Patient Testimony: My COVID-19 Thanksgiving
November 25, 2020
Editor's Note: This testimony was submitted by Mr. Phillips to our hospital administration. We are sharing this story at his request and with his permission.
By George Phillips
Attorney at Bone McAllester Norton PLLC, Hendersonville, Tennessee
I thought I had a touch of bronchitis on Thursday, November 12. My wife, Patricia, gave me some horseradish to smell on Friday, and I couldn’t smell it. The bronchitis was a little worse, so I went to a walk-in clinic where they gave me a rapid COVID-19 test. To my utter surprise, it came back positive. I immediately headed home to recover for a few days, thinking that I was in good shape and really had no preexisting conditions other than being a little overweight. I was a 59-year-old who regularly walks and rides my bicycle for 10 miles, runs during the weekend, and thought I would recover quickly. I have never been sick, and my wife and twins both had COVID-19 in July with no symptoms and were over it almost as soon as they knew they had it. I tested negative then.
But I didn’t feel better. I couldn’t eat anything, food tasted terrible, I could not get comfortable trying to sleep—sitting up in a chair and moving back to bed but not finding rest. My breathing became more labored and walking to the bathroom started to really wind me. Patricia bought an oxygen meter for my finger and my oxygen levels steadily decreased, dropping to 92. Patricia started to suggest I should go to the ER, but I was reluctant, thinking surely this would turn around. My oxygen level dropped to 90, and when I did anything at all, fell below 90. Patricia shared with me an email exchange she had with Sumner Regional Medical Center CEO Susan Peach, where Mrs. Peach advised Patricia to get me in immediately for an assessment. Because of the early crush of cases, Sumner Regional had been at the forefront of learning how to treat COVID-19. The combination of pressures from Patricia and Mrs. Peach worked, and I had Patricia take me to the ER Tuesday morning (November 17).
I was quickly admitted and met with one of Sumner’s internist doctors who had become a COVID-19 expert, Dr. Kevin T. Childers. He examined my lungs, taking X-Rays and an MRI that showed I had extensive pneumonia in both lungs. Based on his experience, he also suggested that COVID-19 had weakened my immune system and that I might have a bacterial lung infection. Dr. Childress immediately started treatment with a combination of IV drugs that had been shown to help some people with COVID-19. He explained that I was in serious condition but hopefully some of the drugs would start reversing the deterioration in my lung function.
It didn’t — and I continued to have trouble breathing, even as they increased my oxygen treatment levels to 11 liters and put a full mask on me (as opposed to the nose inserts). At that point, Dr. Childers explained they were moving me to the isolation critical care unit, so they could take more invasive measures if needed. He said if I need to go on a respirator, they could do it more quickly. Working with my brother Dan (a doctor) and Patricia, they explored other options, including a treatment option with an ECMO machine. This an aggressive form of life support that pumps blood out of the body, oxygenates it, and returns it to the body, keeping a person alive for days, weeks or months—even when their heart or lungs don't work.
At that point, late at night, anxiety started to overtake me as I gasped for air and thought of the many possible negative outcomes. Fortunately, my isolation unit nurse, Stephanie, saw my distress, held my hand, stroked my head and told me to calm down and think positive thoughts. She said some combination of the drugs being pumped into the multiple IV ports would start working and I would start to get better. I listened, tried to calm down, and by morning showed some improvement, and more invasive measures were delayed.
Things started improving, and the oxygen treatment levels were gradually reduced. I was moved out of the isolation unit and eventually was off all external oxygen, and became able to walk to the bathroom without gasping for air. After a couple more days under the watchful eyes of a terrific nursing staff (Ms. Kristy Witzgall gets a special mention, along with Dr. Childress), they had me walking the halls. Once I could maintain my oxygen levels, they released me to go home on Monday, November 23—six days after my admission.
Patricia fixed up the basement den to keep me from having to climb stairs and I continue to improve. I know I have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, and I promise to keep the promises I made to the Lord if he would pull me through. I am extremely thankful and proud for the wonderful asset this community has in Sumner Regional, Dr. Childress, Dr. Matt King, Mrs. Peach, and the nursing staff who have developed a COVID-19 care ward as good as can be found. The personal care and love from the doctors and nurses were unparalleled and I think was an absolute key to my recovery during my darkest moments.
My advice — stay safe, don’t think COVID-19 is not serious, social distance, wear your masks, but if you develop COVID-19 and breathing problems, get to the ER ASAP so they can get you on a path to recovery. I cannot express enough my deep gratitude for my many friends, work colleagues and family who have been so supportive in their calls, emails and texts. A special thanks to my stepmom, Wilma Phillips, who sent words of encouragement and love every day and fielded an onslaught of inquiries for me.
Yes, my heart is full of gratitude and thankfulness on this Thanksgiving, and my lungs are full again too.