COVID-19 Almost Killed My Healthy, Active Husband

COVID Almost Killed My Healthy Husband—A 14 Day Breakdown Of His Symptoms

November 23, 2020 Updated January 11, 2021

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Burst

I looked out the back patio doors and the trees seemingly dumped their entire lot of leaves all in one night. I knew he didn’t want to miss anything at home, so I like to think the trees held out just for him — so he could see it happen. I watched him get teary eyed just days before about how beautiful the changing colors were on the leaves. I watched him crunch the leaves in the yard with his feet before one of our first short walks after he got home. Neither of us knew if he would ever experience the fall season again. Yet here we were experiencing the brisk air, our elderly dog meandering behind us, the neighbors waving as they drive by, the birds chirping above us.

Our first walk we go slow. I carry a folding chair in case he needs a break, I realize I didn’t ask how his oxygen tank was and worry that we should’ve changed it before we walk. I won’t forget again. I’m just grateful for this moment in time. That we got to have it.

Together.

We are walkers. When quarantine started in March, working from home, we upped that activity even more. Staring at a computer all day quickly takes its toll. Naturally, we solved all the world’s problems during these walks as well. We both hated that this new virus and mask wearing had become so political, but who were we to judge what other people did for their own families? We enjoyed the extra time with all four of our kids, but took note of the especially rare time we knew we were getting with our teenagers. We planted new rose bushes, tended to our garden, painted a barn quilt, stained our fence and did it all as a family. We also stayed home. We didn’t go on vacation and we did the bare minimum with activities because we read the articles and watched the news. We wanted to keep our family safe.

By the time school started back up in early August, we were still concerned, but we all felt a sense of calm and what we know now was a false sense of security. The few people we did hear of getting sick had either had a simple cold or even comparable to flu. Even though we’d read the reports, that just wasn’t happening here and not to “real” people. But… we were aware. We knew it had taken lives. We read the stories of doctors not knowing why it hit some people harder than others… was it underlying conditions? Was it age?

It all started simply enough. It’s mid‐September in the midwest, it’s allergy season, so when he got a dry cough, it wasn’t all too alarming. It wasn’t until a few days later when he asked me if I was burning “that” candle that he knew something was going on. He hates the smell of it… Pumpkin Pecan Waffles… of course I love it. I was sure he was going to ask to me to blow it out, but he walked into the other room and appeared to start his work day. Not too much later and he peeked around the corner saying he was getting tested. He couldn’t smell the candle. He couldn’t taste his breakfast. I could tell he was shaken. That was enough to scare the both of us.

The next 24 hours passed and he finally received the positive result we had already guessed he had. We were all home on quarantine already waiting for the word, and now we worried how many other people our family may have had contact with. Although the nurses told us it wasn’t necessary, we decided to get everyone tested. We needed to know who to quarantine in separate rooms and we felt it was our duty to be able to tell schools if they were indeed positive.

Over the next several days we walked. Convinced this virus wouldn’t get our family down, surely staying active would help. Two of our boys received positive tests. One completely asymptomatic, and the other had cold symptoms. My husband, however, continued to decline. He admitted later that he wasn’t sure he would make it back home on the last walk he took. He went to his quarantine room and stayed there. Sleeping would help, right?

I asked every day if he felt like we should seek help. He replied he was fine and didn’t feel like he was having trouble breathing. It was when the fever hit that I knew I needed to get him to the hospital. His brother had access to a pulse oximeter and brought it to the house. A reading of 85 with COVID was not a good sign. We had him to the ER at the recommendation of a nurse friend and he was admitted on that Saturday night.

Courtesy of Andrea Halbig

It’s Saturday night and almost time for dinner. I had talked with his brother earlier and I was scared. He didn’t look good; he was weak and tired and breathing very fast. He insisted he was fine and just needed to rest. I think back to this moment a lot. If his brother hadn’t called right then, would I have gotten him to the hospital soon enough? His oxygen was low according to the pulse oximeter. I convinced him it was time to go. He wouldn’t let me take him to the hospital; instead my oldest son did. I hadn’t tested positive at this point and he didn’t want to risk exposure by sitting in the truck together. He had to drop him off.

This horrible virus has made it so families are torn apart. This was a man who had never been in the hospital at all in his 41 years and now he was going to be in the hospital alone. We couldn’t be there, we couldn’t hug, hold, touch or just be there. I waited nervously for updates as he was settled into a room.

DAY 1 (Sunday)‐ Needing to receive oxygen, he was given a nasal cannula and put on 2 liters of oxygen. We found out he had pneumonia in both lungs and was put on antibiotics, Remdesivir and steroids. He was still running a fever and they estimated approximately five days in the hospital.

It was a difficult day. Waiting is never easy. We waited not so patiently for a plan of action. There was a Hospitalist and an Infectious Disease Specialist that needed to work together to decide on which meds he “qualified” for. I wanted to be there to advocate for my sick husband; his fever wasn’t staying under control and he was miserable. The guilt echoed through my entire body. I couldn’t be there for him. Tomorrow we would continue another week of virtual learning, but this time dad wouldn’t be home. The anxiety of being able to keep up with things at home and be a good mom was starting to seep through, but I needed to stay strong. I must.

DAY 2 (Monday) – His oxygen was increased to 7 liters and it was a struggle to control the fever. He received blood plasma with antibodies in the evening. We got to do a video chat, which was great for all of us. Not being together is harder than we thought it would be. I could also tell he was winded after he talked or coughed.

We were told that they hadn’t decided on whether or not he would get the blood plasma with antibodies. There is so much unknown about this virus and what treatments work, but we knew this was one of the ones they had high hopes for. We of course wanted him to have the best chance at recovery, and preferably sooner rather than later.

We hadn’t seen him since he left on Saturday, so a video call was a relief. It was so good to see him and talk with him. Seeing him take extra breaths between words was a little unnerving but we knew he was in the best place to get better. He did note the food tasted horrible, which was great, because it meant his taste was back.

DAY 3 (Tuesday) – He had a rough night. I am starting to dread evening time. They upped his oxygen to 15 liters, but he says he thinks he is feeling better that morning. The hospital staff said they are moving him to a bi‐pap machine instead of nasal cannula to see if that helps. Unfortunately I have now lost my taste and smell. I went to get retested, have allergy/cold symptoms.

I can tell he is distraught. He didn’t want to talk much today. He is tired and frustrated. Things aren’t getting better as quickly as either of us would like. Losing my taste and smell wasn’t the best news. How was I going to take care of my youngest son that hadn’t tested positive yet? I was working out scenarios in my head of how to make it work. What if I ended up needing to go the hospital? We can’t subject others to this horrid virus. Please oh please don’t let me have the virus.

DAY 4 (Wednesday) – He is back on nasal cannula. He extremely dislikes the bi‐pap machine and decided to prove his nurse wrong and clear out his nasal passages so he could get back on the cannula. 15 liters. He seems to have had a better afternoon/evening (according to him). They did a lung CT scan to if there was a reason for his oxygen saturation issues. It came back with no clots. He was able to get down to 13 liters before bedtime.

I got the message. I tested positive. One of the younger kids asked me why dad wasn’t home yet. He told me he just wanted Dad to survive. I assured him that Dad was fighting very hard to get back home and he was where he needed to be to get better. I walked into the bathroom and sobbed. Kids see things so clearly and simply. What we all wanted, and what we wanted right now was for dad to be home and for all of this to be over. We pray for a better night tonight. A night of calm.

DAY 5 (Thursday) – Overnight he was moved to the ICU. The CT scan evidently showed widespread inflammation in both of his lungs. The treatments they usually use don’t seem to be “working their magic” according to the doctor. He is on the bi‐pap machine and it is turned all the way up. When he speaks his oxygen levels plummet, so they’ve asked him not to talk. Just a few hours later they put him on a ventilator. The length of ventilation is entirely up to his body.

There are many unknowns and the next few days will not be easy. His body was trying to compensate for the low oxygen and now the ventilator will do the work for him. They started the ventilator at 100% and were able to keep him comfortable at 60% over a bit of time. The other 2 kids have now tested positive. One completely asymptomatic and the other with cold symptoms.

Nervously I picked up my phone and saw that he had texted me in the early morning hours. He didn’t want me to worry but he was being moved to the ICU. He assured me again over text that he was fine and doing better. I knew he was putting on a brave face. He wasn’t doing fine. The doctor explained to me over the phone that his CT the day before had shown his lungs looked like they were “on fire.” Every bit was inflamed and he was struggling.

He explained that about 1 in 100 patients have an extreme immune response to this virus. The immune system attacks and doesn’t stop. It goes into overdrive. He felt it was time for next steps. LIFE SUPPORT. I’m sure I missed the next sentence or two while that information rang through my head. He explained that he was very sorry I couldn’t be there, he knew it wasn’t easy and things could go “south” really quickly. He needed to get him on the ventilator, and now.

I didn’t get to talk to my husband before the nurse called and said it was done. They needed permission to do an “invasive” IV. Of course I said, just please… please take care of my husband. We need him. The nurse told me he was scared and they offered to pray before he was intubated. He said he would really like that.

I had to tell our kids. How do I say it? Daddy isn’t breathing for himself right now. A machine is doing it for him. Daddy is really sick. My oldest asked if he was going to be okay, and I didn’t know how to answer. I pray it is. My six-year-old asked what we were going to do. We prayed together for God to watch over Dad.

My thoughts took over. What if he doesn’t wake up? I still had to call the family. It wasn’t something to deliver over text. Racing thoughts, fear, anxiety and prayer… lots of prayer. I’m so nervous for nighttime, I go to sleep alone while the love of my life lays in a hospital alone. A machine is breathing for him while we wait for his body to heal, to improve. The days are the longest I’ve ever experienced. Updates are few and far between. It’s a full ICU… all COVID patients, and all struggling.

DAY 6 (Friday) – He is on 60% of oxygen when I heard from the nurse. He needed his oxygen increased overnight because fluid settled in his lungs. They added a medication to combat this and it helped get him back to 60%. Sedation was able to be weaned and the nurse held a phone so we could do a video chat. He waved to us and gave us a thumbs up. He can’t talk because of the tube and he wore out quickly but we were grateful to see him. The nurse gave him his cell phone and he texted me himself that they got his oxygen level down to 45% on the vent. I had no idea he’d be able to handle the vent with this low level of sedation. He still has a long way to go, but every step forward is amazing.

I am in complete awe and disbelief that he is awake. Who knew that you could be awake and on a ventilator. Evidently it’s different for every patient. The nurse had taught him a bit of sign language to help them communicate. A pad of paper and pen let him tell our oldest son that he needed to mow the grass. It gave us all a chuckle. Grateful isn’t even close to how we all feel. We got to see him and the ventilator is helping him heal.

Later in the day he texted me while on a vent. I smile as I think about him having a machine breathe for him and he is sending messages. I’m praising the Lord. He has a long way to go, but this is truly amazing. We feel the prayers. A small group of friends gathered (socially distanced) in our front yard and we prayed a rosary —us on the front porch and them by the street. It was a moving experience none of us will ever forget. Tears of gratitude, emotions I can’t adequately describe.

DAY 7 (Saturday) – He finally had a good night. Still at 45% and he maintained that level overnight. The staff thinks he may only need one more day on the vent. His blood oxygen levels are still a little lower than they want them to be. Before bed he was lowered to 40%.

Having a good night is truly a reason for celebration. We’d all been waiting for this to happen. We have an elaborate “phone tree” with texting and I couldn’t wait to send this message out. We’ve had friends bringing our family meals and treats the entire week. I realize that I’m not sure how well I would’ve eaten if the food hadn’t been in front of me.

Everyone keeps telling me to make sure I’m taking care of myself; I try. I can’t stop thinking about my husband and I need to take care of the kids.

DAY 8 (Sunday) – The ventilator is out. He is back on a nasal cannula. His nurse says he will remain in ICU today. He is on 12 liters of oxygen and needs to get between 6 and 8 to go to a normal room. He is weak and we’ve been warned it’s a slow process. At the end of the day we were able to video chat and he was lowered to 10 liters of oxygen.

Hallelujah! Three days on a ventilator and it did its job. I got to talk to him and he sounds “froggy” and tired but I can’t say how wonderful it is to hear his voice. He is looking forward to eating some real food. The nurse said he asked how long until he can go home. We all just want to be together. I should be there celebrating this huge step with him, but instead he is alone.

DAY 9 (Monday) – He had a good night. He is much more awake and aware. Down to 9 liters.

Another good night. Two in a row. This made us all feel like he was finally on the path to wellness. With him being awake, though, he is alone with his thoughts. He misses us all. It’s excruciating. He doesn’t want to be there anymore.

DAY 10 (Tuesday) – It was a rough night. He went back on the bi‐pap machine that forces air into your passages. Fortunately, they have already switched him back to nasal cannula but he is back to 10 liters. He has received orders to go to a normal room, but the hospital is full. By evening time, the orders for him to leave ICU were taken away. He is still on 10 liters and they don’t think he is ready for a normal room.

He woke up on the bi‐pap machine and was really upset. He just really struggles at night. It’s such a slow process and it’s so hard for him to be alone there. It’s really hard on us too. We haven’t hugged on him since last Saturday. We miss him and he wants to be back home so bad. I can’t believe the hospital is full and yet all we read on the news is case numbers and death numbers.

Do people in our community know that our hospital has a completely full COVID wing? That the COVID ICU is full too? They are working to expand those areas, but it’s not quick enough. There are people waiting in the ER for rooms too. I weep for our family, our community, our country, our world. We are all scared and exhausted. The kids are emotional and upset and every little thing is just too much to take.

DAY 11 (Wednesday) – He had a good night and didn’t require the bi‐pap machine. They’ve asked him to lay more on his stomach as it better oxygenates the blood. It does seem to be helping. He is holding steady today. Not much change through the day. He may be ready to go to a regular room, but no regular rooms available to move to. On 9 liters of oxygen.

Thankful for a good night, but leery that we know it’s happened before, and we don’t want to get too excited. I did get to talk to him more today and am extremely grateful for that. I can’t believe there are still no open rooms. COVID patients are requiring a much longer stay than your normal “flu” patients. When this virus “gets” you, it likes to hold on. I worry for others and say a prayer of thanksgiving that he is already there getting the help he needs.

Every day adds a new level of frustration as I read uneducated posts on social media about masks and treatments. Making this virus and masks political was the worst thing that could’ve happened with the virus. So much is common sense, yet there are so many people fighting for their “rights” to be selfish.

My other half is in the hospital. He’s been there alone for 11 days. It’s like torture not being able to be with him. Over the last several days he finally realized how sick he was. Thoughts of it all are too much to bear for him. We are all emotional and so ready to be together again.

DAY 12 (Thursday) – another good night. He was moved to a normal room. At 8 liters but not regressing. Progress is slow but doctors say we are on the right track. Still spending as much time as he can on his stomach. He is down to 6 liters and doing well. Goal is to get to 4 tomorrow. Physical therapy is going well. They’ve prepared us for the fact that he may need to come home on oxygen.

Every day is harder for him to be away from home. Progress is slow, but he is grateful beyond words. He talks about wanting to be better. A better husband, a better dad, a better Christian. He is starting with that right now. We pray for continued progress and patience for us all.

His doctor likened this experience to being in a prison camp. This is what they do to get prisoners to “talk.” They put them in a room by themselves for long periods of time and it “breaks” them. That is basically what he has experienced. It’s not fair, but it’s what they have to do to protect others. I talk with the nurse today and state how hard this is for him and all of us. She reminds us that he has had a near death experience. Those words resound through me. She’s right. We almost lost him. We came so close. He has those thoughts in his head constantly while he is alone. He has a hard time talking to me today as the emotions overflow. It the most traumatizing experience we’ve ever been through.

We will have this with us forever. But he is here. He is still with us. Beyond words.

DAY 13 (Friday) –He had another good night and got down to 5 liters this morning. When he gets up to go to a chair or to the bathroom, his oxygen level goes down to levels they prefer him not be in, but once he settles it rebounds fairly quickly. His goal is to stay above 90% and he is hovering around 91%. He stayed at 5 liters all day today. They told us he could possibly come home this weekend, but it will likely take a month or more for him to get back to normal.

Three good nights in a row is like music to my ears. I’ve dreaded trying to go to sleep for the past two weeks as I fear what I may wake up to. We are celebrating every step forward and are still so incredibly grateful and feeling very blessed. He ordered a pizza to be delivered to his hospital room. This made me giggle. A little bit of normalcy in this nightmare. The hospital food just isn’t cutting it. He is so ready to come home. They’ve mentioned it could be tomorrow. He is strong. He is a fighter.

DAY 14 (Saturday) – We got word that he is being discharged today. Preparing for oxygen set up to come home.

He is coming home. It feels like it’s been a year. I’ve been waiting to say those words. To shout them from the rooftop. He is coming back to where he wants to be. With us. The day dragged on as we waited for all the discharge orders. I sat in the parking lot for about an hour before I got the call. I had butterflies like the first day we met. I pulled up to the hospital doors and saw him being wheeled out. He had a yellow tint; he was thin and his head was held down. I jumped out of the car and he softly asked me to go back to my seat.

The nurse gave me his belongings and helped him into the car. I touched his arm and he asked me not to. He still hadn’t made eye contact with me. I realized how overwhelmed he was. It took all his energy to get to the car and he didn’t want to cry. I wanted to throw my arms around him and never let go. I told him to tell me when he was ready. I was so overjoyed, and he had felt so alone. We both cried. We were together again.

The kids had so many questions, and even more hugs to give. We talked about how we needed to keep daddy safe this winter. We couldn’t risk him getting sick again while his lungs healed. We learned about the oxygen he would be on for the foreseeable future and how we could all help. He needed a chair at the bottom of the stairway to rest after a flight of steps and one in the bathroom because he couldn’t stand for long. Seeing my husband in a frail condition was not something I’d ever experienced before. We knew we were going to have to take it a day at a time.

The next day we are settled in with everything here at home. He has a machine that has continuous oxygen flow and tanks to use if the hoses don’t reach where he needs to go. He isn’t moving much though. Just taking it easy. Last night had its ups and downs but we will figure this out and hopefully every night will get better. He is in much better spirits with us all here at home together.

We watched mass online together as a family. We’ve learned to appreciate every moment and every step forward. We watch the reports of COVID tearing through the community and pray that everyone will do what they can to stay safe and keep their loved ones safe.

He feels a little better every day and along with that his energy increases. Four days at home and he wants to try a walk. We walk a short distance and go back home. He still wears out quickly, but he says how good it feels to be outside. I hear him talk to a friend on the phone. I hadn’t heard him say it out loud. He thought he was going to die. He didn’t think he’d wake up from the ventilator. We all had the thoughts but didn’t say them out loud. I walk to the bathroom and sob. I can’t believe we’d been through this and he was back home.

He has coughing fits when his oxygen gets low, but it’s not happening much. We’ve had many conversations about how grateful and thankful we are to have such wonderful people in our lives, and we are just plain blessed. We can’t wait until it’s safe to be with everyone again.

About a week after he got home, we made our first outing to my parents’ backyard. It was a beautiful day. We carved and painted pumpkins. He was exhausted, but we loved being able to do a simple activity as a family. He was there. I caught myself looking in his direction and smiling. Just a few weeks ago I wasn’t sure he’d ever be back home with us. I have such a deep and appreciative love for him. I tell him about 500 times a day. I have to make sure he knows.

About two weeks after, he goes “back to work.” We’ve both been working from home through the entire pandemic, but I was nervous. I didn’t want him to push himself too hard. I find myself walking into his office space about every 30 minutes. I miss him and he’s just in the next room. I want to be right next to him. I can’t imagine not being together. He probably thinks I’ve lost my mind, but I don’t care.

About four weeks later, he is only requiring oxygen at night. He has even tried some nights without it at all. He requires more sleep than he did before all of this, but that seems to be the only lingering effect. He has had updated vaccinations since we’ve been home, steroids to help get him over the coughing … “to get him over the hump” as the doctor put it; he has a pulmonologist appointment coming up, and a sleep study.

This virus did nothing to my two youngest boys. Cold symptoms with no fever for me and my other two kids. But it almost took the life of my 41‐year‐old husband. No underlying conditions, never been to the hospital before. This virus has changed our lives. Forever.

The most common question we get asked is, do you know how he got it? We don’t. It could’ve been a quick trip to the grocery to grab something we forgot with our pickup order. It could’ve been getting food, touching a door handle, breathing in the same area as someone infected. One of the younger boys could’ve passed it as they were asymptomatic. What we do know is that it is unbelievably contagious, and you won’t know how it will affect you until you’ve got it.

We also have no idea how long we will be immune. After already having a scare with one of the kids having to get tested again, we’ve learned there are multiple strains, and we could potentially get a different strain.

We will live our lives in the safest way we know how. Our kids are in school, our boys are playing basketball, we can’t stop living, but we can be safe. We can be reasonable, and we can be respectful of others. We can’t fathom our parents having to go through this. We go back and think about what we could have done if one of the kids had reacted severely. Would they be alone? Would we be allowed at the hospital? You DO NOT want this virus, and you DO NOT want to give it to someone else.

We were told after my husband tested positive that we didn’t need to get everyone else tested. I wholeheartedly disagreed with that. My kids play sports, they are in school with adults and children — would it be fair to have exposed someone and them not know? Schools don’t notify others unless you have a positive test. If you have symptoms, get tested. If someone in your house has a positive test, get tested. It may be a cold, but it also may not be.

No one wants to be quarantined, but I’m positive they also don’t want to be responsible for someone’s death. What is a simple “cold” for you could threaten the life of someone else. My husband, for example.

I beg of you to put yourself in my shoes. My husband’s shoes. Help us overcome this pandemic with as few lives lost as possible.