Her family couldn’t visit her in the hospital for weeks. She initially didn’t know where she was or why she was there. She was on a ventilator for 13 days.
Now, after two trips to the hospital and about a month there, Nancy Garner, 67, of Oak Ridge, is back at home, still recovering from COVID-19. It’s been almost two months since she tested positive.
Nancy was first tested for COVID-19 in early June while on vacation with her husband, Carl, 71, in Florida.
The Garners had left Oak Ridge on Saturday, June 6. They had rented a house in Florida with friends from Texas.
Nancy Garner noticed symptoms the next day, Sunday, June 7. She had a fever and sore throat. She thought it was from being outside in the sun.
But the following day, Monday, the symptoms were worse. She went to an emergency room in Florida, and she was tested for COVID-19.
She and Carl came back to Oak Ridge immediately, and they stayed at home. They both learned that week that they had tested positive for COVID-19.
Nancy took Tylenol until Saturday, June 13. She struggled to breathe. She couldn’t stop coughing, and she couldn’t keep her temperature down. She was admitted to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.
Within a few days, she was moved to intensive care and intubated, put on a ventilator.
A week later, the hospital staff tried to take her off the ventilator, but they had to re-intubate her because she wasn’t awake enough to maintain her breathing, said daughter Jami Garner, the K-8 Math Curriculum Coordinator for Oak Ridge Schools. Nancy’s sedative medications were stopped to try to get her to wake up.
Later that week, on a Friday, a nurse helped set up a FaceTime chat between Nancy and her family. Family members were finally able to talk to her, and that’s when she started to wake up, Jami Garner said.
Nancy was not allowed visitors until she had two negative COVID-19 tests. She had her first negative test on Tuesday, July 7, three and a half weeks after being admitted to the hospital. She had her second negative test a few days later and was allowed one visitor.
“She was there all by herself the whole time,” Jami said. “That was really hard because no one could be there to advocate for her.”
The Garners aren’t alone in reporting this experience. Other family members across the country have reported not being able to visit their loved ones struggling with COVID-19—a contagious, sometimes deadly disease—and having to communicate with them using electronic methods such as FaceTime.
Jami said the experience was terrifying to her. Normally, she would have been at the hospital, helping to manage her mother’s care. But due to COVID-19, she could not. It was difficult to maintain communications with doctors and nurses, Jami said.
“Not being able to care for my family member was heart-wrenching,” Jami said. “Knowing that she was suffering, and there was not a thing I could do.”
In the hospital, her mother didn’t initially know where she was or why she was there.
“She had no clue,” Jami said. “She said it was really scary.”
Jami’s sister, Shelly Hust, works at UT Medical Center and at one point was able to go to her mother’s hospital room door and wave at her. Nancy then realized where she was and understood that she would be okay.
Nancy was taken off the ventilator on Sunday, June 28, after 13 days of being on it. She “barely dodged the bullet” of needing a tracheotomy, Jami said.
She was transferred from UT Medical Center to Tennova North for recovery that Thursday, just before Independence Day. She had her two negative COVID-19 tests the following week. She was discharged Monday, July 13.
During her hospital stay, Nancy was part of two clinical trials. In one, she received two rounds of convalescent plasma about the time she was put on a ventilator. In the other, she was given remdesivir, an antiviral medication, when she was recovering.
She had been recovering at home for almost two weeks before being re-admitted to the hospital the second time on Saturday. She had blood clots in her lungs, and she was prescribed blood thinners for six months before being discharged on Monday.
Before she was re-admitted Saturday, Nancy had been feeling better, but her lung capacity had not returned to normal. She was still short of breath, and she was doing well if she could walk to the end of the street, Jami said.
“It’s not over,” Jami said. “It’s not the flu.”
Unlike Nancy, Carl Garner had only mild symptoms, a sore throat and a cough. He did not have a fever. He did not need medical care.
Carl was released from quarantine 10 days after testing positive.
Jami said both of her parents are fairly healthy, and it’s not clear why her mother became seriously ill while her father had only mild symptoms. That’s still one of the mysteries of COVID-19: why some people become ill and others don’t.
The Garners do not know how they were infected.
Jami said COVID-19 robbed her mother of more than a month of her life. Nancy is still recovering, and she has not been able to enjoy activities she used to enjoy.
She seems to be doing okay mentally but is terrified of getting COVID-19 again, Jami said. Now, she’s almost afraid to leave the house.
Jami said her mother had been careful before she caught the virus.
Now, she would stress the importance of wearing a mask.
“You just don’t know, until you know, how bad it is,” Jami said.