Imagine going on vacation in early March 2020 and then returning only to develop flu-like symptoms a few days later.
That’s exactly what happened to Ken Thunder, 54, who lives in St. Michael, Minnesota, and ended up needing home health services from the Good Samaritan Society this spring.
Ken, his wife, Rose, and their teenage son, had planned a vacation several months prior. The number of coronavirus cases in the country seemed to be isolated to specific communities when they left for their trip and they felt safe while there. They returned home on March 11 and by March 14, Ken developed a dry, persistent cough.
On March 16, he tried going to work. A master plumber, Ken is used to the physically demanding job, but he wasn’t able to finish out the work day.
That week, Ken assumed he was battling the flu so he stayed home. But when his symptoms didn’t let up, his wife brought him to a local hospital the evening of March 23.
“It was pretty scary. It terrified my wife as she wasn’t able to be by my side. Basically once she dropped me off at the hospital, that was it,” says Ken.
He was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia, but by the next morning Ken’s COVID-19 test came back – and it was positive.
He texted Rose to let her know about the test result and that he was being sent to the intensive care unit (ICU) at a hospital in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. That ends up being the last thing he remembers for several days.
Ken was on a ventilator for the next 12 days in the ICU.
“The hardest thing was not being able to see him, talk to him and know exactly what was happening,” Rose says. “But the staff at the hospital answered my questions. We talked three or four times a day.”
Before Ken went into the hospital, Rose says she thinks she probably had COVID-19. She had a fever for two days and a bad headache. She didn’t think much of it because she was spending her time caring for Ken while they sheltered in their home.
During Ken’s time in the hospital, Rose lost her sense of taste and smell, but it wasn’t on the list of COVID-19 symptoms at that time. She figured it was just due to stress.
Ken, who has type 2 diabetes, lost 55 pounds off of his 315-pound frame during his hospital stay.
“That’s not the weight loss program anyone wants,” he says.
Recovering with care at home
When Ken was discharged on April 15 after more than three weeks in the hospital, staff members recommended recovering with the support of home health services. Good Samaritan Society – Home Care in Robbinsdale, Minnesota was one of only a few agencies in the Twin Cities that was serving clients who had COVID-19.
Brenda Schmidt, a nurse and case manager with Good Samaritan Society – Home Care, was assigned to care for Ken.
“Before she came, she called to make sure we were prepared,” Rose says. “I love how she knew which questions to ask because we’ve never gone through this before.”
Ken was Brenda’s first patient with confirmed COVID-19, but she felt fully prepared to help him because of the training and education she received. Ken was also no longer considered contagious.
“The first visit, I gowned up head to toe,” Brenda says. “After that visit, I just wore my mask and gloves and only brought what I needed in.”
During each visit, Brenda checked Ken’s vital signs and lungs. She also encouraged him to use his breathing apparatus and do the exercises from physical therapy.
“My main goal was to keep track of his respiratory status and get him off the oxygen,” says Brenda.
Making strides after hospital stay
Ken was definitely weak after battling COVID-19 and clostridioides difficile (C. diff), another infection that he developed after taking an antibiotic. But his lungs started to clear and he began to heal.
Brenda emphasized how important it was for Ken to increase his activity so he could regain his strength. She noticed that he became more active once he no longer needed an oxygen tank to support his breathing.
“She was almost a cheerleader,” says Ken. “Whatever protocol she had, Brenda went above and beyond.”
Now, weeks after his hospital stay, Ken is slowly making strides to regain his physical abilities.
His first time walking without his walker was from his bed to the bathroom. The next day, it was from his bedroom to the kitchen for breakfast.
“From then, I just progressed,” Ken says. “It’s been a struggle, but it’s been good.”
Ken thinks he’ll be back to work by mid-summer.
“All the nurses. I cannot thank them enough for putting their lives on the line,” says Ken.