Coronavirus Survivor - My Dad's Story

So Very Thankful...

I have been sharing a post each day of November on my business Facebook page in honor of 30 Days of Thanks. For my Thanksgiving day post, I decided to share something very personal that I am so very, very thankful for. This post is very different from anything I have ever shared here, and I ask that you respect what my family has gone through and not bring any negativity, judgement, or political views in response. This is our experience - what we have endured, what we have suffered, and how we have survived. I am sharing this as I know our story, though unique to us, is similar to the stories of too many families across the world this year. And if you have been fortunate to have not been affected by COVID-19, this may give you some insight as to what others who have been affected are going through.



Similar to most of you, for the past months my family has been social distancing, washing our hands (which is nothing new), sanitizing, wearing masks, and following the safety protocols to do our best to stay safe from COVID-19. We felt grateful that we didn’t personally know anyone who had gotten sick with the Coronavirus.


Then, on the evening of Wednesday, July 22, my mom called to tell me that she and my dad weren’t feeling well and were planning to get tested the next morning. My stomach immediately lurched, but I told myself that just because they weren’t feeling well didn’t mean they would test positive for Covid. My parents were experiencing fatigue, dry throat and cough, body aches, runny nose, and low grade fevers. They could taste and smell. These symptoms didn’t necessarily mean they had Covid and we were hopeful their results would come back negative and that they had just come down with some kind of bug and would be feeling better soon. As soon as I got off the phone with my mom, I immediately called my cousin, who is the head of nursing at a prestigious medical center in another state. He was very calming and his input helped me to feel much better. Over the next three days while awaiting their test results, my parents developed a few new symptoms (headaches and nausea, neither had an appetite), some symptoms remained (body aches, fatigue, and low grade fever), some of their other symptoms went away, but at that point none of their symptoms were anything too serious.


The Dreaded News

On Sunday evening, July 26 (day 6 of symptoms for my mom and day 5 of symptoms for my dad), my parents called to tell us they had both tested positive for Covid. Their symptoms were still mild, and we all remained hopeful they would maybe have a few more days of not feeling well, then start to feel better. Secretly I was really worried about my mom as she tends to experience “worst case scenario” when she gets sick and given that she has undergone seven surgeries over the past five years, I was concerned about her body’s ability to fight off anything serious. My dad rarely gets sick so I was surprised when over the next couple of days his temperature continued to rise (even while taking Extra Strength Tylenol) and on that Tuesday, July 28 my dad was so exhausted he didn’t leave his bed - which is absolutely NOT typical of my dad.

Sidenote:

My mom is 69 years old, she has had a number of surgeries over the past few years but all were due to injuries, not health issues. My dad is a very healthy and active man in his early 70s who, prior to Covid, went to the gym nearly every day, rode his bicycle five days a week and played golf regularly. He is always on the go, in good shape and at a healthy weight. Two years ago he was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes but immediately made dietary and lifestyle changes and has not had active Diabetes for the past year.

My dad May 2020, prior to testing positive for COVID-19


By Wednesday, July 29 (day 9 for my mom and day 8 for my dad) my dad’s temp was normal and my mom was congested and they both had a dry cough, but my parents said it was the best they had felt since getting sick. I was starting to feel like maybe the worst was behind them and that we had dodged a bullet.


On Thursday morning, July 30 (day 10 for my mom and day 9 for my dad) my mom was feeling better than the day before and hadn’t had a fever in two days. However my dad was feeling achy and tired, and didn’t feel well enough to get out of bed. I noticed when talking with him on the phone that afternoon he didn’t sound like himself, I can’t really explain why, but I could tell that he sounded “off.” This was concerning to me. My sister told me she felt that same feeling when she had talked with him. Before we could mention it to my mom she called us with the evening update. My mom again had a low grade fever, but most concerning was that my dad’s temp had gone up to nearly 103 and he was experiencing extreme body aches. By now my parents were both monitoring their blood oxygen levels and my dad’s was hovering right around 93, the lowest number the doctor had told them was “acceptable.” (Ideally you want to be at 95 - 100. My parents were advised to go to the ER if their oxygen dropped to 92 or lower.)


My mom was getting nervous about my dad’s oxygen numbers and was concerned she may need to take my dad to the emergency room sometime in the night. Their doctor had cautioned my mom to call the hospital first before going if it came to that, as the hospitals in the area are overloaded with Covid patients and are full, many of them turning people away. I called my cousin again (we were communicating at least once a day by this point) and he advised my dad to lay in the prone position (on his stomach) to help improve his oxygen level. This did help and by the next morning my dad’s temperature was just below 100 and his oxygen level was maintaining in the acceptable range. We feared the possibility of my dad needing to be hospitalized if his oxygen levels did not maintain.


Our Fears Realized

By noon on Friday, July 31 (day 11 for my mom and day 10 for my dad), my dad’s oxygen levels had dropped into the high 80s, definitely below the “acceptable” range and my mom took him to the emergency room. They were able to stabilize my dad’s oxygen and released him a few hours later. However, within an hour of returning home my dad’s condition declined quickly - he was confused, despondent, and his oxygen levels plummeted to the mid 60s - resulting in him being formally admitted to the Covid unit at the hospital. Chest X-rays determined he had developed viral pneumonia (caused by Covid), so there was some level of relief that he was in the hospital where he could be closely monitored and receive the very best care. They initially told us they would be keeping my dad overnight to monitor him.


At this point I began keeping a log and sending out updates to our family and close friends of how my parents were doing. Portions of these updates are included below.


Saturday, August 1 (day 12 for my mom and day 11 for my dad):

My mom is feeling extremely exhausted but otherwise she isn’t experiencing any other symptoms. She called my dad’s cell phone to see how he was doing now that he has been in the hospital overnight. We hoped he would be feeling better, but he was lethargic and his words came out slowly as he was having to take breaths in between syllables. Their conversation only lasted a couple of minutes. The Covid unit is on the first floor of the hospital and my dad is fortunate to have a room with a window, so the nurse told my mom she could stand outside my dad’s hospital room and look through the window to see my dad while talking with him on the phone. She went there immediately, following all safety measures. She was able to see my dad and was alarmed at how pale and yellow his skin was (Covid is very hard on the body) - a significant change from the day prior. My dad was not feeling good at all and mostly slept. A call from the nurse told us they put my dad on IV steroids but otherwise there was not much change. Our worst fear had previously been my dad being hospitalized, now our worst fear is my dad needing to be put on a ventilator - we hope and pray that can be avoided. This evening my dad seemed a little more engaged when my mom visited, and he ordered dinner (a positive since he hadn’t wanted to eat the past few days) so we are encouraged.


Sunday, August 2 (day 13 for my mom and day 12 for my dad):

My dad’s voice was stronger when he talked with my mom. They only talked for about 5 minutes but he asked my mom if she could drop off his hairbrush when she comes back for her evening visit - so knowing how particular my dad is about his appearance we think this is a huge step in the right direction! The physician put him on another steroid but otherwise there are no significant changes.


Monday, August 3 (day 14 for my mom and day 13 for my dad):

Other than being extremely stressed out about my dad and feeling exhausted, my mom is not experiencing any other symptoms. The nurse reported my dad’s temperature spiked to over 102 last night but it is now down to 101. He required 7 liters of oxygen (oxygen is given at a certain rate which is measured in liters per minute) and he has been proning off and on, but is not able to maintain the position for longer periods because it causes him extreme back pain. My dad asked my mom not to visit until the evening as he isn’t feeling well. His words were labored and he was very breathless. However, later this afternoon my dad called my mom and he was talking and thinking more clearly - their conversation lasted nearly 15 minutes. My mom said she felt like a huge weight had been lifted after their talk as my dad seemed so much better! But just as our hopes were lifted, they came crashing down when the doctor called my mom this evening to tell her my dad’s condition has become more critical and his oxygen saturation levels continue to drop. They let us know my dad may need to be moved from an acute care room to the intensive care unit. This is very alarming, but we are trying to find comfort in the knowledge that my dad will receive more attentive care if moved to ICU (the nurse to patient ratio is 1:6 in acute care and 1:2 in ICU).


Tuesday, August 4 (day 14 for my dad):

We received news that my dad’s condition has declined further and he has been moved into ICU. We were also told they may need to put my dad on a ventilator. At this point, we are all stressed and worried beyond measure and not able to function beyond supporting my mom and waiting for the next update on my dad. My sister and I (live in Montana and) have held off on going to Idaho up until this point because we would not be able to see our mom (she is still positive for Covid). However, with my dad’s condition at such a critical place, my sister and I have decided to drive to Idaho tomorrow and stay in quarantine so we can visit my dad through the hospital window. We are terrified he will need to be put on the ventilator before we get there. Praying we make it there in time!


Wednesday, August 5 (day 15 for my dad):

My sister and I drove 10 hours to Idaho and arrived late afternoon. We went straight to the hospital. My dad was expecting us, and we shared some special moments just looking at him through the window and talking for a few minutes over the phone. My dad wasn’t able to talk much and couldn’t enunciate his words very well, plus he was coughing a lot, so we kept the visit short. Later this evening the nurse told us if my dad’s oxygen levels fall any further they will have to intubate him. That is our worst nightmare (in this series of worsening nightmares) - we are praying this won’t have to happen! We weren’t able to be with my mom but we did park our car nose to nose with her car so we could at least see her while talking with her on the phone. Thank goodness we could at least do that, as none of us know what the future holds and we need each other now more than ever before. It is heartbreaking not to be able to hug my mom, or hold her hand, or just be physically with her through this, the worst time in all of our lives!


Thursday, August 6 (day 16 for my dad):

My dad has been in the hospital for a week already. In some ways it seems like he just got there, in others it seems like it was a lifetime ago that he was home with my mom. I can’t even remember what it’s like to not be worried sick over how my dad is doing. Covid is certainly a series of ups and downs, with every mini-triumph paling in comparison to the devastating hits that just keep coming. We pray every day the tables will turn and that the highs will be higher and the lows not as low. Today is not that day. My dad’s nurse had to interrupt him while he was talking to have him take deep breaths and try to recover his oxygen levels. My dad seems in good spirits (SO GLAD that my sister and I decided to come!) but is having difficulty enunciating his words.


My dad is now receiving 35-40 liters of oxygen - the high end of “high flow.” He has been proning but because of the severe pain it causes him, it is a balancing act. My dad is now on a full dose of blood thinners since he is at high risk of blood clots. The positive news is that his inflammatory markers (used to monitor infection, etc.) are down a bit over the past day. Since my sister and I arrived, my mom is finally allowing herself to feel all the emotions of everything that is happening and she is (as expected) having a difficult time with it all. To be honest, that doesn’t even come close to describing it accurately - we are all just a thread away from completely losing it. We are trying to remain strong, positive, and hopeful, but with each passing day only bringing more bad news, it isn’t easy. It is crushing to see my dad in the hospital bed hooked up to all kinds of machines. His skin is pale and grayish, and he seems so fragile. On the inside all my mom, sister and I want to do is cry, but we have to be strong in front of my dad. We can only allow him to see us as being positive, hopeful, and strong - we can't let him know how terrified we are of losing him. He needs to use his energy to fight this, not worry about us.


Friday, August 7 (day 17 for my dad):

My dad is holding steady, the nurse said my dad’s condition is “maintaining” - not declining, not improving. My dad needed to be in the prone position off and on throughout the night as his oxygen levels were down, so he wasn’t able to get much sleep. One positive is that he doesn’t have a fever (yay!). My mom is pretty emotional today, realizing my dad is starting his second week in the hospital. We never thought we would be at this spot. My dad rarely ever gets sick, he has always been strong and healthy. He is an incredibly generous, devoted, and loving man, always putting his family first. How could something so awful happen to such an incredible person? But as we are learning, Covid does not discriminate. We are ALL at risk.


To help keep our minds from focusing only on worrying, my sister and I decided to make some signs to hold up to the hospital window when visiting my dad. My sister is extremely gifted with arts & crafts and she designed these two amazing signs - one for my dad and another for the nurses and physicians caring for my dad.


Then we ordered six dozen cookies, brownies, lemon bars and raspberry bars from a local bakery to be delivered to the Covid physicians, nurses and staff at the hospital - hoping they will enjoy something sweet as a small token of our appreciation for everything they do and all they are sacrificing to care for my dad and the other Covid patients. We made a very special card to send along with the goodies - we want the amazing health care workers who are risking their lives every day caring for our loved ones to know we appreciate them!

Hope

This afternoon the nurse reported my dad’s labs look really good, and that he is learning to take deep breaths when needed without the nurse having to prompt him. His spirits are still pretty good - we hope this is the start of things turning around for him! My dad’s physician called my mom late this evening with what we consider is some encouraging news. My dad hasn’t had a fever the past few days and is not currently on any IVs. And, although my dad is battling viral pneumonia and struggling with his oxygen levels (which are both life threatening), he does have a lot going for him in fighting this horrible virus. Because my dad was so healthy prior to Covid, he is not having any of the issues with heart attack, stroke, or blood clots that many other Covid patients are battling. We will take any good news we can get!


Devastation

Saturday, August 8 (day 18 for my dad):

Our greatest fear was realized today. Unfortunately, my dad’s condition became extremely critical and he had to be put on a ventilator about an hour ago. We are devastated!


Our daily routine since arriving in Idaho has been for my sister and I to drive to see my dad twice a day (that is all he can handle). My mom drives herself to the hospital at the same time and waits in her car until after my sister and I have visited with my dad through his window. Once we are back in our car, my mom goes to my dad’s window to visit for a few minutes. Well, while we were all driving to the hospital for our late morning visit, my mom received a call from my dad’s doctor, letting her know that my dad’s oxygen levels declined sharply and they were prepping him for intubation. My mom told the doctor we were en route to the hospital, and asked if there was any chance they could wait until we arrived. The doctor said no, my dad’s condition is too critical and they cannot wait.


Miraculously, we all arrived at the hospital in the knick of time. My mom parked and ran to my dad’s window, waving to my sister and I to join her. We were confused as we didn’t know about the doctor’s phone call and this was out of the normal routine. My mom was able to wave to my dad and say I love you, then stepped away so my sister and I could do the same. We BARELY made it there before the nurse closed my dad’s window shade as they intubated him. Please pray for him, and for our family, and please give my mom some time to process this - she is not up for any phone calls or texts. Your continued prayers are needed now more than ever.


Sunday, August 9 (day 19 for my dad, day 2 being on the ventilator):

We saw my dad twice today, and of course it was extremely difficult and upsetting for us to see him intubated, under temporary paralysis and in a medically-induced coma. The nurse raised his blinds so we could see him, and she put my dad’s phone to his ear while we talked to him. We hope he can hear us and know he would appreciate hearing our voices and knowing we are here for him. My sister and I have extended our stay as there is no way we can leave my mom right now. We are all numb, this is a living nightmare! My mom looks like a zombie, she is so worried and not sleeping, and hardly eating. The future seems very uncertain at the moment. We are just shattered, and pray my dad can retain his fighting spirit and make it through this!


Monday, August 10 (day 20 for my dad, day 3 being on the ventilator):

There haven’t been any changes with my dad today. The nurse said “no change” is good right now. The doctor told my mom that before they intubated my dad, even while resting my dad’s lungs were performing as though he was running a marathon. Putting him on the ventilator allows his body to rest while the ventilator does all the work. We pray that after his body gets some rest, he will be able to regain the strength needed to come off the ventilator successfully. We are trying to remain positive, but we are absolutely terrified. We have no idea if my dad will ever return home, though we pray constantly for just that.


When we walked up to my dad’s hospital window this evening his blinds were raised and we were horrified to see his body shuddering - we couldn’t tell if he was having a seizure or convulsions - but it didn’t look good and there were no nurses in the room with him. We frantically called the nurses’ station to let them know my dad needed immediate help. We had to wait for the nurse to suit up in protective Hasmat gear before entering my dad’s room, all the while seeing my dad possibly dying before our eyes. It was the most terrifying experience of our lives! After examining my dad (who is still in a coma), the nurse assured us my dad was not having convulsions or a seizure. His body was coughing up the phlegm from his lungs but since my dad is under paralysis and the phlegm has to go through a very narrow tube, the effort requires a high level of exertion from his body - that was what we were witnessing. It was a huge relief to know this was a normal thing and nothing for us to worry about, but it was honestly one of the worst things we have ever had to see, not to mention extremely upsetting!


To help keep our minds from thinking about it, my sister and I spent the rest of the evening focusing on getting some things set up for my mom so she won't have to worry about the household responsibilities that my dad normally manages. One positive thing, my mom tested negative for Covid today and is doing very well with her recovery.


Tuesday, August 11 (day 21 for my dad, day 4 being on the ventilator):

We saw my dad twice today and read him the many texts and messages that we have received from our amazing family and friends. I hope he can hear us, as I know he would be comforted in knowing he is so very loved, and that so many people are praying for him! It brought us to tears to realize how many people’s lives my dad has touched. My aunt and uncle are so sweet and arranged for a professional cleaning company to do a hospital-grade sanitation clean of my parent’s home, vehicles, and outdoor living spaces, which means my sister and I are finally allowed to see our mom! We are still maintaining social distance but are able to sit at the other end of the table and actually be in the same room with her. She really needs us right now, and we really need her! Family is everything, and especially now, we need to be together. My sister and I will have to return home soon, but we can’t imagine not being here right now.


Answered Prayers

Wednesday, August 12 (day 22 for my dad, day 5 being on the ventilator):

Our prayers have been answered!! We just got THE BEST CALL from my dad’s nurse…. MY DAD IS NOW OFF THE VENTILATOR!!!!!!!!! He is no longer in a coma and no longer under paralysis! He still requires oxygen assistance to breathe (he is getting 7 liters of oxygen), but HE IS ALIVE! Unfortunately, my dad has developed a secondary pneumonia, so he is now dealing with both viral and bacterial pneumonia. They are starting him on antibiotics so we are hoping it was caught early enough that it won't get worse. Headed to the hospital now to see my dad!!


Thursday, August 13 (day 23 for my dad):

My dad’s physician called to tell us my dad is a miracle patient! He said my dad is doing WELL, and has surpassed all expectations for his recovery at this time! My dad still has a long road ahead in dealing with double pneumonia, but the fact that he was only on the ventilator for five days and already has such clear cognitive thought this soon after being in a coma is very impressive! (Of course we know my dad is an overachiever, so we are not one bit surprised!) My dad is on a feeding tube but is responding well to treatment. If things continue to go well, he could be released from ICU in the next couple of days!! After that, he will be in the hospital for another week before being discharged to a rehab facility for a week or two while he regains physical strength and mobility. We are SO RELIEVED and feeling so much better about things!


Friday, August 14 (day 24 for my dad):

My sister and I wish we could stay longer, but as my dad appears to be past the worst and doing well, we will be driving back to Montana today. My mom seems completely recovered, and is of course elated that my dad is doing so much better. My sister and I both plan to come back soon for another visit.


Saturday, August 15 (day 25 for my dad):

Well this nightmare of a roller coaster continues. Yesterday afternoon my dad was doing so well they moved him out of ICU into an acute care room. However, last night his chest x-ray wasn’t as good as it had been the day before, and by this morning his oxygen levels had dropped considerably so they re-admitted my dad to ICU. The doctor told us they are doing everything they can to avoid putting my dad back on a ventilator, but if they can’t get my dad stabilized they will have to intubate him again. It goes without saying that my mom, sister and myself are DEVASTATED at this development! We continue to be hopeful that my dad will once again improve with the extra care and attention he receives in ICU. I really wish I was still in Idaho - it is so difficult to be in another state with things taking another downturn. Thankfully my sister and her husband will be driving back to Idaho tomorrow - so relieved they are able to be with my mom right now!


Sunday, August 16 (day 26 for my dad):

Yesterday my dad needed 100% assistance to breathe. Today his oxygen has improved some, he now requires 75% assistance to breathe. He is still requiring high levels of oxygen so please continue to keep him in your prayers - I am not sure he or my family can get through another round of him being intubated. We remain positive and hopeful - my dad has a fighting spirit and is determined to beat this horrible virus!


Tuesday, August 18 (day 28 for my dad):

We are halfway through my dad’s third week in the hospital. My sister, her husband and my mom have been visiting my dad twice a day the past couple of days. My dad is able to speak much better and has been calling my mom on the phone 5-6 times a day and calling me 2-3 times a day! It is INCREDIBLE that he is able to hold, dial, and talk on the phone so much - especially since only a few days ago the nurse had to hold the phone to his ear!


His spirits are high, he even joked around some. My dad is now off the feeding tube and he ate some cream of wheat, vanilla pudding, and vegetable broth. He never thought cream of wheat could taste so good but it’s been a couple of weeks since he had any real food so I imagine it tasted like heaven!


The occupational therapist had him up and walking today with a walker, though he is still very weak. His inflammation and labs are looking better, and he hasn’t had a temperature for a few days. His oxygen levels are still a major concern but we are hopeful he will start to improve very soon. Since coming off the ventilator my dad has been telling us that his left thigh is really sore. We pray it isn’t anything serious and will keep you posted as we know more.


Wednesday, August 19 (day 29 for my dad):

My dad's oxygen levels are about the same as they were yesterday. He is still having issues with his left thigh. Today it went from sore to numb, and he isn’t able to move his left leg. They are taking him in for a CT scan - hoping and praying this isn’t something serious!


Thursday, August 20 (day 30 for my dad):

My dad had a CT scan and an MRI last night so they could determine the cause of the pain in his leg. Unfortunately, what they found is a bleed in my dad’s lower back, near the pelvis area. The internal bleeding is what is causing the issues with my dad’s leg. The physician met with a team of specialists and they decided to take my dad off the blood thinners to help curb the bleed. Hopefully my dad’s body will absorb the blood and this won’t become yet another major obstacle in his recovery. The physical therapist is having my dad work through some exercises specific to his leg, which is already helping him to regain some feeling and mobility.


Improvement

Friday, August 21 (day 31 for my dad):

My dad has graduated from ICU to an acute care room and seems to be doing well. He works with both occupational and physical therapists multiple times a day and is able to use his walker and circle the hospital bed a couple of times each session. His left leg is still not 100% but is getting better each day. They are keeping my dad on liquid / soft foods, he was pretty excited about the omelet and coffee he had this morning! His oxygen levels are still the biggest concern, but he is making improvements there too. Feeling hopeful but scared to be too hopeful as the curve balls seem to keep on coming, but the positive updates sure do feel great!


Saturday, August 22 (day 32 for my dad):

My mom had a conference with my dad’s physician and he told my mom they have done everything they can for my dad at the hospital. Unfortunately, my dad’s lungs have sustained permanent damage from Covid. They have a crackling sound the doctor says is different than any he has heard prior to Covid. He relayed to us they are not sure what my dad's prognosis is for further improvement - his current condition may be the best he will ever be. This isn’t what we had hoped to hear! Of course we are incredibly thankful he is alive, but he is still so critical - and thinking this could be the best he will ever be is definitely disheartening. However, we know my dad - and we know that if there is any possibility of him continuing to improve, he will! We are not giving up hope that he can recover further!