Upon awakening, after three days on a ventilator in the Cleveland Clinic Medina Hospital intensive care unit (ICU), Bob Hughes shared an urgent message with fiancée Dawn Halada: Go get your vaccine!
Bob, a 53-year-old grandfather of four, wishes he had gotten a COVID-19 vaccine. Following a trip in early July to visit family in Florida, Bob began feeling lethargic, with flu-like symptoms. After taking a home COVID-19 test, upon his return to Ohio, Bob learned he had contracted COVID-19.
His health spiraled downward, almost immediately. “I started getting more and more tired, with no appetite. After a couple of days, I didn’t get out of bed much,” says Bob.
After being diagnosed with COVID-19, Bob needed a CPAP before he was put on a ventilator. (Courtesy: Bob Hughes)
Dawn drove him to a hospital in Lodi, Ohio, near his residence. Doctors there immediately transferred him to Cleveland Clinic Medina Hospital, which was better equipped to handle critical COVID-19 cases. Bob says he felt his life was in danger as the virus rapidly took hold.
“They said my lungs were already filling with fluid, and they put me on oxygen. Then, they intubated me, and I was completely out, unconscious. Finally, by the (third) day on the ventilator, my body started working and breathing on its own again.”
Bob spent two weeks in the hospital, most of it in ICU. He was next transferred to Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital, Edwin Shaw where he spent 12 days receiving physical and occupational therapy, slowly regaining his strength and beginning to stand and walk again. According to infectious disease specialist, Rajiv Sahni, MD, who treated Bob in the ICU, rehabilitation is often a necessary step in recovery for patients whose cases are serious.
Bob and his fiancée, Dawn, during a visit while Bob was in rehab. (Courtesy: Bob Hughes)
“COVID takes a huge toll on patients,” explains Dr. Sahni. “It’s a disease that hits multiple organ systems, and puts people in bed for a long period of time, with a lot of medical support. Even when their blood oxygen levels are recovering, it leaves them very weak.”
“At first, I couldn’t do much but maybe stand and take one step, while they were holding me,” says Bob, who finally went home on August 15, 2021, and continues to require oxygen. “It could take a month, or it could take several months, to fully get back my energy level.”
For the first few days at Edwin Shaw, Bob was confined to his room because he still had COVID-19 in his system. That meant therapy was limited, and nurses had to don full personal protective equipment each time they entered his room.
Bob undergoing rehab, as part of his COVID-19 recovery, at Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital, Edwin Shaw. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)
“I felt bad for them,” says Bob. “COVID affects everybody around you. Family and friends, too, had to see me go through this.”
While Bob was never against receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, he chose to take a wait-and-see approach when they first became available. As time passed, he never took the time to get it, a decision he now regrets.
“Going through this, I would definitely go back and get it. I’m just one of those people that thinks, ‘I’m fine. I went a year and haven’t caught the virus, so I’ll be OK’,” he observes. “But looking back, I would take the shot many times over if I had the choice (again). I was on the edge of death.”
Fortunately, his fiancée, Dawn, heeded his advice and got the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine while he was still hospitalized.
Dr. Sahni has seen a recent uptick in the number of people getting vaccinated who were previously hesitant to do so: “I’m hoping this is a trend that is going to continue. Immunity (against COVID-19 from the vaccine) is much more durable than immunity from getting the infection.”
Bob getting discharged from Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital, Edwin Shaw. (Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic)
Although now back at home, Bob foresees a long road to recovery. He continues to visit Edwin Shaw on an outpatient basis, and is unsure of when he’ll return to normal, if ever.
“I’m definitely making progress. When I first came (to Edwin Shaw), I couldn’t take a step and the other day, I walked (more than) 290,” Bob states. “But I don’t know if I will go back even close to where I was before this. There’s uncertainty about my future.”
Dr. Sahni sees the battle against COVID-19 as a war, and all members of the community are its soldiers.
“You don’t see soldiers going onto the battlefield without armor,” he states. “The vaccine is our armor. We need to arm ourselves with all the protection we can.”