“He almost died right in front me,” my mom would say later.
Among the chirping and humming of machines, the whistling and beeping of the instruments, there lie my dad in intensive care. With a blood oxygen reading of near 40%, he gasped for air. He tried to pull it into his lungs with everything he had. Literally clinging to life.
“People started coming from everywhere,” my mom said that warm September day as we drove home from Columbus. Her words through the telephone still echoing in my head as I drove. “Kolt, he’s really sick,” she said on the phone as I ran to the car to pick her up. “They just put him on the vent.”
Dad looks just like everyone else that is 48 years old and lives in rural Ohio. He’s big, strong and active. His friends will describe him as “one mean son of a gun.” He owns an excavating company, and will be down in the mess fixing field tile, installing grassed waterways, repairing residential drainage, and supporting township and county roadway projects.
I can only remember him staying in bed all day one other time. It was a nasty flu bug, and I was probably age ten. Everyone knows him to “power through” and not stop for anyone or anything.
Thats why we were all shocked to learn he was too sick to come to the Hardin County Fair. Never in my life did I think he would miss a day. Recently retired from the fair board, he was thrilled to keep right alongside his friends helping to put on the annual event.
“Dad’s not coming today,” my mom had texted me. Dad and I had been pulling the 7am-2am schedule all week and sleeping in our camper, be he had decided to go home and sleep on the final night of the fair.
Meanwhile, My brother Kody was set to leave for Germany on business for nine weeks that following Tuesday. I had gone to my parents house for our last family meal before Kody flew across the pond for a few months.
Dad was still in bed. This was now three days of being sick.
“Nope,” I thought. Mom and Kody had stepped inside to retrieve the food as we were eating on the patio for obvious reasons. “This isn’t right.”
Mom returned and we had a blunt conversation.
“What’s the plan? He can’t keep laying like this,” I asked.
Some friends had advised us to purchase a pulse oxymiter. We checked dad’s Oxygen. Near 90%.
Let me take this opportunity to say that everyone should own one of these devices. You can find it in the pharmacy section at your grocery store. This isn’t something that is well communicated, but if your oxygen is under 90%, do something about it. Our friends Craig and Vet saved dads life by suggesting this little device.
The next morning, I learned that he was headed to the hospital. Dad tested positive for COVID-19, and was sent home on Oxygen.
I think we all thought “no big deal.” I personally had COVID-19 at the end of February of 2020 (distinctly marked by all involved of the production of the virtual conservation Tillage and Technology Conference. I produced most of that while in quarantine. I was relatively fine when I had it, and I think that was the expectation this go-round.)
One night of my parents quarantine, I was headed to their house to take some food and groceries. I found mom who informed me they were headed back to the hospital. The oxygen concentrator unit he was sent home on was on its highest setting, and his numbers weren’t good — in the high 70’s.
Dad, being the stubborn guy he is, asked if they could just “turn the O2 up.” The nurse, who I am friends with, said “Buck, you’re not going home with numbers like this,” as they wheeled him into the hospital.
That’s the last time I saw him in person until November 9th.
What would follow is a roller coaster of events that lead to that September day. He ended up at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus. Escalating to ICU, to be put on the Bi-PAP Machine, and eventually the ventilator where he would remain for 15 days before graduating down to the “step-down” ICU.
It chills my bones to recall the morning — around 5am — he ripped the ventilator out. We were starting to have grim conversations about a trach tube. Dad later recalled a voice that said “Are you sure you’re ready for the boys to be without their dad?” The voice asked three times. In true fashion, dad promptly ripped the ventilator from his body. I’ve been told it’s the “pull and pray.” We’ve also been told he probably saved his own life.
Every day provides a new challenge. We celebrate the little milestones. Being able to sit up, being able to eat solid food, being able to graduate down a step in oxygen, and yes — even going to the bathroom. The official diagnosis was the Delta Variant of COVID-19 which then caused Double Pneumonia. One nurse on his floor has worked in that unit since before the pandemic. He told us that dad is one of five to make it out of ICU alive after being on the vent that long without major complications. He’s also one of the youngest. That’s since March of 2020, people.
We’re on week number ten of dad being in the hospital. He won’t come straight home, and will undergo a rehab therapy program before he returns home. Although, in true fashion, a doctor assured him that he’d be able to fish this spring. The doctor better had been serious, because now they’re both planning a trip to do just that together.
Let’s talk about doctors and nurses. Nurses are burnt out. One told dad she didn’t become a nurse to zip body bags, now she was ready to quit because that’s all her job was. She stayed because dad brought her hope. Another nurse’s first day at Riverside was watching a patient die. We are so thankful for the fantastic staff at both Hardin Memorial and Riverside Methodist Hospitals who have taken care of Dad. Everyone has been great, and we are so thankful to have such a helpful and skilled care team. While we’re saying thank you, thank you to family and friends that have prayed, brought food, called, texted, sent a card, or just shared positive vibes, we are so appreciative. I want to personally thank Dale and the team for picking up the slack when I needed to drive to the hospital or just take some time off. You are all so appreciated.
“I think I’m going to live,” dad finally said through misty eyes and a cracked voice on the month anniversary of his Riverside hospital stay. He doesn’t remember the day he went on the vent — which mom says is a blessing. He was shocked to learn it had been two full weeks before he ripped it out.
A good friend once summed this up best by something I’ve lived by through all of this. “Don’t take your medical advice from politicians. Take it from a doctor.” The same is true for me. I talk about grain on the radio. I’m not a medical expert. What I can tell you is, you aren’t immune. Dad works with his hired hand, Pete. We all said dad would be the last person to get COVID-19, as he worked so far removed from everyone. If he did get it? He’s young and healthy as a horse (not to me mention way meaner than COVID–or so we thought.) The same conclusion could be drawn about farmers. The truth is, everyone works away from each other but goes in town for coffee, breakfast, or whatever else it may be. I’m not going to stand on a soap box and preach to you. That’s been tried. I will ask you to take steps to keep yourself safe. Here’s my theory; anything mean enough to do this to my old man isn’t something I ever want to mess with. Dad’s theory is a little more graphic.
“I’d take the shot in my eye before I went through this again,” he said. “I was telling a nurse about the cattle we used to raise. Every time we got a load we vaccinated them first thing,” he told me once.
She promptly responded with, “didn’t ever occur to you to think about one yourself?”
“Touché,” Dad said.
Stay safe out there.