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Long Haul Covid Train

Chapter Five – PING PONG: FROM ICU TO ACUTE CARE & BACK (TWICE)

Home-made cookies one of the Star Wars garbed nurses gave me.

The first morning after being taken to the ER for the beginning of my Long Haul Covid experience, another small irony presented itself in the person of Dr. Brett Hesse, who came to see me.  He was the son of George Hesse, who was my principal when I transferred back to teach in New Castle. For the second time.

Here’s an email update I sent out on December 8, my second day in the hospital:

Good afternoon everyone, and thanks for your prayers and concern. 

  The doctor says I’m stable, neither improving much but not declining either. They’re aggressively attacking the Covid filling my lungs with steroids and antibiotics as well as an anticoagulant to prevent clotting. They’re closely monitoring my heart, lungs, and oxygen level, which has come up each day I’ve been here (progress!) from 50% when admitted to 90% now (of course it’s being continuously pumped in through one of several tubes I’m connected to, in which I’m constantly entangling myself and having to call for assistance). 

  The nurses and doctors (mine is Brett Hesse, son of a former principal at New Castle Elementary) are wonderful and I’m gratefully sharing the book I’m reading with my class this month with them, the true story of a WWI nurse, Edith Cavell (A Cup of Cold Water), who was inspired by her Christian family and Florence Nightingale. Two of the nurses have asked for the author & title so they can read it! 

  Just had a call from Loren Martin, hospital chaplain, who has spoken at our New Hope men’s breakfast. Small world. 

  Again, thanks for your prayers and please pray also for Linda, who is recovering at home from the virus. She’s doing alright and we appreciate the many folks who have helped with my LCA classes, bought & brought us supplies, as well as run items to me here in Valley View ICU. Doc says at least 5 more days and then we’ll see where we are.

 God’s blessings, favor, and good health upon you and yours. I love you all!

After three full days in ICU, my numbers had improved to the point where the decision was made to move me from ICU to Acute Care, the difference being I supposedly wouldn’t need as strict monitoring. The numbers refer to a series of phrases and initials coming from blood draws (which were frequently made at 4 a.m. for a reason I don’t remember) that measured what was going on the inside of my battle with Covid.  Here are a few of the ones I became way too familiar with (the first number is my initial reading upon admittance to the hospital, the second is the first time I recorded the key indicators, December 27 – a day shy of three weeks):

D-Dimer (20 > 8.4): This one they seemed very concerned with, as the higher the number, the more likely blood clots would form.

CRP (207 > 58): inflammation markers.

Ferritin (2093 > 1310): showed my level of lung inflammation, again, doctors and nurses indicated this reduction was significant, though still alarmingly high.

At this point, I had no idea what normal levels were, I just began to write the numbers down whenever blood was drawn in a daily record I kept in my phone.  Initially, I was just trying to understand what was happening to me and what it would take to get home and resume my normal life.

For a number of years, I have coordinated an email prayer group, primarily from members of New Hope Church in New Castle, though it’s expanded over the years and many folks, even after moving away, wanted to continue receiving the emails. I was sending updates to these prayer warriors every few days. Here’s an entry from December 11, my fifth in the hospital:

Kind of a rough night. Not much sleep. Blood draw at 4, couldn’t go back to sleep so did my Bible devotion, then at 6:30, they took another set of X-rays. Hoping my lungs will show less Covid— they were full last time (dang asthma!). So that would be good news. Still no other symptoms other than not generating enough oxygen on my own (due to Covid in lungs). That’s the key to going home. Otherwise, I’m feeling pretty good, if weak, and losing the hog-tie battle with the 4-5 tubes and wires that wrap me up whenever I try to move! Thanks for the thoughts and prayers and the help for Linda!

  Glad my kids are able to return to the classroom. Got to get on lesson plans for my sub, whom I really appreciate, and also get caught up on the work kids have turned in. I’m really missing being with them. Hopefully, next year (after New Year’s that is)!

I was still operating from a belief that this was like every other illness I’d experienced in my life. After treatment, I’d be well and go back to teaching my class and covering high school games for KMTS.  I found it difficult to find the energy and stamina to grade the papers I’d brought home prior to Christmas break. I settled into a routine of about two after breakfast each day.

I also began to spend time talking to the nurses who rotated through my room, and started to record their names. They were from different parts of the country and I was interested in how they’d wound up where I was, providing all manner of assistance in addition to their regular duties.  Some were “locals,” and I discovered various connections, either through my teaching or broadcasting high school sports. One of these was Taylor, the head nurse in the ACU ward, whose sister-in-law was a good friend of our daughter’s and whose husband had played for the Glenwood Springs football team I’d covered for the radio station

In conversing with these dedicated individuals, so vital to my daily existence, it became important to me to let them know how much I appreciated their efforts on my behalf.  I soon got the sense this wasn’t something they encountered often, and sometimes they were the verbal targets of just the opposite response. I recall expressing my amazement that anyone would feel anything but gratitude towards individuals who were playing a part in “saving my life,” I said.  The nurses invariably said something like the patient “was in a lot of pain,” or “I’m just doing my job.”

They were going way beyond just their duties in my experience, offering reassurance, medical explanations I could understand, a listening ear, reheating my breakfast if it was cold, homemade cookies (!), and on Christmas Eve, when I was feeling very low, a nurse from Georgia prayed with me.

My Christmas tree.
 

By this time I was used to sleeping with a mask on that provided extra oxygen for me. I even opened it a couple of times when I had to blow my nose or apply some chapstick and was able to reattach it without calling for help.  My overconfidence betrayed me in the early morning hours of December 14, a week into my stay.  I tried and failed to make the connection the first time, and rather than buzz for a nurse, I tried again, and my oxygen level dropped too severely causing me to pass out and fall. An alert nurse quickly discovered this and it was decided to move me back to ICU to be more closely monitored.

That evening I alternated between chills and fever until it broke and I wound up getting a good night’s rest.  A day later, Taylor from ACU, taped a cheery note to the outside of my window, and by December 20, I was moved once again to an ACU room, and this one had a shower!  For the first time in two weeks, I graduated from shampoo caps and sponge baths.

Next Week – Chp. 6: Doctor Long Haul & Christmas through the Window

Tune in next week for chapter six in my journey on the Long Haul Covid Train. For subscribers, very shortly I’ll be sending you Sidecar #2 – the story of how my dreams of being a rock ‘n roll star morphed into a 46-year teaching career. If you’re a Long Haul passenger, know someone who is, are reminded of a related story, or just want to leave a comment, please do.

One response to “Long Haul Covid Train”

  1. that’s my bro – the “Stat Man”. Thanks. What a wonderful gift!

    Liked by 1 person

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