Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Heroes saving heroes: Cop with COVID salutes STHS nurses who ‘saved my life’
‘You’ve got to stay strong. You’ve got to keep a positive attitude,’ said COVID-19 survivor Wesley Doyle, pictured with wife Dayna, when asked what advice he had for other COVID patients. ‘I wish I could say it’s not going to suck. It will. But you can’t let it beat you. I’ve got a lot of people that were telling me that. They said, ‘You’ve been a police officer this many years, you can’t let this be the thing that takes you down.’ (Photo by Tim San Fillippo / STHS)
By Mike Scott, firstname.lastname@example.org
“You’ve got to trust us,” Wesley Doyle remembers the nurses at St. Tammany Health System telling him that night in early April. “We’re good at our job. Trust us.”
But he was still scared. Terrified, even.
The veteran law enforcement officer and father of two had seen and done a lot in his 43 years. He had never, however, spent a night in the hospital before. And he had definitely never been on a ventilator, which is exactly what the doctors and nurses at STHS were proposing to give his lungs a break to recover from the COVID-19 coronavirus that was wracking his body.
The following two weeks would change Doyle profoundly.
Of course, there are the physical changes. His chest still feels tight. His legs occasionally get wobbly. He’s still working to put on some of the 40 pounds his lost while on a ventilator for 11 days in the hospital’s intensive-care unit.
But something deeper happened, too.
Part of it stems from just how close the otherwise healthy Doyle came to losing one of the most difficult fights of his life.
In addition, though, there was what he describes as the unflagging support and compassion – and the occasional kick in the butt when that was needed, too – from STHS nurses and other caretakers.
In fact, he still gets emotional when trying to express just how thankful he is for their selflessness.
“I have a new outlook on life now,” Doyle said. “… I even asked my wife the other day, ‘How difficult is it to do volunteer work?’ Whether it’s with kids or with patients in the hospital, maybe they don’t have anybody, whatever the case may be. So that’s something I’m going to be looking into as soon as this clears up. There were some times when I was so lonely. I don’t want anybody to go through that, especially a kid.”
His wife, Dayna – a registered nurse with STHS partner Ochsner Health who dealt with her own case of coronavirus, although not one severe enough to require hospitalization – was similarly affected by their family’s coronavirus experience at STHS.
“It was the hardest two weeks of my life,” she said of Wesley’s ordeal. “And I can tell you the only thing that kept me going was the compassion coming out of there from the doctors and nurses.”
‘My hair even hurt’
Like so many others, Wesley Doyle doesn’t really know for sure where he picked up the COVID-19 coronavirus.
He wore a face covering in public. He washed and sanitized his hands dutifully. He avoided crowds. “I was doing what I was supposed to be doing,” he said.
Regardless, when he first started running a fever in late March, he and Dayna had to assume it was COVID-19. Given his age and lack of a history of medical problems, however, they also assumed it would be a mild case.
They would learn within a couple of days that they were wrong on that last count.
“That’s when I started circling the bowl,” he said. “It got really bad. My average temperature was about 101. At night, it spiked to 103.”
Then there was the general, all-over pain.
“My hair even hurt,” he said. “As silly as that sounds, when my wife would wipe me down with a cold towel, I could feel my hair. It hurt. It was so bizarre, but everything hurt.”
After about five days of that, Dayna took him to St. Tammany Health System’s standalone Emergency Department in Mandeville on April 3. While his case at the time wasn’t severe enough to warrant hospitalization, the staff there knew exactly what they were dealing with.
In keeping with CDC-recommended COVID-19 protocols, Dayna waited outside in the parking lot as Wesley was attended to. And she waited. For five hours she waited, receiving regular phone updates from her husband’s doctors and nurses.
They discovered he had a secondary bacterial infection, but a COVID testing backlog meant the results from the test that would confirm coronavirus wouldn’t be back for a few days. They didn’t really need it, though. Looking at the lab results and X-rays, the ER doctor told Dayna it was “100 percent a COVID diagnosis,” she said.
So they gave Wesley some meds and, given that his case wasn’t acute enough to warrant hospitalization at that time, they sent him home with the hope he might be able to ride it out there.
Crucially, that wasn’t all they gave him.
“They saved his life there, because they sent us home with a pulse ox,” Dayna said, using medical jargon for a pulse oximeter, a clip-on device that measures the oxygen saturation in a person’s blood. “We would not have had the ability to do that at home. These COVID patients, when they start getting short of breath, it’s very rapid. And that’s what happened with Wesley.”
It happened just two days later, in fact.
“That was my breaking point,” he said. “I couldn’t handle it anymore. It started to progressively get worse. Where it got worse was the breathing. That was when I really started feeling the breathing issues.”
That’s also when Dayna loaded him up and rushed him to the Emergency Department at St. Tammany Health System’s main hospital campus in Covington.
Once again, Dayna – like the loved ones of other COVID patients – was told she wouldn’t be allowed inside, so they said their goodbyes there.
Just like his previous visit, Wesley figured they would give him “a shot or something” and send him home. Instead, that day became one of the most terrifying of his life.
That was the day they told him they were going to admit him. It’s also the day they told him they’d have to intubate him – to put him on a ventilator -- to help him breathe while his lungs recovered.
“I didn’t really know what was going on at first,” he said. “They’re talking to me, but I’m not really hearing it. I’m not processing. But I realized it when -- I can’t remember her name, but she came in and said, ‘Look, we’re going to intubate you,’ and I started shaking because I was scared to death.”
He continued: “She was great. She held my hand. She knew I was scared. She could tell I was scared to death. … I was terrified, because, in my mind, from what I knew, this was the last stop. In my mind it was, once you go on this machine, there’s no telling what’s going to happen.
“What I do remember, too, was a couple of the nurses – they might not have even been nurses, I don’t know; the blue ninjas, all you could see was their eyes -- I do remember them saying, ‘You’ve got to trust us. We’re good at our job. Trust us. You’re in good hands.’ And that did help. That was a big comfort. They were very personal. They weren’t talking to me with their hand on the doorknob, just trying to get out of there. They were taking their time to make sure I kind of understood what was going on.
“I didn’t know what was going on. Everything was just foggy and snowy at that point. I remember them grabbing my feet, grabbing my hands and doing the best they could to try and calm me down. I remember my heartbeat was pretty high at that point – again, I had trouble breathing -- but they were great. They were great.”
‘I’ll never forget it’
Wesley wasn’t the only one who was scared. So was Dayna, who had spent time caring for COVID patients in the ICU at Ochsner in Slidell – and who knew exactly how dire things must have been for Wesley’s doctors and nurses to decide to put him on a ventilator.
She also knows how chaotic it can be in the COVID unit, which made her that much more impressed by the constant communication she received from Wesley’s STHS caretakers.
“The ICU charge nurse that night was fabulous,” she said. “I tell everybody she was my lifesaver. She was the only thing that got me through this.”
One moment that especially sticks out for Dayna came just moments before Wesley was intubated. The sedatives were already kicking in, so his memory of the moment is sketchy. Hers is crystal clear, though.
“I see a phone call coming in on my cell phone, a call from Wesley,” Dayna said. “And I’m thinking, ‘They just told me they were going to intubate him.’ Well, I answer it. Everybody’s in the room. They’re getting ready to intubate him, and the nurse says, ‘We’re in here. We’re getting ready to do it if you want to tell him anything right before.’
“So I told him, ‘I love you. You’re in good hands. Don’t be afraid.’ He said, ‘I love you, too.’ And I told everybody that was probably the best thing about the entire hospitalization, because after that, of course, they hung up -- and it was two weeks in the hospital. So it made me feel good that they had concern for me and my husband aside from medical concerns. Just personally I thought, ‘If he doesn’t come out of this, at least I got to tell him I love him. At least we got to say something.’”
She added: “He doesn’t remember it, but I’ll never forget it.”
‘I just had to trust them’
Two weeks later, of course, he did come out if. As with most COVID cases, there were ups and downs along the way but he came out of it and, after coming off the ventilator, he was sent down from the ICU to the second-floor unit known as “2 East.”
Even weeks later, he still felt like he had been hit by a truck but he had the energy to smile when mentioning 2 East. In fact, he positively beams each time he mentions it, like he’s remembering old teammates or the faces of people with whom he served in one war or another.
In some ways, that’s exactly what the nurses on 2 East are to him.
“When I got back to 2 East with my other friends, I could feel that I was better,” he said. “By no means was I good, but I was little better. ... Once again, they were professionals that did what they could to make me as comfortable as they could.”
It was on 2 East, he recalls, that he developed a fondness for the cherry ice pops about which he still raves. It’s there he also learned to avoid the gelatin cups. And it was there that the caregiving team at STHS helped him start feeling like a human being again.
“There’s not much I can really say to explain how these people were, how they worked and how they treated me,” he said, making a point to mention the nurses, the lab techs, the aides, the assistants, everyone he could think of. “They were wonderful.”
They were consummate professionals, he said, but they never let that get in the way of their humanity.
“They put up with me like superstars,” he said. “They were great. Don’t know their names. I’d love to meet them. Because they saved my life. There’s no other way to put it and there’s nothing that I can say – it sounds so corny and so cliché – there’s nothing I can say to show my appreciation for what they did.
“They were right. I just had to trust them. They knew what they were doing and they did it.”
Visit STPH.org/COVID-19 for the latest information on coronavirus in St. Tammany Parish.