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"Every Minute that Passed was Another Minute that I Lived."

  • Category: Patient Stories
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Baton Rouge General

man and woman wearing masks

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!”