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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 Alissa residing with her grandmother tested positive.

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.

Day One and Two

Late Thursday night October 29th into the morning of Friday, October 30th, I felt a slight tickle in my throat. I had a little fatigue but no other symptoms. I reported to work and was self-monitoring for any further development.

I am employed as Business Manager and Faith Formation Director for a Catholic Church and School in Des Moines, Iowa. We 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 our employees get a test if we are the least bit concerned.

Saturday and Sunday

By Saturday night, I noticed a few more symptoms including a cough, runny nose, and body aches. By Sunday morning, I developed a fever and chills, and I knew I needed to be tested. My wife and children started to exhibit symptoms.

Monday and Tuesday

By 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 on November 3rd. The remaining children were tested on the 3rd. All six members of our household were positive.

On the day of my test, the nurse also measured my blood oxygen level. I was told my level was low at 92%. Nancy was at 94%. They would like to see it 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 coworkers were tested. Two were positive. I texted my siblings. My brother Ray suggested I purchase a pulse oximeter. My brother Paul purchased me one from Walgreen’s. This was one of the best gifts I have ever received. I was able to regularly monitor my oxygen levels.

Pulse Oximeter reading of 87%. Criteria for considering ER met.

Pulse Oximeter reading of 87%. Criteria for considering ER met.

Wednesday, November 4th, 2020

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

One of the common side effects of COVID-19 is the development of blood clots, so they also ran a CAT scan of my lungs. Thankfully, no clots were detected.

They drew blood to monitor my kidney function. They monitored my blood pressure for a few hours. The blood pressure cuff of the automatic monitor in the ER squeezed my arm so tight it felt like a boa constrictor!

The nurse told me that she could argue in favor of dismissal, and I could return home to recover but at the same time, she wanted to monitor my kidneys and would be able to admit me. I elected to be dismissed so that I could recover at home. She made me promise that I would follow up with my family doctor in 24-48 hours to run additional blood tests for my kidneys.

Friday, November 6th

On Friday, November 6th, I followed up with my family doctor for the recommended kidney blood 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.

Sunday, November 8th

My oxygen levels struggled to maintain at 90%. Fever and chills continued. I had trouble breathing and my cough was so violent it hurt my sides. I would break into a sweat. I was taking Tylenol for the pain and to reduce the fever. But it was time to return to the ER. Nancy helped me pack my bag and off we went to Mercy Hospital in Des Moines. They admitted me.

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. This sounded promising. I could not wait to get the treatment started. They ordered Remdesivir. They did not move forward with convalescent plasma therapy. They started me on oxygen at a flow rate of 6 liters per minute. A typical range is 1-15.

They wheeled me in my bed from the ER to the Covid floor. I knew I had entered a whole new world by all of the containment locks at each hallway entrance. There were vinyl curtains that had to be unzipped to pass through and zipped or locked once we were on the other side. Nearly all 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.

Since they were concerned for blood clots, one of the first tests they ordered was an ultrasound of my legs. 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. In fact, they treated me for pneumonia as a precautionary measure. Thankfully, once again, no clots were detected.

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 many church prayer chains as word got out to my friends, family, and coworkers. I had an army of friends and family throughout the country who kept 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. Through it all, 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.


Praying for each other.

Praying for each other.

Redemptive Suffering

A wise woman once told me that because my mother suffered from Scleroderma among other illnesses, her prayers were particularly powerful. Redemptive suffering is the Catholic belief that human suffering, when accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus, can remit the just punishment for one's sins or for the sins of another. You can choose to unite your sufferings for the physical or spiritual needs of oneself or another. This helped me to focus outward instead of seeing this as “Why me?” I even thought about people with terminal illnesses like cancer and how my condition does not even hold a candle to those situations.

Paul writes in Holy Scripture, “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.” In another translation, “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.” -Colossians 1:24.

Prayers from Knights of Columbus

Prayers from Knights of Columbus

Prayers from office workers.

Prayers from office workers.

Additional Suffering: Failed IV Attempts

I was suffering physically in my body with chills and fatigue but also because they had a terrible time trying to place 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 PICC line (peripherally inserted central catheter), 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 regular IV. 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 because I had to wait even longer for the anti-viral medicine. I was so looking forward to beginning the treatment. Since it took several hours before they were able to finally place a midline, the bag of Remdesiver that was hanging 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 was pierced in His side. I had a stitch so bad in my side because of violent coughing that I could not go to the bathroom without assistance. The trip would cause shortness of breath due to the cough and I would break into a sweat. I would dread the thought of having to go again.

I could not help but ponder more deeply the sufferings of Christ. I imagined Him on the cross. He did this out of His great love for us. What a moment for me!

Typical Daily Routine

In the morning, and throughout the day, 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.

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

In the evening they gave me 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.

They gave me 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 a lot of TV and especially enjoyed the Daily Mass, rosary and Divine Mercy on the Catholic channel known as the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN). I listened to Mother Angelica, Ralph Martin, and Jim and Joy Pinto who spoke about marriage and ways to enhance it through appreciating one another.

Daily blood draw, left arm.

Daily blood draw, left arm.

Respiratory Therapy

After a few days, the respiratory therapist recommended I begin using a flutter valve. It is a handheld device that helps to clear mucus from the lungs as well as make breathing easier and more comfortable. It uses oscillatory positive expiratory pressure (PEP) therapy to loosen secretions in the lungs and help the patient to cough them up in order to clear the airways. The vibrations generated by using it made me cough so that I could benefit from the device.

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.

Dismissal From the Hospital

The doctor said that after about 5 days of treatment with Remdesivir I might be well enough to come home. They also 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. Then they scheduled two nurses to remove the midline. They told me to hold my breath. One nurse offered her hand to squeeze as the other removed it. Thankfully there were no complications when it was taken out.

I called my wife Nancy, and she came up to the room to help me with my belongings. She pushed the oxygen tank on a two-wheeled cart. The nurse wheeled me out of my room and down the hall. 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 hopped into our van and left for home!


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 grateful and humbled.

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

On November 17th, I was able to make a quick drive to the bank and begin speaking without too much trouble. I am 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.

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.

A serious illness helps you to appreciate the people in your life who love and support you. It helps you ponder more deeply what is tremendously important. It is an opportunity for prayer and to thank God for His great mercy, compassion, and healing.

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.