My family and I left Virginia in mid-December for a two-week-plus camping trip in Cocoa Beach, Florida. The entourage involved two vehicles, my wife, a daughter, and her husband, and youngest son. Our daughter and son-in-law decided to drive as my wife and I felt a little ill. After one overnight stop we arrived at my granddaughter’s apartment in Melbourne. We stayed for the night. The campground would not let campers in after dark. I barely remember anything of that evening. That delay may have been a lifesaving stroke of good luck. At the campground we would have been 30+ miles further away from adequate help.
“Who are you?”
“Ron Dunn.” My voice was very forced just to produce a weak and hoarse response. I could barely breathe.
“When were you born?”
“November 9, 1935.”
“Do you know who the president is?”
After a bit of thought I answered “Bush.” I was told that was close enough and that it was Trump, soon to be Biden,
“Do you know where you are?”
“No. Somewhere in South Carolina?”
“You are in an Intensive Care Unit in Melbourne, Florida.”
“I’m Carla, your nurse.”
“You have been intubated for a week for COVID.”
That was the next thing I was aware of or heard. It was December 27, and I had been on life-support for COVID-19. A diaper was required, my left leg would not move, the right only a few inches. My arms were barely strong enough to deliver anything to my mouth. All I could do was lay flat on my back and stare with vacant eyes—and distressing thoughts. I was helpless—and hopelessly heartbroken. If I were to remain like this, I would have preferred the disease to have taken me. Then, my family stepped in with so much optimism, encouragement, and overwhelming love that it must have been flowing out the door. They were in tears over my recovery. Their prayers had been answered. That display went straight to my heart and made me realize my importance—and the obligation to heal. They reassured me that I would recover, but it would take time and work. I could not betray their trust and set about dealing with this situation with a positive and cheerful disposition. I give thanks to my wife, Mary, daughter and son in law, Tina and Goose, and my youngest, Heidi, who came later, for their life changing encouragement. I was concerned about the past, present, and future stress placed upon them. In reality, there was no need to be worried.
I had gone from an Urgent Care to First Care Palm Bay ICU on December 16. The diagnoses were COViD-19 and A-Fib. I was unresponsive at the time. The Palm Bay Hospital saved my life using a ventilator, NG feeding tube, and IV’s for seven days. I was told very few of my age (85) survive intubation. My family and I give special thanks to Carla, a very responsible, caring, and lifesaving angel/nurse. Demands were made for me to eat-up. That was extremely difficult as my stomach had shrunk, and everything carried the texture of library paste, no taste, and seemed to grow larger with each chew.
My medical insurer transferred me to XXX De/Rehabilitation on January 9 as I was able to breathe and eat. However, my lung capacity was so diminished that I could not blow my nose. I was told that to recover—I must drink, eat, and walk. A brisk walk is one of my pleasures, but I couldn’t even sit up. When placed in a wheelchair, my upper body took on the shape of a comma. Standing alone, or assisted walking was impossible. XXX was the only one of three insurer approved rehab centers with a bed available. After my experiences there and reading some reviews, I now know why. My suspicions grew with time as the turnover and training of attendants was an almost daily event.
My admittance to XXX was to somewhere else, not the rehab sector where I was supposed to go. There was nothing to drink and my button-push was responded to many minutes later by an attendant who told me that he would contact my nurse to see if that was possible. Sometime later several people came and said I was to be moved. I was placed on a dolly, rolled out and inserted into a waiting unheated van. After several minutes of cold bumpy riding, I was off loaded to a room in the rehab unit and interviewed. A nurse said I could only have thickened water after a swallow-test of fresh and thick. When she turned her head, I drank the rest of the fresh. The thick goo was like a bundle of snot after a bad head-cold making it difficult to swallow. I drank very little due to a gag-reflex, Sometimes I could beg a few ice chips to suck on from an attendant. That led to dehydration, an unrecognized condition contributing to my medical decline.
Soon after arriving I was loaded into an uncomfortable push-only transport wheelchair to visit my wife—outdoors in the cold. After which I was parked in front of a clock for 68 minutes where I begged passing staff—and was ignored by passing staff to return me to my bed. I suffer the aftereffects of a broken tail bone. Prolonged sitting on some surfaces is very painful—that was such a surface. I didn’t have the strength to sit up straight or use my legs to move anywhere. My breathing was labored due to my posture and had I vomited and/or choked there could have been serious consequences.
A mental health counselor, career counselor, and physical therapist/terrorist came to call. It was determined that I was mentally sound, had no career at 85, but needed PT. I told of my leg problems and that I could not roll over in bed. That condition led to a bed sore. Attendants made calls to check my vitals and pop some pills into me but did not tend to my bed sore. Some of the pills must have been sedatives as I felt subdued for most of the daytime hours. They did not help with nighttime sleep and I didn’t have the strength to toss and turn. They seemed to be timed around meals as I was more alert then, but I still could not eat much. PT was directed to trying to have me stand and walk on legs that could not support me. After a few painful attempted steps with near falls, I would be returned to the bed and scolded for not trying hard enough. There was never any passive exercise, something my son in law did with good results once I was in home-care. On one visit I was put into a chair and told I must relearn how to sit. Once placed, she went to lunch for about an hour while more injury was thrust upon my tailbone. My phone was beside my bed, as was the useless call button. Even if a button is pushed, response time at best is slow. I was at the end of a dead-end hall with no foot traffic—imprisoned and abandoned. The second time my health was endangered.
My wife was not allowed in but would enquire about my care by phone. She was told I was eating well—a lie. In truth, I could eat little due to my condition. After talking with me and the staff she was able to bring in protein shakes as I was wasting away.
Room 226B was my assigned quarters. It was a room only in the sense that it was the second bed in a room divided by a curtain. 226A was not occupied except on some nights when the attendant entertained her boyfriend. I was awake and alert during those noisy events. After he left, she would provide a mostly once-a-day diaper change. I sent a text message begging to get out of this whore house. On January 15, after more inattention and indignities my health declined to the point that a verbal explosion by my wife brought about some medical attention leading to a 911 evacuation to a nearby emergency room. I listened carefully to the diagnoses. I had A-Fib and a bladder full of enough urine to equal a well-developed baby. A catheter was inserted. They also listed Deep Tissue Injury (bed sore, and tailbone distress). Unbeknown to me they used a trilogy of AED shocks to revive me. I believe these conditions were due to inadequate care at XXX. Had the diaper changes been more frequent and carefully monitored they should have noticed urination problems and notified a doctor before the situation became serious. They should have also seen the bed sore. In addition to these indignities the following were stolen: $100+ from a money clip, Swiss Army Knife, Sony Headphones, cell phone carrier, and belt. All of which were with me when admitted, I checked shortly after arriving in 226B. They were not when my wife gathered things as I left XXX. Fortunately, she had taken and kept my wallet when I first went to Urgent Care.
Holmes Regional Health Care provided prompt and excellent care. Every two hours I was turned. A pillow was shifted from one cheek to the other for my bed sore. When that did not work, they brought a bed with alternating air chambers—the healing process began. Oxygen and an IV were in place. Ice chips were brought at the touch of a button. Doctors visited to discuss my case and advise the nurses. The physical therapist was sensitive to my limitations. The food was good, but only a bite or two would fit in my minimized gastro-intestinal tract. The apartment was 7 minutes away, so my family made frequent visits bringing protein shakes for me to enjoy in small but increasing doses as a start to weight gain. They also brought occasional treats; a luxury denied at XXX. A wall-mounted whiteboard listed my entrance weight as 119.2. A few days later my weight was 122. I left Virginia at 150. As of March 25, I weighed 147. Now I have to careful to not go over 150. A nurse told me that if I were obese, diabetic, or a smoker I would not have survived intubation.
When in early grade school, a fellow student asked to go the restroom. The teacher asked if it was number one or two. I asked another kid what that was. Piss or shit was his terse reply. We sometimes hear “Cleanup needed in aisle…” I’m sure you know what was needed when I called for a cleanup in aisle two. The nurses did, and they laughed while performing the unsavory task. That also made things easier for me. The dignity of both parties was compromised. It is just part of the job for the nurses. As for the patients, one who enjoys mooning people, or a flasher, would feel a sense of accomplishment—not me. The loss of modesty is a requirement, but one becomes used to the indignity, and thankful for services rendered.
After several interviews by doctors, counselors, and nurses it was determined that my family could care for me at my granddaughter’s second-floor apartment. I was released on January 21. A wheelchair, hospital bed, walker, bed pan, and bedside toilet were on hand. One of my other daughters bought a reclining chair for my comfort. It became my bed du jour as I convalesced. My son in law hauled me in the wheelchair up 17 steps to the apartment several times. He also massaged and exercised my legs which led to their return to service. I can now go up and down under my own power.
The hospital provided three house calls by a visiting nurse and PT trainer. The nursing visits were appreciated, PT not so much. The nurse noted that home-care was properly done. On one of her visits, I told her that I was constipated. After examination she told of a hardening at the exit point. She digitally removed the offending nugget. Aisle two became active, Pierre the catheter was removed on her last visit and later that night we found it was still needed. Mocking Wadsworth’s words, we set out on a midnight ride to replace Pierre. The task was easily done in an ER a few miles away. The PT trainer was similar to the one at XXX. He did provide some elastic exercise straps for in-chair use which helped. He also recommended using a professional service on his last visit, but I have progressed by targeting my weaknesses.
Thanks to Holmes, family care, and out-of-coverage Doctor Tinney, my weight is now returning to normal, and I can eat a full meal. The passive and active exercise provided by Goose lets me be active using a cane. After three weeks I was able to climb the 17 steps to the apartment. My blood pressure and pulse stabilized. Thyroid and iron supplements, and “Tinney’s Tonic” were prescribed and taken. I’m seeing a urologist due to complications from XXX neglect. This is a long way down the road to recovery with a lot of personal expense. Medicare and my insurer do not cover the doctor visits nor the prescriptions. But—I am alive! I was barely alive when I went to see Doctor Tinney, but he brought me back-to-life with a combination of traditional and alternative medicine. Some may scoff—I praise!
The XXX detour left the catheter use as apparent lasting damage, and slowed my return to normal living, A return that is being done through generous, dedicated, and loving family care. There is no way to repay—I may have prepaid.
587,287 words and over three years of work went into Tolstoy’s War and Peace. If I doubled the word count and tripled the time—it would not and could not express my thanks for the love and care from my family. My wife became a “mom” to a 120+ Lb. infant. My children were “hospital orderlies. “
I was a tech-writer who was force fed the gentle art of brevity. War—is anything attacking one’s well-being. Peace—is when friend and family conquer the attacker. The conquest is succeeding. We will win has been a constant attitude, a presence that has made a difference in how I am improving. Self-rehabilitation, despite professional skepticism is working well—probably better than…
I have a tendency to personalize some inanimate objects by naming them. The list of characters so far is:
- Pierre, an obvious choice for the catheter.
- Jughead, (named by my wife) is the plastic jug she uses to empty Pierre. I was in the Navy where the toilet is called “the head.”
- Willie Walker, the function is obvious.
- The cane is Calvin Cane.
- Duncan Donut, a special seat cushion. He eases the pain-in-the-ass from the tailbone injury by XXX inflicted damage.
- Whizzo, the wheelchair. He was a light-weight model but added 30+ pounds to the payload going up the seventeen steps to the apartment. Goose, my son in law and hoister was delighted when I had the strength to go up and down on foot. The first climb represented a major change and accomplishment in the rehab process. It was also liberating for all parties. My wife and I can come and go unassisted.
Some actions have also been named:
- Kickstart, to lower the footrest of my recliner so I can get out.
- Uplifting experience, when carried up the stairs.
- Let down, opposite of the above.
- Cleanup in aisle two.
What I have written is of a small fraction of the dedicated lifesaving care and rehabilitation sent my way.
I dedicate this story to those who worked, prayed, and took care of my needs:
Carla, who chose the job of saving COVID-19 patients’ lives. Thanks for making that choice—and saving my life.
Mary, my wife, who raised three children and then bore the burden of my care—a 120+ lb. bedridden “infant.” Someone you had to dress, feed, and change. You did not have a choice, but it was done with positive reinforcement. All the thanks I could offer would never equal the thanks in my heart.
Tina, my daughter who knows well the dealings with medical problems within her family. Thanks for stepping in. You provided physical, emotional, administrative, and home-care support way beyond the call of duty.
Gustavo (Goose), Tina’s husband who hauled me up the apartment stairs, and applied his brand of PT. Your therapy worked better at putting my legs back to work. All I had to do was look at you to fully know how much you cared. You did a lot of work with pride. It was uplifting in more ways than one. I was so proud and happy when I climbed the apartment stairs on my own.Heidi, my youngest who came a thousand miles to help with the care. Thanks for the recliner, my bed du jour, and your praise over my daily step counts and progress. It made a difference. You also said we would climb Humpback Rock, an 800 foot mountain In Virginia when I recovered—and we did.
MILESTONES SINCE RELEASE/TBA
Rolling over in bed Self-Clean-Up in aisle two
Sitting up in a chair Drinking without fear of choking
Eating at the table Brushing my teeth
Return of natural speech Duncan’s departure
Eating progressively larger meals Driving
Dressing Unsupported standing
Using a walker Walking without a cane
Walking with a cane Walking my usual pace
Return to regular underwear TBA - No medications
Dining out Bon Voyage Pierre
Using the stairs Climbing steps two at a time
Using the toilet TBA - Complete Recovery
The most difficult milestone to pass took restraint of effort on my part. It took the dedicated efforts of the ICU staff to keep me alive. All I had to do was lay still and leave the tubes in place. According to Carla, I pulled them out more than once. But for their constant diligence—I could have died there.
Some milestones were passed through exercise, medicine, and work. Others just involved "Tincture of Time."
Conquering the stairs took the most work. I had to teach my legs to support me and respond to my commands. A box was used as a training step. I practiced going up and down that one-step trainer, and it worked. The first trip down the stairs was easy. Gravity helped. Climbing up was another story. Gravity was my enemy. I side stepped facing the handrail. One foot up to a step followed by the other foot to the same step. That was accompanied by lots of arm wrestling with the rail. I won the match and arrived at the top without assistance. I can now go up and down doing step-overs—without arm wrestling. I will work toward, and accomplish, two-at-a-time. I have walked a “New York” pace, with a lot of familial complaining. It would be nice to hear that grumbling again—and I will!
I have been honored to serve on local, national, and international nonprofit boards of directors. I have encountered wonderful volunteers and public servants on this road, none more colorful than Ron Dunn, a director with Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra. Atypical radio silence from Ron during the pandemic caused our board to fear the worst ... and I recently learned that the worst very nearly came to pass. With Ron's permission, I share here the story, in his own words, of his terrifying encounter with COVID-19. I hope it inspires those battling this virus to fight and fight hard. I also hope it inspires the unvaccinated to run, not walk, to the nearest vaccine provider. Be safe out there.
Random/visions/repeating dreams/happenings during hospitalization. In every dream, I was told to remain in bed. I tried to leave but could not.
Technicians discussing the feeding tube install and I was watching it on a fluoroscope.
An attendant asking another if the brown river had flowed, the answer was yes. My diaper was being changed.
Several times attendants would come and have me blow into a 90-degree angled tube on the count of three.
I was somewhere in New York on a bed where I could look out a ground floor window to a park. It was cold and rainy outside. Someone tuned my phone to a classical station.
I was abandoned in a restaurant-type building by a multi-national group who left to talk. After knocking chairs over to make noise I was taken away in a car by the same people.
Repeated dreams about being in care facilities with the same single ceiling light fixture over the bed. There were two fluorescent tubes behind perforated metal guards, two fire suppression fixtures and one air vent. Several of the facilities had a tabletop easel holding a leather-bound book titled The Psalms of Mormon. One of the facilities was in an abandoned airport in Hollywood, Florida and contained an old Braniff Airways cap (I once worked for them) and the Mormon book. Everything was covered in dust and cobwebs. One facility was behind a door in an Office Depot store. The attendant there brought me a phone charger from the store, then left to go see her mother. I was alone but could hear people on the other side of the door. I called out for help, but no one came. I was screaming for water in many of the places. Most of these took place before XXX De-Hab.
I was in a hospital bed and was put on a gurney to go to the third floor for a CAT scan. I noted that there were very few staff and that it was trashy, and the ceilings were dirty. I thought that when returned to my room I would tell whoever sent me there about the conditions.
I was in a CVS store near my Virginia home that had a bed for overnight indigents. A visiting nurse came and asked if I could turdicate. Nothing happened so she left. I called a daughter at four-something in the morning to come and take me home. She successfully convinced me that I was in Florida having a post Covid delusion.
Every good story must have a moral, lesson, or redeeming element. Ron, Jack, Bill, and Keith were close friends through high school and beyond. By academic, income, and luxury standards—I was the loser. By lifespan, lifestyle experience and wisdom, I became the winner—they are gone due to choices. I was the only one to quit smoking, I did so at an early age after watching it kill someone I cared for. I considered alcohol to be like the seashore, it can refresh or drown if one goes too far out. I chose to remain near the shore—two drowned. My lifestyle is the main reason I am one of a small percentage of my age to survive this assault. The major influence in my good health was my wife. She provided proper nutrition and care for 50+ years. My family, as you read about, provided the reason for the determination to rise above this crisis.
“What do you want to be when you grow up.” A question I was often asked, but I rarely had a suitable answer. If asked now, my answer would be “To be of sound mind and body, and—a nonagenarian.”
Now Is Not Eternal
Quite suddenly I realized, without a tear or shame
Of all I have, and all I hold, and what I am inside
My health, my loves and friends, and my good name
Is all the wealth about which I take pride.
Quite suddenly I realized, almost too late I know
The times I really live for are not of some distant day
For other days and other years may never their hours show
The times to love and share with each other so quickly pass away.
Quite suddenly I realized, I must be on my way
To enjoy this life—these times that are the best
To share my wealth with all I know, and all I love each day And share I must forever more—until I'm laid to rest.