In mid-December 2021, I was unusually tired and had a bit of a chill and sore throat. I wasn’t surprised, since just two months prior I had finished radiation treatments for breast cancer and knew my immune system would be compromised. Still, thinking I was on the mend from the treatments, I was doing too much in preparation for Christmas. The following week, the week before Christmas, my husband Jason wondered if an unusually long nap our nine-year-old son took might indicate he caught whatever bug I had. Jason also wasn’t feeling well but we weren’t overly concerned because he typically got one really good cold a year.

A few days later, Jason thought he might have a kidney infection so he was drinking lots of cranberry juice to help and not eating much. I asked him if he wanted to go to the clinic in case he had pneumonia, but he said no. Jason’s brother dropped off a pulse oximeter so we could watch his oxygen levels. We stayed home for Christmas because we did not want to get Jason’s parents sick with whatever we had. Our Christmas was with our two sons and the older one’s girlfriend.  

On Sunday, December 26, Jason was getting worse and agreed to see a doctor. His brother agreed to stay with our son while I took Jason to the ER of our small town of Grand Marais. Due to the pandemic protocol, l had to wait outside while Jason went in. I soon received a call that Jason had tested positive for Covid so they were keeping him and I should just go home. I was stunned. We were told he needed more oxygen than they could give him and they started looking for a bed anywhere in Minnesota or the surrounding states. There were none at that time.

Before going to the hospital, Jason wasn’t sleeping well and the only thing he was eating or drinking was cranberry juice, which led to his blood sugar being over 300 upon being admitted. I kept asking the doctors and nurses if they would give him monoclonal antibodies. They kept telling me it wasn’t their protocol for inpatients.

We got a call during a blizzard in the evening of Tuesday, December 28 that a bed was available at Essentia Health in Duluth (two hours from Grand Marais) and Jason would be on his way there shortly. There wasn’t enough time for me to drive the fifteen minutes into town and tell him goodbye. Jason texted that he made it to Duluth and what room he was in. Within 48 hours he was on a ventilator. The doctors told us he needed time to rest his lungs and heal and it could take about three weeks. I spoke with him around 1 AM December 30 via Facetime as they were getting him ready for the ventilator. One of the last things he said to me was that he wouldn’t be able to talk for three weeks.

Jason had stomach and bowel issues for years, including a leaky appendix that in 2002 led to having his intestines removed, cleaned, and replaced. After he went on the ventilator, I quickly got into the routine of talking with the nurse in the early morning to see how his night went, getting a doctor’s call during the day, and me calling in the evening for an update on how his day went. During those conversations, I learned Jason had not had a bowel movement yet and the staff was trying different things. I had to remind each of them about Jason’s appendix. 

After 12 days, they finally found the right medication to enable a bowel movement. On day 13, the morning nurse told me she had to turn the medicine back on that worked after the night nurse had turned it off. After almost two weeks of trying to get Jason to have a bowel movement, the night nurse noticed that his stool was loose, and hospital protocol for treating loose stool was to stop the medicine.

Jason got a new doctor every five to seven days and it seemed like I had to explain to each new doctor all of Jason’s issues because they never really fully reviewed his chart. I asked each new doctor if I could see Jason, and each time I was told it was against protocol.

About 10 days into Jason’s hospitalization, I was informed that he had been responding to commands and tracking the nurses in the room. I asked if I could talk to him and was told the phone didn’t work in his room. I asked again several hours later but the phone was still broken. When I checked in again that evening, he was no longer alert enough for the phone to matter.

One of the many things I charted was Jason’s blood sugar, which was consistently very high. Blood sugar medication was given via IV, hypodermic needle, and pills. I knew from his medical history that Jason’s body processed things so slowly that pills would most likely not work. I tried to remind the nurses of the fact that IVs are much more effective but they kept trying to give him various meds orally. Jason’s blood sugar issue for almost all of this hospital stay was uncontrolled. On Jason’s last day, the doctor told me the hospital was okay with anything under 180, which surprised me because I knew 140 is considered average. 

During these really long days, the only contact Jason had with family was when a nurse would put a phone up to his ear so we could talk to him. We never knew if he could hear us.

As the days of being on the ventilator kept adding up, we started to question what else we could be doing. I talked to frontline nurses and doctors and learned about various treatments that seemed to be working, such as ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, vitamin D with zinc, and others. They were surprised Jason was still on a ventilator and had not yet had a tracheotomy. 

When discussing these treatment options with the Duluth medical staff, one of them said, “If I can’t pronounce it, we don’t use it.” The doctor finally agreed to give Jason 10ml of vitamin D3 and a multivitamin, but it didn’t seem nearly enough for someone of Jason’s size.

I asked his yet-again-new doctor if we could review the vitamins and he agreed to increase the vitamin dosage significantly. Then I got a surprise one Saturday when this new doctor called me and asked if it would help if I could see Jason. “Yes, of course!!” That was January 23 and I spent about 1.5 hours with him. He looked very bloated, so I started to chart his weight and asked about the weight gain. The hospital then started to alternate between adding fluids for hydration and then removing fluids because his heart would beat erratically, repeating this cycle continually while assuring us that Jason was making progress.

About that time, I heard about Annie Quiner, the Minnesotan who sued Mercy Hospital of Coon Rapids to get her husband discharged so he could be taken to Texas. I contacted people who had commented on the story on Facebook and soon found several who would help us. About three weeks into Jason’s hospitalization, we were told he could have a bed in Texas. Unfortunately, we didn’t pursue it at that time because yet another new doctor insisted Jason was making “slow and steady” progress, and that Jason was on “step 2” of getting off the ventilator (although there was still no discussion about a tracheotomy). Desperately needing hope, we believed the doctor.

One day a new doctor called and said Jason just got turned over from his stomach and his ventilator was at 60%. This didn’t make sense to me because I knew Jason had not been on his stomach for a couple of days. The doctor quickly back-pedaled. He apologized for getting his patients confused and finally said during that conversation that he thought Jason was heading down the wrong path and would likely die.

I was in shock. All along, we had been told Jason had been making progress. I immediately called the floor he was on and talked with Jason’s nurse of the day. She was a traveling nurse and had seen about 2000 Covid cases. It was her opinion that someone who has been on a ventilator over three weeks has a 0.5% chance of surviving.  

I then knew we had to get him out of there. I reconnected with the Facebook contacts and started the process to get Jason to Texas. He was accepted to a Texas hospital on Saturday, January 29 and they were working on getting him a bed. We found an air ambulance in Texas who would transport Jason. I drove to Duluth to be closer so I could go with him at a moment’s notice. 

The doctors in Texas were surprised that Jason was still on a ventilator rather than a trach. On Sunday, January 30 – the day after being informed of our plan to transfer Jason to Texas – the Duluth hospital scheduled a tracheotomy for the following Tuesday afternoon. 

We learned early Tuesday that a bed was available so plans were made for the air ambulance to fly up that evening. However, a big snowstorm then developed between Texas and Minnesota, and going around it would require two more fuel stops. They would try again the next day, leaving Texas at 6 PM and picking Jason and me up at 9.

The tracheotomy was done as scheduled Tuesday, Febuary 1. The next day, I got a call from the doctor that I should come down. They had to shock Jason heart’s back into rhythm and they think his kidney “took a hit” although I never did learn exactly what they meant by that. I called our oldest son who lives in Duluth to drive me down and be with me.

I asked the nurses right away what we needed to do to get Jason on that flight to Texas at 9 PM. The head nurse said his oxygen level needed to be in the high 80s to low 90s. During the prior three days, I had watched his white blood count steadily increase. Each day I would comment to the doctors about it, and I was told for two days it’s not up enough to worry about. The next day, while I was at Jason’s bedside, the doctor told me he thought Jason might have an infection in his stomach. I was dumbfounded and said, “Ya think?? I’ve been saying that for three days!”

As the day progressed, Jason’s blood pressure and oxygen level continued to fall. About mid-afternoon, I realized we would not make the flight to Texas. My oldest son and I held Jason’s hand, made sure his head had a cool cloth, kissed him and kept telling him we loved him so much. Hs heart stopped around 7 PM. 

We then had to drive back to Grand Marais and tell a 9-year-old who had always been a total Daddy’s Boy that Daddy was now in heaven. The death certificate may say Covid, but hospital protocols are what ultimately killed a 46-year-old husband, father, son, brother, and friend.