‘We’ll Beat This’
By Nicholas Hunter
When I finally woke up, it was pitch-black. A nurse must have seen me stir. Despite the thick fog that seemed to envelop my mind, we managed a little conversation.
“Are you awake?”
“Do you know where you are?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You’re in the ICU.”
For a lung transplantee with cystic fibrosis, wearing a mask, keeping a safe distance from others and washing hands constantly were already part of everyday life. So as the pandemic swept across the country, I felt confident that I’d be able to handle the situation. I was healthy because of the measures I took to stay safe. I thought I had things under control.
I likely contracted COVID-19 from a visiting family member who wasn’t showing any symptoms. A week later, I had a slight cough and a stuffy nose, and I felt fatigued. I called the Ohio Department of Health hotline to be directed to a testing site, but I didn’t have a fever, so they advised me to hold off and continue monitoring my condition.
Another week went by. With a persistent pain in my hips that made it impossible to sleep and no improvement in my other symptoms, I went to the emergency department at Cleveland Clinic Akron General. A chest X-ray showed severe pneumonia as a result of COVID-19. I was admitted immediately.
After a relatively stable first night, I had breakfast. No visitors were allowed, so I called my mom and my girlfriend. Then I took a nap.
This was on a Sunday. I woke up at 3 a.m. the following Sunday — a week later — in the intensive care unit. In the interim, my oxygen level had dipped dangerously low and I had been put on a ventilator, although I don’t remember any of this.
By the time I came to, I was breathing on my own again. Later in the day, they brought my phone to me, which had been charged by one of the nurses. I had a bunch of missed calls and text messages.
Scrolling through the backlog of notifications, I thought about how difficult this must’ve been for the people I love. With no way of knowing what was happening with me from moment to moment, they had to wait by the phone for updates — and potentially the news that nobody ever wants to get.
I had a video call with my mom. Both of us instantly started crying. It was the same when I called my girlfriend. Seeing the two people who mean the most to me, hearing their voices and looking into their watery eyes — even on a tiny screen and from miles away — sent a feeling of relief washing over me. I knew I had cleared the first hurdle on the road to recovery: surviving the disease.
Four days later, I was well enough to go home. My recovery was not only incredibly fast, but surprisingly strong. As I write this, I’m back to full health, aside from some minimal scarring on my lungs. “If this is all you’re left with,” Dr. Marie Budev told me during a follow-up appointment, “we’ll take it.”
I’ve spent a lot of time trying to wrap my head around the concept of luck as it relates to my health.
Of course, it’s incredibly unlucky to be born with a rare and deadly genetic disorder that left me, from a young age, with constant bacterial infections that led to lung-crushing mucus buildup. On the other hand, I was born in Northeast Ohio, home to some of the best healthcare options in the world.
Should I feel gratitude, despite the horrors I’ve had to confront?
I’ve wrestled with the same question after my experience with the coronavirus. Despite taking every precaution, keeping close tabs on my health and being proactive about getting treatment, I ended up on a ventilator. On the other hand, I survived. When you get as sick as I did, not everyone does.
I’m the type of person who likes solid answers. Unfortunately, with COVID-19, solid answers are in short supply. Even those at the forefront of fighting the virus still don’t have all the answers.
After all the soul-searching I’ve done in self-isolation, though, I’m confident we’ll beat this. I’ve met countless doctors and nurses who care deeply about every person in their care. I’ve experienced firsthand their penchant for making miracles happen.
I’ve trusted them my whole life — and now more than ever.
Nicholas Hunter graduated from Kent State University in May with a degree in journalism. He lives in Akron, Ohio.
‘We’re So Grateful’
By Lora Krug Blaha and George Blaha
We felt a whiplash of emotions when we learned our father, Emil Krug, tested positive for coronavirus and was admitted to Cleveland Clinic on April 6. Disbelief, fear and even grief rushed at us in that moment.
Emil is Rodney Dangerfield and John Candy blended together: gregarious, disarming and larger than life. But he’s also 85 years old, has COPD and high blood pressure and is overweight. His odds didn’t look good for pulling out of this. To use an analogy he would appreciate, the situation was late fourth quarter, fourth down and 28-0 on the scoreboard.
At the time, we were in our winter home in Florida and afraid we wouldn’t make it back to Cleveland in time. On April 7, before our early morning flight, we took a last walk on the beach at sunrise to try to find peace with the situation. We also placed a call to a friend who owns a funeral home. We wanted advice on how to hold a funeral during social distancing for a man who never met a stranger.
We worried how we could tell our mother, Ruth, about the reality of Emil’s diagnosis. We also feared she had been exposed in their shared assisted-living apartment. We decided to say only that he had pneumonia and would need to be in the hospital for a time.
Ours is a faithful family. Faith, and FaceTime, kept us together during the ensuing days. Our inability to visit Emil due to pandemic precautions was frustrating, but the doctors and nurses were always available when we needed a phone update.
We’re blessed to live in Cleveland and Southeast Florida, with Cleveland Clinic campuses in both locations. We should have trusted God and Cleveland Clinic more than we did during that last morning walk on the beach in early April. We’re so grateful that Emil left Cleveland Clinic, clear of coronavirus, on Good Friday, April 10.
Lora Krug Blaha and George Blaha divide their time between Northeast Ohio and Southeast Florida. Married in 1987, they have three children and one grandchild.