Lessons from COVID-19: In the Words of a Survivor

Gratitude Day 468

Wed., June 3, 2020

3 John 1:3 – Some of the brothers traveling by have made me very happy by telling me that your life stays clean and true and that you are living by the standards of the Gospel.

I love to tell stories. I cherish capturing a sliver from a person’s life and exploring how this snapshot speaks of something that can be inspirational and encouraging for others.

Today’s story, I pray, is such a chronicle. One that will speak to you, as well as be a storyline that maybe, just maybe, you will share with someone else.

This is Linda Johnson. She is a COVID-19 survivor.

And she is ready to share her story.

This 70-something-year-old woman lives in Fond du Lac, WI with her husband, Jerry, who is currently doubling as her nurse. Historically, Linda has been a healthy and highly active woman. She exercised regularly, had a calendar full of activities that included groups and causes she enjoyed, as well as warmed lots of bleachers while attending her grandchildren’s events.

Mid-March, all of this came to a screeching halt before much of the country went into stay-in-place mode. By then, Linda was in a hospital and just trying to breathe. Literally.

In early March, Jerry provided transportation for family members who had just returned from a cruise. Jerry and Linda spent a couple hours with these folks. They shared hugs and handshakes. Unbeknownst to them, these loved ones had come in contact with passengers from another cruise ship that had people who tested positive for COVD-19 onboard.

Following the visit, Linda developed every symptom of the coronavirus, except a sore throat. On March 13th, a long swab tested her for the virus. Before the results were officially confirmed, she was admitted to a hospital because of escalating symptoms. This hospital would be Linda’s home for the next 19 days; nine of which were spent on a ventilator.

Never able to physically enter the hospital throughout Linda’s hospital stay, Jerry also tested positive for the virus. He cared for himself while under quarantine in their home.  Other family members had symptoms and tested positive for the virus. In other like situations, family would gather together to encourage and support each other. With COVID-19, everyone remained quarantined in their own home.

“The most challenging aspect of this entire experience was looking at my husband’s face when he had to go home from the parking lot and leave me at the hospital,” Linda says. “I realized that I was going to have to do this without an advocate, which challenged me to never give up hope.”

Amazingly, the hospital staff provided not only physical care for Linda; they also cared for Linda’s and Jerry’s emotional needs as well. Hospital staff never complained about having to change personal protective equipment (PPE) each time they left her room, even if their only purpose for entering the room was to give Linda a glass of water. Staff sat with her, held her hand, read her cards and provided regular updates to Jerry and the rest of their family.

“They (health care providers) performed such courageous acts, in caring for me as well as the other COVID-19 patients,” Linda says. Hospital staff were learning about the virus on the fly because the Center for Disease Control (CDC) was also gathering information from early cases. With no established guidelines to follow, the staff constantly explored different regimes to bring comfort to Linda and other COVID-19 patients.

Going on the ventilator was a huge decision that the Johnson’s and their three adult daughters did not take lightly. Linda spoke with her entire immediate family before going on the vent. Just in case.

“Throughout my hospital stay, the only time I specifically asked God for something for me is when I went on the vent,” Linda explains. “I didn’t want to remember the days I was on the vent … and I don’t.”

Unlike many patients, Linda never felt anxious while on the vent. People often experience hallucinations from the sedation medication. Linda did experience hallucinations. Yet, her memory of these hallucinations is very relaxing. Calm. They were filled with music, vivid colors, stars, and swirls in the sky, which helped her remain calm while on the vent.

In fact, Linda says throughout her entire hospital stay, she remained uncharacteristically calm and non-anxious. She attributes this to the army of prayer warriors around the globe who were committed to lifting her up in prayer. Familiar with the “Footprints in the Sand” writing before her coronavirus journey, the words from this saying take on enhanced meaning these days. “I have discovered that during troubled times, Jesus literally carries us,” Linda shared.

Completely helpless in fixing her own situation, Linda placed her heart and soul in God’s hands, willing to accept whatever the result. Since the “bus didn’t come and pick me up, I’m confident that God has a plan for me,” Linda says. “Now at home, I’m doing a lot more listening these days. I’m paying more attention. We can’t just expect God to listen to us. We need to put ourselves in a place where our hearts and souls can listen to God.”

While on the vent, Jerry and Linda were not able to communicate. Throughout Linda’s hospital stint, Jerry kept a detailed log at home of her medical situation based on his many conversations with medical staff. “She never felt far away,” Jerry says, “as she was always in my heart.” Hospital staff kept Jerry and his daughters informed and spent extra time to help them fully understand the challenges of treating an unknown disease.

Linda clearly remembers the first time she spoke with Jerry after getting off the vent. While she couldn’t really “talk,” these high school sweethearts feel this whole experience has drawn them closer together.

They know this journey has changed them … for the good. “During the months of the safer at home order in a normal year, I would be doing spring cleaning,” says Linda. “This year, a physical spring cleaning didn’t happen. Instead, I had a spring cleaning of my life; one that cleaned my heart, my mind and my life in general.”  

Linda challenges herself to maintain the peace and calmness she experienced while in the hospital in her current daily life. As she feels better and becomes more able to do things, distractions creep in. Early on, she struggled with survivor’s guilt. While hospitalized, Linda didn’t watch the news. Once home, she became aware of COVID-19 patients who didn’t make it, including people with young children. Linda questioned why she was spared … and these people were not. Her purpose now is to wait for God to reveal what God has in mind for her life as a coronavirus survivor. “I need to be gracious and accept the grace that I survived this pandemic. Now, I wait and see what is in store for my future,” Linda says.

These days, the Johnson’s appreciate their marriage, family, and neighborhood a lot more. For weeks, their friends and neighbors provided meals for Jerry and eventually for both of them. A natural hugger, Linda wanted to assure her grandchildren that she was okay. Once home, she drew herself on butcher block paper and mailed a copy to each of her grandchildren to symbolically hug them. Unsure when she will be able to physically hug loved ones, these days, she uses the COVID kiss; bumping elbows.

Aware that some people downplay the severity of COVID-19, Linda hopes that sharing her story changes this. “First, I needed to let my body physically heal. As my body gets stronger, I know that it is now time for me to deal with the emotional side of being a coronavirus survivor. This includes sharing my story,” says Linda.

In 2019, her spring calendar was packed full of sporting events, concerts, exercise class and volunteering. May 2020 only included two priorities: visits to the COVID clinic and donating plasma. Jerry has donated plasma four times. Just last week, Linda cleared the many necessary tests which allowed her to donate. They are optimistic that their plasma will help other COVID-19 patients.

Committed to making sure this “spring cleaning” is purposeful and significant, Linda relies on God to help her achieve the right teeter-totter balance point between listening and serving God versus the world’s distractions. She yearns for a clean heart that seeks the Lord in all that she says, does and lives. “My work is not done,” Linda concludes. “I pray that I will be enlightened with how I can do God’s work after coronavirus.”

For Linda’s lessons from COVID-19, I am grateful.

Blessings –

Dianne

Healing God – thank you for the physical healing that Linda and so many other COVID-19 patients have experienced. Hold those families who have lost loved ones tightly in your palm. May they know Your healing presence in a different way.  Bath us with emotional healing as well, drawing us closer to You so we can have a spring cleaning of our hearts and souls. Amen.

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