SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. -- There were days Eric Bryant thought he would never walk out of the hospital. The 51-year-old father of the four was the first patient in Spotsylvania and the fifth statewide to test positive for COVID-19, the virus that nearly killed him.
Over more than twenty days spent at Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center, many spent in a coma-like state with a ventilator helping him to breathe, Bryant is home recovering and sharing his story to encourage other patients to fight.
“This was the year that I dedicated myself to get into the best physical shape,” Bryant said. “We truly never know the last hour or day we have on this Earth.”
In early March, Bryant said he began to feel under the weather. He visited the doctor, who told him to take medications and track his symptoms. This was well before the virus was widespread in the Commonwealth.
Bryant began to feel better over the weekend of March 7, but by Sunday, he noticed something was very wrong. The healthcare analyst for the Navy remembers the exact moment.
“Tried to walk out dogs, took them outside, and it was a challenge for me just to put a leash on them, walk them outside, and bring them back in. Just felt out of breath,” he said.
Bryant’s wife returned home from a trip away, and both rushed to the emergency room at SRMC, where doctors told Bryant he had a fever of 104 degrees and his lung capacity had fallen to 80 percent.
“They said we’re glad you came in when you did because your body is starting to shut down. Then probably an hour later, they said I had COVID-19,” Bryant said.
His wife went home to get a few items for his hospitalization, but before she returned it was clear they would not be allowed together.
Bryant’s condition quickly deteriorated, and in the following days he was placed in the ICU, then on a ventilator, and then slipped into a comma-like state, where he was told he “didn’t have brain activity” at points.
Doctors and nurses, who were working around the clock to care for Bryant, told his wife to prepare for the fact he might not come home.
“She’s like, he’s a fighter. We know we’ll do all we can to keep him here, so they did,” Bryant said of his wife, who called family and friends to ask for support. “They prayed for healing, and it was like the next day, when the nurses came in, she called and said he can see me and he can understand me. She was like, this is the best day ever.”
Bryant has vague recollections of conversations happening around him, but he was basically unconscious for 10 to 12 days. Only after he seemed to “turn a corner” did Bryant and his caregivers see he had a chance of surviving.
“We’ve had some tough days, and we’ve had some tough situations. This felt like one to celebrate. This one’s a miracle. It’s very much above all of us,” said David McKnight, CEO of SRMC.
Like many hospitals currently, a team of healthcare professional dedicate themselves to care for COVID-19 patients. Bryant’s case was no different, according to McKnight. One nurse in particular stayed with Bryant day and night, even when his prognosis looked bleak.
“She actually sent her husband, her newlywed husband, back to live with his parents so that she wouldn’t risk bringing something home to him,” McKnight said. “The nurses, the techs, and so for, it’s taxing on them. Not knowing what’s to come, how bad it will be, when it will occur, and they take every single patient personally.”
One week ago, to cheers and tears in the main lobby, the SRMC medical staff discharged Bryant to his home, where he has remained isolated in his bedroom ever since.
“They comforted me in ways in which I don’t think I could ever express,” Bryant said of the staff who cared for him. “There were days when I didn’t think I would walk out of the hospital. They always reassured me that I will, and that they would be with me every step of the way until I walk out.”
Recovery from the virus will be another long journey. Bryant, who exercised regularly and did not take medication before his hospitalization, is using a cane to keep his balance and doing regular physical therapy.
“There are some days I feel stronger than others,” he said. “You have to understand that your body is healing from the inside, out.”
As the coronavirus numbers in Virginia continue to grow, Bryant urges anyone who feels sick, no matter their health level prior, to check in with their doctors. Bryant said he tried to “sweat out” his symptoms, which only weakened his body once he arrived at the hospital.
Bryant still has not had contact with his family, including his wife and four grown children. For the next few days, he can only talk to them on the phone or wave outside his window.
“I’ve been self-isolated in my bedroom since I got released from the hospital. (One week ago) So I haven’t had any contact with my family. The only way I see them is that they go to the side of the house and wave at me through a window,” he said. “When it’s all said and done, the most important thing you have is your family. You have to cherish every moment that you have with them.”
His purpose for sharing his journey, from healthy man to hospitalized COVID patient to recovery, is to give other patients and their family’s encouragement and to thank the medical professionals who got him to this point.
“It’s a feeling that I can’t describe. I get emotional because so many people that have been in my same situation, unfortunately some of them didn’t make it,” Bryant said. “Keep the faith that, one, you can overcome it. Fight it, like maybe you never fought anything before.”
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.