By Geneva Wood, as told to Jennifer Clopton
I’ve always loved John Wayne movies, where the good and the bad guys are crystal clear and the strong, tough cowboy always prevails.
My family would tell you that I have a bit in common with that kind of strong-willed, independent character. I’m 90 years old, and my family likes to say I have ‘the fighting spirit of a tough ol’ Texas coot.’ I live on my own. I’ve always insisted on it. I did give up driving a few years ago, but I still do everything else myself – cooking, cleaning, even my finances.
So, when I got COVID-19, it probably didn’t surprise anybody that I put up a fight. Eventually, against all odds, I came out standing. But it was quite a showdown.
It was bad from the start. The cough came first and was the worst cough I’ve ever had in my life. The first night I coughed all night long and nothing would make it go away. It was a dry cough so I didn’t cough anything up, but it rattled my body, causing terrible pain from my head, through my ribs and down to my toes. Everything hurt so badly I didn’t want to move.
Then I got a high fever and my lungs began filling with fluid. I was in a senior care center recovering from a broken hip at the time. At first doctors thought I had bronchitis and pneumonia and they transferred me to the hospital. Given what’s going on in the world, they tested me for coronavirus too, and that test came back positive. At the time, I didn’t really know enough about the virus to be scared. I just felt terrible and lethargic and wanted to be left alone.
As my condition worsened, doctors wanted to put me on a ventilator, but I refused. My family’s always called me gutsy and stubborn, and I guess it’s true. I’m not afraid to speak my mind, and even though I felt terrible, I didn’t hold back with my thoughts. I told them I didn’t want to rely on a machine to keep me alive. If they put me on that machine, I felt sure my body would weaken and I wouldn’t come off of it, so I said no.
They put me on oxygen instead and gave me some morphine for my hip pain. They tried to give me a malaria drug that is being used to fight coronavirus, but it made me so sick I felt like I’d rather die than stay on that. [Editor's note: Since this story was published, the FDA has cautioned against treating COVID-19 with hydroxcloroquine. There's no evidence that the drug reduces death or speeds recovery, and it can come with serious side effects, the agency said.] So, they took me off of it and called my family in to say goodbye. I don’t remember what happened next, but my children say they came to the hospital, suited up in protective gear, and were allowed, one by one, to come into my room to hold my hand and tell me they love me.
“This is the end,” they say I told them. “This is the day I’m going. I know it.”
I don’t remember much of that time. My family kept coming to visit but they had to stay in a containment room and could only see me through a window. They said I reached for them and cried and it was brutal for us all, but I don’t remember any of that. The first thing I remember is waking up at some point and feeling hungry for some of my mom’s homemade potato soup. That’s when we all knew I had somehow miraculously turned a corner.
My mother’s homemade potato soup has always been my favorite food. I eat it all the time at home, and that’s what I wanted when I finally started to improve. So, my family cooked some up and brought it in. The nurses kept a container in the refrigerator and every time I got hungry – they’d bring me a cup. I do feel like that soup helped me get strong and improve. That’s all I lived on in the hospital. Well, that and coffee. I do love a good cup of coffee, so every morning my family would bring me an Americana with 2 Splenda and a splash of half and half from the coffee stand across the street.
In time they say you could see the fight coming back into me. I started to get irritable. One day I remember wanting a Sprite. I asked the nurse for one and hours passed by. I know they are busy but my family – and the nursing staff – got a kick out of the fact that I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I started waving my arms like crazy. When the nurse finally came back in I said – ‘Look, I’m not dead yet but I’m going to die of thirst if I don’t get a Sprite!’ I got one at that point and soon after that, I got to go home.
I’m finally back in my apartment now. Walking in the front door and getting a hug from my kids was just wonderful. They had another batch of potato soup waiting for me in the fridge. I haven’t been to heaven yet – and I don’t believe it’s my time for a while – but it’s hard to imagine it’s any better than getting over the coronavirus and being back in my own house.
I will tell you – beating this virus was the hardest thing I think I’ve ever done in my life. I looked it square in the eye, made up my mind that I wanted to live, and then I fought like hell – just like John Wayne. I think the potato soup helped, too.
Geneva Wood lives in Kirkland, Washington. She has 5 children, 13 grandchildren, 12 great grand children and 3 great, great grand children. She’s shared her family’s potato soup recipe here.