with Action for Children, who organised counselling for Jay.
"His first appointment was the week before Covid came, and I sat in on the first appointment because that's what happens," she says.
"It was rough," she adds.
"And then Covid hit - this is all at the same time - and they contacted me and said 'Listen, what happens is, we will contact him over the telephone'. They can still do telephone calls which they have been doing and it's been a brilliant help."
Action for Children also stepped in to help after the lockdown hit Jolene's job, supplying food and money for utility bills as well as a support worker for the family.
"We were barely surviving on the little income we had left, and then out of nowhere, my Action for Children worker called and asked if I needed anything," Jolene says.
"I was a bit embarrassed at first, I've worked since I was 12 and I never expected to ever need help.
"But then when the food came and the bills were covered, I just sat and cried. It is just so lovely that someone has done something like that for me and my family.
"I didn't expect a knock at my door to change my life, and if it wasn't for the likes of Action for Children helping me get the counselling and the emergency funding, I don't know.
"I have a safety net now that I never had before."
Jolene admits things were very up and down during the first few weeks of lockdown.
"One night, I couldn't sleep. Every time I closed my eyes and slept, I was crying," she says.
"I never thought I'd ever see this in my lifetime - I don't think any of us did. It's something you read about, you see it in a film but it's not normal.
"But for somebody who's had such a serious brain injury, you know, I can't go up to see him. The only thing I can do is give them the laundry in. It's heartbreaking knowing he's like 14 steps away from you - some days I feel like pushing them away and running up the ward.
"I know it's in his best interest and it hurts me when I see people on Facebook on social media complaining about 'I can't get to a concert, my holiday has been cancelled'. And I think, you don't know how lucky you are. I would give anything just to sit and be able to hold my husband's hand, just to comfort him.
"Not everybody's playing by the rules. You see people and they've been having parties. If these people just abided by the rules … the quicker they do that, the quicker I get to see my husband, that's the way I look at it."
Jolene has been keeping busy round the house, decorating and fixing up the garden. But the one glimmer of hope is that Allen is turning the corner and is now improving.
"Every video call I was getting, I was going 'he's getting really brighter' and with brightness comes strength. So over the last few weeks, it's like he's coming round."
The consultants have now told Jolene that Allen needs to be weaned off his tracheostomy and transferred to Musgrave Park Hospital for rehabilitation. The tracheostomy is due to be removed this week.
"I smiled from ear to ear, I cried with happiness and sheer joy, because I never thought I'd hear those words because it was like it was all stacked against us, it was just setback after setback.
"It actually took me about two hours to let it sink in," Jolene says.
"I don't know if he'll be able to talk straight away. I don't know where it leaves his speech, but he's getting a tracheotomy out which means he can be put down on the waiting list for a bed at Musgrave."
It's still a long road for Allen. It's impossible to tell where he will go after Musgrave, whether to another unit, or whether he will be able to return home.
"All of a sudden the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are starting to go back together," Jolene says.
"It's going to be a long time before he's home again, but for the first time in months my husband is safe.
"He's no longer on a lifesaving journey. He's now on a rehabilitation journey, and I'm so proud of him because he fought so hard."
But Jolene is worried that the lockdown restrictions are being relaxed too soon, especially in England, and that people are flouting the rules.
"It's like the people that obey the rules are the people being punished. The more people abide by the rules, the quicker we're going to get out of this. Unfortunately not everyone plays by the rules," she says.
"Dear love him, Allen's been through the mill, and for my wee family Covid could not have had come at a worse time.
"It's been tough - there have been nights I've walked the floors here. In the middle of the night everything is a million times worse and it is a bad situation to start off with anyhow.
"But I just hope that the (infection) rate goes down and that I can get seeing him," Jolene adds.
For more information about the work of Action for Children, visit www. actionforchildren.org.uk/