For Malcolm Kitts, the question was rhetorical. Would he – his godson, Daniel, asked him – like a nice surprise? Kitts, a 62-year-old Tottenham fanatic from Essex, has been to hell and back. A diabetic, he spent 10 days in a medically induced coma as his body fought against Covid-19, viral pneumonia and sepsis. Even the doctors could not explain how he survived. Kitts was dubbed “the walking miracle of Basildon hospital”. So, yes, he would bloody love a nice surprise.
Daniel told him to click the video message on his phone, which Kitts did and, rather abruptly, there was one of his Spurs heroes talking to him. It was Harry Winks, addressing him personally and saying how happy he was that Kitts was feeling better. Everybody at Spurs was thinking of him, Winks added, and, hopefully, they would soon see him at the stadium.
Footballers are regularly asked for these sort of messages. In happier days they could be for the groom at a wedding, for example, but the common thread is the astonishment they provoke, the disproportionate intensity of the emotion, the almost childlike joy.
Winks is 24 and those who know him will highlight his humility and boy-next-door normality. But because of what he does he has extraordinary influence and, at times like these, it is heartwarming to see how even the simplest of gestures from him or a fellow player can lift the spirits. Members of Winks’s profession have done some daft things during the lockdown yet it is worth remembering they consistently use their profile in positive ways, which is not always reported.
“It put such a smile on my face,” Kitts says. “The amount of love involved with it is crazy. I’ve sent it to all my Spurs fan friends and they were just amazed. Harry, that was a bit special. I’m smiling again now. I’ve played it over and over. I’m a 62-year-old man! What’s that all about?”
Kitts’s wife, Tina, has an anecdote to offer context. “Malcolm works as wedding DJ but 15, 20-odd years ago he was a bedroom fitter and his company got a call from Glenn Hoddle, who wanted all his bedrooms fitted out,” she says. “So the company asked Malcolm if he’d like to do the job. He was just in awe. ‘Oh my God, I’m going to meet Glenn Hoddle.’ It was the same reaction when he got the Harry Winks video. His face was a picture. It meant the world.”
For Kitts and his family, the nightmare started when he was gripped by severe head pain on 15 March – the symptom that had accompanied a bout of viral pneumonia 16 years previously. He was admitted to hospital two days later and, by 21 March, his breathing had deteriorated. It is unclear whether the coronavirus infection came before or after the pneumonia, with the sepsis deepening the worry.
Kitts was taken to the critical care unit, attached to a ventilator and put into the coma but not before he knew there was a 50% chance he would not wake up.
“I thought I was dead when they told me they were going to put me in a coma,” Kitts says. “I had a 50% chance of coming out – I knew that from what I’d heard doctors and nurses saying. I phoned Tina, who was isolating with our youngest son, Mark, at his flat and I just told her that my breathing had gone down and they needed to put me into a coma. I didn’t tell her about the 50% chance.
“I got really emotional because me and Tina have been together since we were 15 so I asked her to put Mark on, who I can be stronger with. I said to him: ‘Look after mum,’ and he said: ‘Yeah, she’ll be fine here at mine – I’ll put you back to her.’ He didn’t have a clue. It was quite amusing when you think about it. I just said to Tina: ‘Love you and I’ll see you soon.’”
After five days the doctors revived Kitts to see whether he could breathe on his own but he could not. He was put back into the coma and it looked as if he was slipping away. For Tina, the helplessness was as acute as the anguish. “It was just the thought of he’s going to die and I can’t be with him, I can’t hold his hand.”
Yet Kitts is a fighter, his condition stabilised and he was brought round successfully on 31 March. He remained in critical care for four more days before being moved to high dependency and then the general ward. The nurses applauded him when he was discharged on 10 April.
Kitts had no coordination after he came to and, to use his words, he was lying there “picking stars out of the sky”. He did not know who Tina was, at first, and he struggled to differentiate between dreams and reality. On the drive away from hospital his eyes were opened wide to the lockdown, which was not in force before his coma. “It was like The Walking Dead,” he says.
Kitts’s daughter, Nikki, has bought him a Spurs shirt with “Survivor” across the back and, together with a return to normality, what he most wants is to provide hope for families affected by Covid-19.
Tina has the final word. “You need that positivity. I know I did when Malcolm was critical on the ventilator. It’s been beyond words, the darkest days we’ve ever had, but I just think he had too much to live for – a wonderful family and too many Spurs matches he wanted to see.”