Cal and Terri Simpson have been married for 35 years. A vibrant, fun-loving
couple, they enjoy attending cultural events, trying new restaurants,
and visits with their children who are spread across the country from
Texas to Washington. In January, COVID-19 was little more than a faint
blip on the couple’s radar—a piece of news from elsewhere.
As the virus crept across Asia and Europe, Cal and Terri’s day-to-day
routine remained the same. Life went on. The virus reached American shores,
and one by one, states began reporting cases. First, Washington. Then
Illinois. California, Arizona, Connecticut. New York. Florida. Texas.
On March 9, Governor John Bel Edwards announced that COVID-19 had arrived
in Louisiana. Cal and Terri did their best to follow CDC guidelines—distance
themselves from others at work and home, practice good hand hygiene, and
wear masks. But on Monday, March 30th, Cal began to cough.
“I remember when I first knew something was wrong. I came home from
work on the last Monday of March, and as I was getting changed I felt
a very unusual chill.” Cal coughed and felt chilled throughout the
night, so on Tuesday morning he went to an urgent care clinic to get tested
for the flu and COVID-19. The next day, he received his flu test results: negative.
Cal’s condition worsened as the week progressed. On Thursday, the
couple learned that Cal tested positive for COVID-19. Terri began sleeping
in a separate room, worrying as she listened to Cal cough each night.
“As a caregiver, you’re just guessing about what you can do
to help. You’re shooting from the hip. I felt helpless—very
helpless. Every cough drove home the point that I did not know what was
going on.” By Sunday, Cal had reached the point where he had no
appetite, couldn’t get out of bed, and had immense trouble breathing.
The couple knew it was time to go to the hospital.
Terri brought Cal to Baton Rouge General’s emergency room, where
she made him promise to fight. Upon being admitted, Cal’s fear of
the disease became more acute. “I thought, ‘This is it. This
is the disease people are dying from.’” After one night in
the hospital, he was transferred to the ICU. With no TV or radio in the
background, Cal listened to the constant whirring of respirators, and
even heard people die. All he could see was a large, round clock on the
wall. He watched minutes tick by, thinking, “Every minute that passed
was another minute that I lived.”
Back at home, Terri waited for daily updates from BRG care providers, who
promised to call her once a day with an update on Cal’s condition.
“I appreciated that the doctors and nurses at Baton Rouge General
gave me straight, to-the-point updates. They were very clear about when
and how frequently I could expect updates. It gave me confidence that
they were doing all they could for their patients while still taking time
to contact families. I will always remember the doctor who called to inform
me that Cal was being transferred to the ICU. She could not have been
kinder.” But this didn’t dissuade all the fears. “Around
Day 10 of him being in the hospital, it finally sunk in—he might
not come home.”
Cal’s journey brought him first to Baton Rouge General’s Bluebonnet
campus, and later to Mid City. His days in the hospital became weeks,
during which he all but forgot what humans looked like, as his care providers
always wore PPE. Although he couldn’t remember people’s faces,
Cal absolutely remembered their kindness. “The doctors and nurses
in the ICU were amazing. They were caring but firm with patients. The
time and effort they put in were truly top-notch. Being a healthcare provider
is definitely a calling.” He even lost his sense of taste. “Most
things started tasting repulsive to me. The first thing I could tolerate
was fruit cups. The nurses at Baton Rouge General would make sure to bring
me extra fruit cups to eat, and that meant so much. One CNRA at the Mid
City campus even brought me a 20oz container of fruit from the grocery
store. It was the best thing I had tasted in weeks!”
Cal’s condition slowly improved and finally, after 28 days in the
hospital, he was cleared for discharge. Terri and their son picked him
up at the Mid City campus. Cal lost 40 pounds during his illness, and
he hadn’t shaved in weeks, but his family was overjoyed to see him.
They shared a laugh at Cal’s first words: “They said we have
to quarantine at home for two more weeks.”
Terri and Cal are extremely grateful for the care Baton Rouge General provided
during and after Cal’s hospital stay. Social workers ensure that
they have the resources needed to continue Cal’s recovery, as many
COVID-19 patients experience lingering difficulties after the virus has
run its course.
When asked what they would say to those who aren’t sure what to think
about COVID-19, or who are nervous about visiting a hospital during this
time, Terri and Cal shared this: “Be like Nike—just do it.
Do it for mankind, your friends, your loved ones, and people you don’t
know. If you can do anything to help prevent the spread, do it. The disease
is life-altering. Our healthcare providers are here to support us, and
everyone is giving the absolute best that they can. Have trust in them!”