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Your Healthy Family: CO nurse adjusts to life after surviving bout with COVID

Posted at 4:14 PM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 20:04:56-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — After coming down with COVID-19 in December of 2020, DeeAnn Weed, a registered nurse who lives in Woodland Park. was hospitalized for 35 days at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central. It turned out to be the fight of her life.

(Your Healthy Family: How DeeAnn Weed came down with COVID)

(Your Healthy Family: DeeAnn is hospitalized for 35 days with COVID)

While she came out on the other side, she says she had a feeling as she was being cared for about her future. “I knew this was going to change my life - and it has.”

As soon as DeeAnn felt like she could return to work in the operating room, a job she's passionate about she gave it go. “Last March I tried to go back to work but I just don't have the energy or the lung capacity to push the gurneys. I can't move patients and when I moved them to another room I needed oxygen more than the patient does. The anesthesiologists kept looking at me like, ‘I've got oxygen if you need it.’ Everyone at work was great and tried to help me, but that only goes so far. The operating room is a fast paced environment and I just couldn't keep up. They (UCHealth ) are trying to find me another job, but to give up the O.R. after 17 years is devastating.”

When she followed up with her pulmonologist, who told her he was surprised to see her getting around without an oxygen tank - something she's thankful for - the big picture news still wasn't great. “I went back to my pulmonologist and asked him when are my lungs going to get any better? When can I breathe better? He said you're not this is it. I have so much scarring in my lungs, he said, ‘This is all you got.’”

DeeAnn’s symptoms began on December 7th, just a week before UCHealth began vaccinating employees on December 14th. She didn’t have the option that everyone in the United States has now to be vaccinated against the virus. DeeAnn’s advice? “It's your choice if you wanna get vaccinated, great. If you don't, whatever. It's your choice and there're different reasons why people don't want to get vaccinated. I have a friend who is highly allergic with anaphylaxis to the flu shot, and she is scared to death to get this (vaccine). So I feel it's everybody's choice. For me personally, I got it as soon as I could because if I got COVID again it would kill me.”

It’s taken a lot of work physically and emotionally for DeeAnn to adjust to a new normal, and she tells me she’s doing well. She continues working on improving a little every day in some way. She also documented her COVID-19 story (INCLUDED BELOW, BTW A GREAT READ!) from a nurse’s perspective, hopefully to help anyone else who is struggling physically or emotionally after dealing with COVID. DeeAnn says it also helped her in many ways to write her story. “It started out that way - as my own therapy. I have a lot of combat PTSD and that is one of the many tools I have learned over years of therapy is journaling. Other people are out there that are going through this and I would highly suggest journaling to them. I want everyone to read this and realize - just keep breathing. That's what it's all about - just keep breathing no matter how bad it is.”

I spoke with DeeAnn this week and she tells me she is rehabbing from knee replacement surgery, and continues to make a slow recovery when it comes to getting her stamina and lungs back to normal. She's still on the lookout for a nursing job but says in the meantime her new outlook on life of making each day count, she is enjoying the extra time at home with her husband and son.

UCHealth will be providing vaccinations on Friday, Aug. 6 & Saturday, Aug. 7 at the Memorial Administrative Center, 2420 E. Pikes Peak Ave., from 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. The Pfizer vaccine will be given. Walk-ins are welcome.

UCHealth is a proud sponsor of Your Healthy Family

My Covid Journey From The Other Side Of The Hospital Bed

First of all let me introduce myself. I’m DeeAnn and I’m a Covid survivor. I am retired Air Force, I spent 29 years wearing a blue uniform. I’m also a nurse of 26 years. I work in the operating room and last September I completed my RN First Assist Certification. I have been married for 26 years, my husband Larry, and I met in the back of a C-130 military aircraft. I was an aircraft mechanic for 9 years, four years on active duty working on fighter jets and 5 years Reserves while going to college and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. He had me at flipping his oxygen mask off… That’s our love story. We have a son who is 14 years old now, taller than me. His voice dropped and has a peach fuzz on his upper lip. Not sure how this happened. It was just yesterday that I was rocking him to sleep and telling him stories of The Little Buckaroo and his adventures that I made up as he went to sleep on my shoulder. I’ve lived a pretty active and happy life so far, until December 11th, 2020.

My story starts on December 7th, I went to see my family practice doctor, I discovered I had a crazy high blood sugar of 429. I knew something was up, everyone in my family has diabetes and I was oddly thirsty ALL THE TIME. What I feared came to reality when my doctor told me I was a diabetic. That is the last thing I remember…. The rest of what happened was from what people have told me. December 9th I apparently drove myself to my pre-op orthopedic appointment. I was scheduled to have both my knees replaced on December 22. I was cancelled at that appointment due to my blood sugars being so high. I didn’t know I was cancelled, that comes up in a panic a little later. That evening on the 9th I went to the local ER and got a nasal swab, it came back positive for Covid and I was sent home. Somehow in the process I got home oxygen. December 10th my husband called the ambulance and they came out to assess me. They didn’t think I was bad enough to go to the ER and told my husband it would be better for me to recover at home. The next afternoon, December 11th, my husband called the local ER and spoke with a nurse. He explained I was mostly catatonic and just stared at the floor, not eating, not breathing real well on 6L of oxygen. They told him to call an ambulance and don’t even stop here that I needed to go to the ER in Colorado Springs, probably intubated and sent to the ICU. Again, my husband called the ambulance and they came out to assess me. While the paramedic was arguing with my husband, the younger EMT helped me onto the gurney and got me strapped in. At that point is when I proceeded to scream at the paramedic that I needed to go to the trauma center and probably intubated. So, into the ambulance I went. I have no recollection of this at all. When I got to the ER I had a blood sugar of 562, barely breathing and taken immediately to the ICU and was intubated.

According to my records I was intubated for 10 days. On December 16th I went into renal failure and a dialysis line was placed in my neck and was dialyzed for 36 hours. Magically after dialysis everything started working again. One of my favorite Drs of Anesthesia that I’ve always loved to work with was on call that night and was called to the ICU to put in my dialysis line. I’m sorry he had to see me like that, in that condition, but I was supposed to die that night and there he was. The Critical Care Dr called my husband and said he should start preparing himself and my family that I probably wouldn’t make it through the night. Well, I did and here I am.

December 21st I was extubated and began to wake up with a Bi-pap mask on my face. I had no idea what happened or where I was. I couldn’t talk, barely even a whisper came out because my right vocal cord was paralyzed from being intubated for so long. I kept trying to ask someone what happened but no one heard me. I didn’t have the strength to lift my arm to even get anyone's attention. Nothing. So I just stopped asking. The only thing I could think of was I maybe went into a diabetic coma, I had no idea. I must have fallen asleep again. I was awakened by two people messing with the mask and they appeared over the top of me with respirators and hazmat suits on. My first question was “What in the hell??? Why do you need respirators for a diabetic coma???” They took my Bi-pap mask off and put on a nose mask. I tried asking again what happened, they again didn’t hear me. I looked around a little and saw the famous yellow isolation cart outside the room and came to the conclusion that I must be Covid positive and being behind a glass wall I must be in an ICU. Still didn’t know where. All I remember from that experience was looking down at the crinkle hose on both sides. Then I fell asleep again, for how long I didn’t know.

At one point I woke up to see my best friend Terri standing on the other side of the glass wall. She waved and started dancing around in circles, held up her hands in the shape of a heart and told me to keep fighting. She made me laugh with her dancing, and then she was gone as I watched her walk through the door. I started crying and thought “Terri! Don’t leave me here, come back!” My heart rate elevated to about 130 and the nurses came running in.

December 23rd, unsure of what day it was, I was awakened again and was told “Good news! You’re stable enough to be moved to the PCU (Progressive Care Unit or Step-down). So they got me all bundled up and moved me, bed and all, to the PCU. It was a short trip, just across the hall, I think I was expecting a longer ride. Anyway, I got moved into a room with a beautiful view of the mountain out the window. I over heard in report the ICU nurse to the PCU nurse that this patient is an operating room nurse and works here, downstairs. That’s when I came to the conclusion, I must be at Memorial Central. My memory of the PCU was very spotty. They wrote on the white board my name, Dee, which I hate being called Dee, it’s DeeAnn. Again I tried to tell them my name, but no one heard me. They also wrote the date on the board, December 23. And that when I panicked and flipped out a little because I was supposed to have my knees replaced and my orthopedics Dr. was going to be pissed I didn’t show up for surgery! Shit! I should text him. Where’s my phone?

On Christmas my family Face timed me and my nurse, Courtney, held up my phone in front of me. Oh, there’s my phone. I have very little memory of this, and as I looked into the tiny little window of me, I saw my hair was braided. I never braid my hair… That seemed odd to me as to why I would do that, then it dawned on me, I didn’t do that, someone did it for me. I looked down at my fingernails, OR people don’t have fingernails due to infection control in the OR. But mine were long, filed and shaped beautifully. My first thought was “My God! How long have I been here???” I continued to nod and shake my head to my family, I still couldn’t talk.

In the PCU my memory is spotty, apparently I flipped out, having a history of combat PTSD. My hospitalist who was taking care of me was prior Navy and recognized I was having an episode. There went another phone call to my husband. I screamed (as much as I could) that I’ve got to get out of this bed, I’m covered in blood and the walls are bleeding. AND SOMEBODY PLEASE SHUT OFF THAT DEATH MARCH MUSIC! All the staff looked at me and said “What music? We don’t hear any music”. I listened to music replay over and over all night, every night. I called it the death march of the Black Widow. During the day time I heard children laughing and the squeak of the swing all day and thought there must be a preschool underneath us. So I questioned where the school was down there and the staff told me there’s nothing but a parking lot under us, we’re on the third floor… I told the Dr I was shot down in my aircraft over Afghanistan. I’ve never flown a military aircraft, I have however, flown Cessna and Piper Cherokee for my private pilot license. That kind of came out of left field. I’m seriously losing my mind.

I had oxygen up my nose, apparently a feeding tube up my nose and down into my stomach. I wasn’t hungry and hadn’t eaten for weeks. I didn’t even realize I had this feeding tube. Hmmm, no wonder I’m having like 6 bowel movements a day… I slept a lot in the PCU, I stared at the ceiling in one direction and every two hours they would turn me and stared at the ceiling in the other direction. I was so weak that they would literally put the call bell under my thumb, but I didn’t have the strength to push the button. When I needed something or my bed changed, I figured they would be in soon to turn me. At one point they sat me up a little. I noticed a camera in the corner of the ceiling and started mouthing the words, “I know you can see me, I’m tapping out, I’m done, let me go”. I tried to raise my hand to give the tap out signal, all I could do was lift my fingers.

I had a lot of time to think in the PCU, I remembered a dream. Or was it a dream? Or was a hallucination? Or was it real? I had a conversation with my father, no bright lights or booming voices, just a conversation. He told me how proud he was of me for raising such a good and intelligent boy, he was very proud to call him his grandson. Then he said Tyler needed to stay with playing baseball, it would pay off for him some day. My father died in a car accident 27 years ago… Can I get a Chaplin in here?

Soon after the PCU I was moved to 4 East Med/Surg floor. When I was moved I was still on isolation, no visitors, my husband and son were still on quarantine at home. The air handler was on when I came into the room. I felt like they moved me to the loading dock and left me there. Someone from 4 East would come get me? Then the nursing staff came in and sat me up, yep, I was in a private room, the air handler was just loud. I wondered what day it was, then they wrote on the white board. December 30th, tomorrow was New Years Eve. A new year, a new beginning on life, a new life because in the back of my head I knew I would never be the same, my old self. Sometimes I hate being medical and knowing too much.

New Years Eve they came in and asked if I was in pain and would I like some Morphine. Why yes, I’d like some Morphine, it is New Years Eve after all. Pphhfftt, off to sleep.

I had incredible care throughout my stay, Katie, Kelly the traveler, everyone, nurse and tech alike. They knew I was an OR nurse and a couple asked a lot of questions about going to the OR. I remember one evening the lady next door to me started screaming help around 5:00 pm, (Sundowners, they get confused around sun down). She kept getting out of bed and the alarm went off every few minutes. The man on the other side screamed obscenities all day and all night. Suddenly I heard something thrown up against the wall, Kelly was in there with me at the time. I asked her if she was ready to go to the OR yet? “You have no idea…” I laughed a little.

Nate from PT started coming in to work with me. I can’t thank him enough. He got me to stand up at the bedside, Nate was a 6’2” goofball, he kept telling me to hang on to him and that he would not let me fall. He did not let me fall. We slow danced at the bedside and progressed to marching in place, and he would turn with me to sit up in the chair. Finally was free from that damn bed!

One day the staff came in with no hazmat suits or respirator, just scrubs and a surgical mask. “Oh, you came off isolation yesterday, we just didn’t realize you hit the magical 20 days”. That means I can have visitors! Yay! Where’s my phone?

It was January 4th at 1:00 in the morning when the turn team came in to turn me, which I think is an awesome idea! They rolled me up onto my left side and I screamed in pain. I honestly thought I was having a heart attack, and so did the Dr. I quickly had labs drawn, 12- lead ECG, ultrasound on my heart and rushed downstairs for a CT of my chest. Come to find out I had plural effusion, fluid around the outside of my left lung, to the point of almost collapsing. So here comes the IV Lasix, diuretics. I’ve never pee’d so much in my life… I thought to myself, I’m never going home.

A medical student came in one evening and asked if I minded if he wrote a paper on me. Apparently I was a medical anomaly. He sat with me for about an hour and took my complete history clear back from when I was 17 and joined the Air Force as an aircraft mechanic and nursing school, retiring from the military to completing my RNFA. He seemed a little shocked and amazed at all I’ve done in my life. Here I sat, in a bed and couldn’t turn my self over…

One morning I told the staff my husband is coming to see me, I needed to shower before he got here. Katie got me into the shower for the first time in 2 1/2 weeks. Best. Shower. Ever. Finally for the first time my husband came to see me, we cried and hugged for a long time. I guess it was then that I realized how close to death I really was. I thought about my son who almost became motherless at such a young age. I cried with my husband again. The next visitor I had was Terri who brought in my little dog, Piper, she weighs 6 lbs. Piper cried and wouldn’t stop. She just cuddled up in my arm and stared up at me with unconditional love. She’s a momma’s doggy. A day later my son came in to see me. I cried again and apologized over and over for almost leaving him. He understood and said it was okay. Terri came back a couple of times. Eventually I got moved to the 7th floor rehab unit. This is where I really had to walk! One day Tony from PT got me up and moved my walker out of the way, he said “no, we’re using that anymore” and off to the gym I went just holding Tony's hand to steady myself. Best walk of my life.

Brittny came to see me, a surgical tech who is like a daughter to me. We talked for hours, she talked, I listened. I still couldn’t talk yet. It made the days go by faster. Tyler came back to see me, and he brought Sadie, our 35 lb Lab/Hound rescue. Apparently Sadie is afraid of Linoleum, and elevators. She came in and jumped up on the bed with me, just about drug Tyler across the room. I’ve never seen a dog cry like this. Bottom lip quivered, she howled more than barked. I started to pet her to get her calmed down before she got kicked out. She curled up in my lap and looked up at me and started howling again. Poor Margaret, my roommate…

Every day, I worked with PT, Speech and Occupational Therapy. Every day, I went to the gym and learned how to get in and out of the bathtub, up and down off the toilet and how to steady myself at the stove without setting my clothes on fire (gas stove). I lifted weights, walked, worked out, and laughed a lot. Tony was a goofball too. He was from Minnesota and a huge Vikings fan. I am, however, a huge Green Bay fan, who are big rivals of the Vikings. He told me that little patch of snow down there in the park, that’s where we’re headed today to run drills because I’m a Green Bay fan. BRING IT VIKING BOY! I went down stairs for a second swallow study and progressed from a pudding thick diet to a nectar thick diet. Have you ever had a nectar thickener added to Sprite? It’s awkward. Bubbles were suspended in liquid half-way down the glass. Weird.

I had a goal date of January 17th to go home, a Monday. I questioned why I had to stay the weekend. I had to get up to the bathroom one day and the charge nurse came in to help me up. She mentioned I wasn’t myself today, I told her “I’m about to lose my shit in here!”, “Well, we don’t want that to happen”. BAM! An hour later I had clearance from the Dr. and all three therapies to let me go home on Friday the 15th. I was quickly scheduled to have surgery on Thursday for a vocal cord injection and a swallow study the following Friday and then I could go home if I wasn’t still silently aspirating thin liquids. On 4 East, Dr Beckman ENT came to see me and said he could inject my vocal cord which would help me to talk again. Larry just looked at him and said, “You sure you want to do that?” Really dear… Off to surgery I went on Thursday the 14th. When I woke up and was sitting in the PACU after surgery, one of the Anesthesia providers, Grace, came up to me and gave me a big hug. I was a little confused. She said “I took care of you while you were in the ICU and intubated”. It’s good to have friends with talent. She’s me hero now. The next morning I had a third swallow study, I passed with flying colors! I went back to the floor and speech therapy worked with me again. She brought me a cup of hot tea, I hadn’t had coffee for 35 days. Best. Tea. Ever.

And finally I got to go home. The first place we stopped before the house was Fiesta a Mexican food place in Woodland Park. Our favorite waiter saw us and stopped and stared at me. He asked what happened, I had lost a total of 35 lbs in the last 35 days. I told him the abbreviated version of what I went through. He gave me a huge hug. Best. Enchilada. Ever. We got home and I laid down on the bed, ahhhh, amazing. I asked Larry, “Do you hear that?”, “Hear, what?”, “Exactly”. No helicopter landing on the roof, no ambulance sirens nonstop, no staff coming in the middle of the night to take vital signs. Home.

A day or two after getting home I got up at 1:00 am to use the bathroom. Larry was sleeping in the other bedroom because the oxygen generator was a little loud. I got up from the toilet and I held onto the sink but I had to let go to flush the toilet. Next thing I knew I looking up at the ceiling with a throbbing head. I fell, I don’t know what I hit on the way down but I was, at the time, still on Lovenox, a blood thinner injection I gave myself every day. I laid on the floor and tried slapping the tile with my hand to get help. I used the freestanding toilet paper holder to knock on the door. Neither of them heard me. I laid there for 45 minutes mustering up the strength to pull myself up with the help of the bath tub. Thank God when Larry remodeled the bathroom he put in under floor heating, or I’d have frozen to death. On the bright side, the tile was a comfortable 83 degrees.

On February 4th I was coughing so bad that I couldn’t even take a breath between coughing attacks. Larry was fed up and threw me in the car and we went off to the ER. Over to CT, I went again. I had a blood clot in my right lung and more fluid in the bases of my lungs, they called it Covid pneumonia. That’s where my journey of blood thinners started for the next 6 months. Ugh! What else could possibly happen???

I have battled a lot of PTSD with this little journey. Every time I went to a doctor's office, I ended up crying. I’m not normally this weepy, I’ve been through A LOT of trauma in my life. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t handle this. I really wished they would’ve just let me go. Why was I spared? Why was I alive when so many were not? Did I really talk to Dad? It’s been rough for me, mentally and physically. I have a lot of people who love me, walking with me through this healing process. My pulmonologist told me my breathing will never get better. I had so much scarring in my lungs this is it for me. This is a good as I’m going to get. He said maybe I should consider retiring completely, before I push myself too hard and end up with a collapsed lung and on a ventilator again. This time I may not come off the ventilator. So I guess my OR days are over. Which makes me cry again, I’m not ready to give up my OR, it's all I’ve known for the last 17 years of my career… I am lost and just floating on an unknown ocean.

DeeAnn Weed, RN, BSN, CNOR, RNFA