By Carol Stookey
My COVID-19 journey began in late March and consisted of a 62-day hospital stay and 21 days on a ventilator.
I believe I contracted COVID-19 at an assisted living facility where I work at as an assistant activities director. I began to notice that I was exhausted, and my husband took me to the emergency room where I was admitted to the hospital.
Three days after going to the hospital, I was unconscious and on a ventilator. My family was fervently praying and reciting John 14:13-14:
“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask for anything in my name, I will do it.”
To regain the ability to breathe on my own, the ventilator pressure was turned down little-by-little. Eventually, I went a few hours breathing on my own each day.
Finally, after 21 days, the ventilator was removed, and I slowly began to become aware of my surroundings. I didn’t know I had slept through Palm Sunday, a great nephew’s birth, my wedding anniversary and Easter Sunday.
I soon realized the only people I was seeing were in gowns and masks. I could only answer their questions with a nod, and I wondered where I was and why my husband wasn’t there. I didn’t realize visitation policies at the hospital had changed because of COVID-19. I had not had contact with my family, and of course, no visitors. I was extremely lonely. I cried often. I missed my husband, family and cats.
After I regained consciousness, I prayed constantly. After all, it was just Him and me.
My first post-ventilator word was “no” when a nurse asked me if I was in pain. The next day I gave a “thumbs up” to my husband on Facetime. At first, a nurse would hold my cellphone to my ear to hear my husband’s and family’s voices. As I got stronger, I was able to hold the phone myself for a very short time and later see more family members on Facetime.
My recovery included relearning how to breathe on my own, speak, swallow, drink and chew soft foods. My first cohesive sentence was, “Where’s my husband?”
The next day I was able to say, “What day is this?” My family, who received this information from daily nurse updates, was thrilled I was becoming aware of my surroundings.
The first time a nurse picked me up to stand, my legs wouldn’t move. It was like they didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t sure if I would ever stand up or walk on my own again.
I was at three different hospitals before being transferred to Riverview Health on May 19, where I was admitted to the acute rehabilitation unit, the only one of its kind in Hamilton County. While there, I received intensive physical, occupational and speech therapy.
At Riverview Health, I had a wonderful team of therapists I grew close to. The nurses, techs and therapists—for lack of family—became the only ones I would see for two weeks. My therapists, especially Stephanie Stamp, Andy Trubey, Jenna Arbuckle and Michelle Pickett, became good friends who encouraged me (literally) every step of the way.
I walked, stretched, did arm and leg exercises and word and memory games. I even had to learn how to hold and use a toothbrush and brush my hair again. My ultimate goal was to get home. Finally, during a progress conference, I was told I’d go home June 2.
“We have a lot of work to do,” I said after hearing the news. And I was determined.
I did new exercises, learned how to go up and down steps and walked further to build up endurance and balance. Andy taught me how to get in and out of the passenger seat of a car so I would be ready to ride home.
During my last day of therapy, I was awarded a certificate of achievement for graduating from the rigorous therapy sessions and I had my picture taken with therapists and nurses.
There is a bell hung on the wall for patients to ring as they graduate from the therapy unit, and I was ready to ring it loud and long.
I took ahold of the bell clapper and started shaking it. Well, I ended up shaking it so hard the bell came right off of the wall! The therapists and I bent over with laughter. We were all thrilled with my newfound strength.
When I arrived home on June 2, I was met with a large “Welcome Home, Carol” banner tied to the posts of the front porch, along with red, white and blue balloons and flowers in the yard.
The “welcome committee” included family members, my “favorite preacher” and childhood friends with banners and signs. They quickly came to my side of the car.
They asked, “Do you need the wheelchair? Do you need help?”
“No! I know how to do this,” I said. “I’m going to walk in my own house. That’s what I learned and practiced at Riverview Health, and that’s what I’m going to do!”
And with that proclamation, I stood up out of the car, took the walker and walked to the front door—just Him and me.