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I Survived Covid-19: How My Faith Helped Guide Me

I am the father of 8 wonderful children. I am a man of faith and love to write about a variety of life experiences.

Mercy Hospital, Des Moines.

Mercy Hospital, Des Moines.

Our entire household—my wife and four children—tested positive for COVID-19. Additionally, our oldest daughter residing with her grandmother tested positive.

My wife and children had a mild case. I had a serious case. I was hospitalized for a week, given Remdesivir through a midline for five days; poked seven times per day for blood draws, blood sugar level, and insulin treatment; given an injection in my stomach to prevent blood clots. They had a terrible time trying to place an IV. I had nearly 50 punctures before being dismissed.

I lost 20 pounds. I still have my sense of taste and smell although some things taste a little more bitter than normal. In the end, I recovered, and the hospital staff gave me a clap out on the day I was wheeled out. I survived. By the grace of God and an army of people praying, I survived.

Pre-Covid Symptoms

On Thursday October 29th I had a slight tickle in my throat and a little fatigue but no other symptoms. I reported to work on Friday morning and watched for further development.

I work for a Catholic Parish in Des Moines, Iowa. Employees follow a strict safety plan including wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and staying home if we are exhibiting a fever, cough, or other symptoms. We regularly sanitize all horizontal surfaces, practice handwashing and get tested if we are the least bit concerned.

Covid Symptoms

By Saturday night, symptoms included a cough, runny nose, and body aches. By Sunday morning, I developed a fever and chills. My wife and children started to exhibit symptoms.

Rapid Covid-19 Test

On Monday morning, my wife Nancy and I and our son Benjamin went to our family provider for a test. I had a rapid test (by nasal swab) which came back positive the same day. My wife and son’s test results (saliva cup method) were positive the next day. The remaining children were tested. All six members of our household were positive.

The nurse measured my blood oxygen level. It was low at 92%. Nancy was at 94%. It should be 96% or higher and ideally at 100%. Medical professionals warn that if oxygen levels drop into the 80s, you should consider the Emergency Room.

I alerted coworkers of my positive test result. Three were tested. Two were positive. I notified my siblings. My brother Ray suggested buying a pulse oximeter. My brother Paul purchased me one. This was one of the best gifts I received. I regularly monitored my oxygen levels. If the oxygen level is less than 90%, that is a good reason to go to the hospital emergency department. (Community Health Care System, comhs.org).

Pulse Oximeter

My oxygen level was 87% so I went to the ER.

My oxygen level was 87% so I went to the ER.

Admitted to ER for Covid

On November 4th, my oxygen levels dropped into the 80s. I went to the ER. They ran a chest x-ray. My EKG came back normal.

A common side effect of COVID-19 is blood clots. They ran a CAT scan of my lungs. I welcomed this with nervous anticipation. My grandfather Blas Ortega died from complications due to a blood clot. Heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, obesity, and diabetes are common on both sides of my family. I had all these risk factors. I also had prior cases of pneumonia and bronchitis. They treated me for pneumonia. However, thanks be to God, no clots were detected.

They drew blood to monitor my kidney function. They took my blood pressure. The nurse told me that she could allow me to be dismissed and I could return home to recover. However, she wanted to monitor my kidneys and would be able to admit me. I elected to recover at home. She made me promise that I would follow up with my family doctor in 24-48 hours.

Follow up with Doctor: Kidney and Lungs

On November 6th, I followed up with my family doctor for the recommended kidney tests. The results came back normal.

My doctor prescribed a cough suppressant, and a steroid inhaler (albuterol) to reduce inflammation in the lungs. She said if I have trouble breathing or my oxygen levels drop, I should not hesitate to return to the hospital.

I was prescribed two puffs of a steroid inhaler every 4 hours.

I was prescribed two puffs of a steroid inhaler every 4 hours.

Return to ER for Covid

My oxygen levels struggled to maintain at 90%. Fever and chills continued for a total of 8 days, peaking at 104.3. I had trouble breathing and my cough was so violent it hurt my sides. I broke into a sweat. I was taking Tylenol for the pain and to reduce the fever. It was time to return to the ER. Nancy drove me to Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. They admitted me. The nurse remarked, “This is kicking your butt!”

They started me on oxygen at a rate of 6 liters per minute. A typical range is 1-15 (atsjournals.org). The doctor said that there were two treatment methods available: Remdesivir to reduce the viral load and convalescent plasma therapy. Convalescent plasma therapy uses blood from people who have recovered from COVID-19 to help others recover (mayoclinic.org). This sounded promising. I could not wait to get treatment started. They ordered Remdesivir. They did not conduct convalescent plasma therapy.

They wheeled my bed from the ER to the Covid floor. It was a whole new world. There were vinyl curtain containment locks at each hallway entrance. They unzipped them to pass through and zipped or locked them once we were on the other side. Staff wore protective coverall suits, gloves, and a powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR). A PAPR uses a blower to pass contaminated air through a HEPA filter, which removes the contaminant and supplies purified air to a facepiece (health.state.mn.us).

Like the first visit to the ER, they were concerned for blood clots and ran an ultrasound on my legs. Again, I had some anxiety about this but prayed all would end well. It did. No clots detected. Once again, Thank You God!


Treatment information board.

Treatment information board.

Two of at least 20 nurses who provided my care. God bless our front line workers!

Two of at least 20 nurses who provided my care. God bless our front line workers!

Prayers From All Over the United States

I was placed on church prayer chains. I had an army of friends and family throughout the country keeping me in their thoughts and prayers.

Friends and relatives in California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia, Illinois, Nevada, Massachusetts, Missouri, Kansas, and Florida were lifting me up. A group of monks was praying. My wife and siblings told me they loved me. This sustained me. My faith in God sustained me. I was able to offer prayers and my sufferings for others. I asked a few who were texting me how I might pray for them.


Prayers from office workers.

Prayers from office workers.

Praying for each other.

Praying for each other.

Redemptive Suffering

My mother suffered from Scleroderma. She offered her illness in prayer for others. A wise woman once told me that mom’s prayers were especially powerful. Redemptive suffering is the personal sacrifices that Christians unite with Christ's sacrifice He made of Himself to the Father. Crosses carried by members of Christ's mystical body have redemptive value to atone for sin and to call down God's blessings on humanity. Christ views crosses borne with Him as an extension of His cross (churchmilitant.com). I focused outward instead of seeing this as “Why me?” I even thought about people with terminal illnesses like cancer. My condition does not come close to those situations.

”Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church (Colossians 1:24, New International Version). “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church (Holy Bible, New Living Translation).

Additional Suffering: Failed IV Attempts

I was suffering physically in my body with chills and fatigue. Moreover,they had a terrible time placing an IV. Medical professionals had problems drawing blood and placing IVs for my mother. Apparently, I inherited these complications. They poked the left arm. The vein rolled. Ouch. No go. They poked the right arm. Ouch. No go. They tried the top of the left hand. Ouch. No go. They tried the top of the right hand. Ouch. No go.

They abandoned trying to insert a standard IV and notified me that they would have to place a midline. Like a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line, a midline is a long, thin tube that is inserted through a vein in your arm (in my case my bicep) and passes through to the larger veins. Midlines are longer than a standard IV (mayoclinic.org). They used an ultrasound to guide them in placing the line.

My prayers during every poke and prod were simple: I just kept repeating, "Immaculate Heart of Mary, Sacred Heart of Jesus. Immaculate Heart of Mary, Sacred Heart of Jesus." And, "Oh my Jesus, forgive us our sins. Save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy."

IV attempt in arm unsuccessful.

IV attempt in arm unsuccessful.

IV attempt top of hand unsuccessful.

IV attempt top of hand unsuccessful.

Midline bandage.

Midline bandage.

Mental Anguish

In addition to my physical suffering, mental anguish settled in. I was so looking forward to beginning the anti-viral treatment. Since it took several hours before they were able to finally place a midline, the bag of Remdesiver that was on the IV pole expired and had to be thrown out and re-ordered. This was crushing. How much longer did I need to wait for treatment?

Christ suffered mentally and physically. He bled from his hands, wrists, and just about everywhere else in and on His body. He agonized in the garden. He was pierced in His side. I had a sharp pain in my side because of violent coughing and I needed assistance to go to the bathroom. The trip would cause intense coughing, shortness of breath and I would break into a sweat. I would dread the thought of having to go again.


Prayer from fellow Knight of Columbus.

Prayer from fellow Knight of Columbus.

Sending and Receiving Prayers

I offered prayers for my wife and children, for past hurts to be healed, for my own soul and for the soul of our nation. I could sense the prayers being said for me. There were times throughout the day and even in the middle of the night when I felt showered by God's grace. I had a profound sense that many people were united in prayer for me, all at the same time whether they realized it or not.

Typical Daily Routine

In the morning, the nurses would do finger pricks for sugar/insulin levels. They did this 4 times per day. I rotated which fingers they pricked. My diet required that I maintain a 60-gram carb limit. I was able to order meals from a low-carb menu.

They started a new bag of Remdesivir daily connecting it to my midline. They drew blood to monitor my kidney functions and took my blood pressure. They gave me an insulin shot in my arm and a shot in the stomach to prevent blood clots. This burned.

In the evening they administered an assortment of medicines that included Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Pepcid, bronchodilator for my lungs, and Tylenol. It was difficult to get any sleep because someone was regularly taking my vitals and waking me for treatments.

I had a “sponge bath” with disposable towels premoistened with soap. There was a separate one for the hair. This was refreshing, and the scent was delightful. I watched TV, especially the Catholic channel known as the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). I prayed the rosary, Chaplet of Divine mercy and listened to Mother Angelica, Ralph Martin, and Jim and Joy Pinto who spoke about marriage and ways to enhance it through appreciating one another. I enjoyed the Daily Mass. At communion, I joined in the following prayer: My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul. Since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if you were already there, and I unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.

Pepcid AC

Daily blood draw, left arm.

Daily blood draw, left arm.

Respiratory Therapy

The respiratory therapist recommended I use a flutter valve. It is a handheld device that helps to clear mucus from the lungs as well as makes breathing easier and more comfortable. It uses oscillatory positive expiratory pressure (PEP) therapy to create vibrations and clear the airways (respiratorytherapyzone.com).

I blew into this flutter valve hourly as part of my respiratory therapy.

I blew into this flutter valve hourly as part of my respiratory therapy.

i-survied-covid-19

Dismissal From the Hospital: I Kicked Covid Before it Kicked Me!

The doctor said that after 5 days of treatment with Remdesivir I might be well enough to go home. They continued to reduce the oxygen level from 6 to 0 to see if I could maintain at least 90% on my own.

By the morning of Saturday, November 14th, he told me that my treatment is complete, and I should be prepared to leave the hospital that afternoon. Hallelujah!

But first, they had to test me to see if I would need to be sent home with oxygen. We walked down the hall and my oxygen level dropped so they recommended in-home treatment with oxygen. They ordered a tank for me.

They had two nurses remove the midline. They told me to hold my breath. I began to pray. The nurse offered her hand to squeeze as the other removed the midline. I prayed for the nurses. There was no pain or complications when it was removed. God answered my prayer.

I called my wife Nancy to come to my room and help me with my belongings. The nurse wheeled me out of my room and down the hall. Nancy pushed the oxygen tank on a two-wheeled art. Much to our surprise, the hospital staff gave me a clap out. My wife and I wished we had recorded it. It was emotional! The nurse wheeled me through the exit door of the hospital and I climbed into our van and left for home!


Kicked Covid: Hospital Clap Out

The hospital staff gave me a clap out similar to this woman in Shreveport, LA.

The hospital staff gave me a clap out similar to this woman in Shreveport, LA.

Cousin Lisa rejoicing with me.

Cousin Lisa rejoicing with me.

Recovery at Home

At home, there was an outpouring of meal support, especially from our church. Our family enjoyed chili, Subway sandwiches, lasagna, and pizza. We are humbled and grateful to God.

My first couple of days at home were still a little rough. I could only whisper when I talk. I needed oxygen at 3 liters per minute when I went up and down the stairs.

On November 17th, I was able to make a quick drive to the bank and began speaking without too much trouble. I was expected to be on oxygen for about a month, rotating between one of six portable tanks and a mobile oxygen concentrator. It is a unit about the size of a dehumidifier that concentrates the oxygen in the room and delivers it through a nasal tube. Thankfully I was only on oxygen one week.

On December 1st, I stepped back into my daily exercise routine. I started with doing 3 of my usual 4 miles on the elliptical machine. In a week, I was able to reach 4 miles in 30 minutes on level 13, my pre-COVID goal. A week later, I increased the intensity to level 14. I am able to reach 4 miles. I seem stronger now than before COVID.

Mobile oxygen concentrator.

Mobile oxygen concentrator.

Portable oxygen tank.

Portable oxygen tank.

Reflections

I am thankful to God this illness was not more serious. When I went for my follow-up visit with the doctor, the nurse at the front desk asked me if I was afraid. I told her no. She looked at me puzzled. I suffered greatly. But I had a sense of peace. I had a sense from God's word early on that, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it" (John 11:4, New International Version).

A serious illness helps you to appreciate the people in your life who love and support you. I pray that everyone who prayed for me receive God’s blessing in return, 10, 20, 100 fold. I thank God for His great mercy, compassion, and healing. I thank Him because through it all, I was able to grow in my faith.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.