Those were some of the thoughts going through Bobbi-Jayne Hensley’s mind as she was being intubated after testing positive for COVID-19. A 42-year-old mother of three and a daycare provider, she doesn’t know how she got the virus. But she knows that it’s the hardest thing she has ever been through. She goes on to describe a mother’s struggle to survive, her new outlook on life, and the fight many families face to stay afloat post-COVID.
“I remember I just kept crying and saying, ‘Please promise me that you’ll wake me up. I’m not ready to go.'”
How did all of this start for you?
I really don’t know how I got it. Because like I said, I’m a stay-at-home mom. Nobody else around me was sick. One day I started getting a slight fever, and I don’t usually get fevers. Even when I’m really sick. So, I got worried and I called my doctor. He told me to self-quarantine and that it sounded like it was just something upper-respiratory, nothing to worry about — just a cold.
Two days later, I woke up and I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t breathe. My fever was 103.4°. And I couldn’t even keep water down.
My wife drove me to the ER. She had to drop me off at the door. They took me back, they gave me breathing treatments for my shortness of breath, gave me nausea medicine, and they did the COVID test.
They came back the next day and told me I tested positive.
You wonder why it happened to you. I stayed at home. I didn’t go out. I didn’t try to put people in jeopardy or anything. You think to yourself, “How did it attack me so hard?”
You said your wife had to drop you off at the door. Was she able to meet you inside?
No, nobody could come inside except me. I was all by my myself.
It was very scary. I was terrified. You see on TV all these people not making it, and just those words… it puts a fear into you that you just can’t explain.
What were some of the thoughts going through your head?
That I wasn’t going to make it.
I was diabetic, I had a previous lung condition from being in a house fire, and that made me very high risk. I thought that there was no way I was going to make it out. My lungs were already bad.
That’s when he [the doctor] came in and told me that they were going to have to ventilate me, which made it even worse. They said, “Hon, your oxygen dropped really low and we’re really worried about you, so we’re going to have to put you on a vent.”
I turned around and said, “When do you have to do that?” He told me that I had 15 minutes. And he told me to call my people.
On the third day, I pulled my own vent tube out. Apparently I was trying to breathe over the vent. But, that’s how they knew I was fighting and they re-ventilated me. Sometimes they won’t… the doctor did because he knew I was still fighting.
What were some of those phone conversations like?
Oh, I just kept telling them that I loved them. That I missed them. I told them not to be scared, even though I was absolutely terrified.
I said, “Kiss my kids. Make sure you take care of them.”
There’s nothing you can really say in a situation like that. You don’t want to say goodbye because you don’t want to feel defeated. But, it’s so hard to be positive when all you’ve heard is nothing but negative.
My wife completely broke down. She lost it. Some of my other family members actually had to rush to her and make sure she was holding up.
My mom just took to her knees and prayed.
Walk me through when you woke up.
I was put into a medically induced coma for 11 days. I woke up on Easter Sunday.
When you wake up, they try to get you up and moving around because you’ve been laying down for so long. That was the hardest thing I have ever done. It took every bit of power I had, and that’s with a nurse on each side of me trying to hold me. I felt heavy. I felt weak. I was breathing really hard.
I was in the ICU for two days after that. They would come in, help me move, give me inhalers. The breathing exercises were hard to do, because they didn’t want the air circulating around.
Then, they put me in recovery for two days and after that I finally went home.
So you got out, you got home, and you saw your family again. What was that like?
We just hugged forever. And then they got me in the house, and that was hard too. I think I sat outside on my walker for 20 minutes just trying to catch my breath to take the next set of stairs.
But we just sat there and just held each other. They didn’t go nowhere. We didn’t let nobody come to the house… which was hard because everybody wanted to see me. But I couldn’t take that chance because I had just gotten out of the hospital.
I kept calling everybody on the phone and did a lot of video calls, since I didn’t have a voice from pulling out my tube.
Have you had any other issues?
Yes. Two weeks later, I was just sitting there and suddenly it became hard to breathe. That scared me, so I started crying, which made it worse. You can’t cry. You can’t laugh. You can’t cough, or it gets worse.
I woke my wife up and she wanted to call an ambulance. But that’s not something I wanted to do. She ended up rushing me to the ER again where they wanted to do a tracheostomy. That scared me too because that meant I had to be ventilated again.
I had just gotten out of the hospital, so I said, “No, we have to try something else.” They started me on steroids and breathing treatments. The swelling finally started going down. Oddly enough, I started getting a voice, which I hadn’t had this entire time.
What is your recovery like at home?
Recovery is very confusing. When I left the hospital, they tested me again and it came back negative. But the symptoms are still there. I get sick towards the evening. I can’t eat certain breads, pastas, and meats. My diet has consisted of fruits and vegetables. I’ve lost 53 pounds. I’m very, very emotional. I will cry at the drop of a hat now, and I never used to do that. I get very nauseous if I get winded. My voice goes in and out just randomly. I have to be on a CPAP machine to try to force some air in at night when I sleep. I get very tired. If I try to go walk up the stairs, sometimes I can’t lift my right leg, which just feels weird.
How has your family life changed? What have been their reactions?
Well, my daughter quit her job. She was working at an assisted living facility where they had five positive COVID-19 cases. After all of my stuff, that scared her so much that she quit. My son wasn’t able to finish out his junior year. He got the credits, but to me it just feels incomplete. He’s missed out on so much. My son is a good kid, and now he’s just laying dormant. They can’t go out with their friends, they can’t be teenagers. They have to be stuck here and are supposed to be understanding when this is supposed to be the time of their lives. It’s frustrating. My wife has become, and I don’t mean to downplay it, but she has become the neatest freak ever. She’s sanitizing everything. I’m surprised it’s not pouring out of her skin. She goes to the store, she comes home, she takes her shoes off at the door, and she throws her clothes in the washer. We have gone through so much detergent. The doctor told me that the sun is good for me, but she’s still panicked even when I’m just in the car. She’s just scared.
After all of this, do you have a new outlook on anything?
Yeah, it definitely makes you look at people differently. You’re so scared to just reach out and touch them. But at the same time, I almost lost my life. I want to reach out and touch them. I want to hug them. I want to have cookouts and I’ve got this urge to just get up and go. But whenever I do, I just get so tired. I’ve been trying to help feed the homeless, and talk to people, and just be there for them. All of it definitely makes you appreciate what you have.
So off of that, how do you feel about some states reopening and people jumping back into normal?
I think it’s stupid.
I tell everybody that I wouldn’t wish what I’ve been through on the devil. It’s scary. I see people doing these gatherings at the gas stations and everywhere else. If they had felt what I did, they wouldn’t be so free.
It’s a very scary, hard thing to go through. And you go through it alone. I mean, the nurses come in when they can but they’ve got such little equipment that they try not to come in.
So that means that you’re in this room hoping that you don’t need anything, and when you do, they come in fully gowned and masked up. Obviously they’re just trying to keep themselves safe, but it makes you feel disgusting. You know, like you’re the dirtiest person, even though it’s not your fault.
What have been the highest and lowest points of all of this?
Reuniting with my family is what makes me smile. The weight loss ain’t too bad either!
On the other hand, when you get home, you’re supposed to start back up. You’re supposed to pay your bills, raise your kids. Yet, you’re not allowed to go nowhere. You’re now this plague.
It’s hard to get resources when you’re so alone. I’ve had to stand in food pantry lines being fresh out of the hospital. That was hard.
Have you struggled financially? Is it hard to get the resources you need?
Well, I’m on social security disability. Thankfully, I get that once a month check that can cover written stuff. But it doesn’t allow for extras — like medication that isn’t covered by medicare. I was supposed to take Tylenol for fever. They told me I could just get it over the counter. Well, I’ve been in the hospital for a long time. And I don’t have the extra funds to buy that.
They wanted me to walk with a walker, but medicare doesn’t pay for those kinds of things. There are things you don’t think of too, like a shower chair. Medicare can’t pay for that. If I can’t stand long enough to walk to the other half of the house, standing in the shower just isn’t going to be possible.
There’s other supplies that you just don’t have the money for after a hospital stay like that. Other things that you need, like soaps and shampoos.
I can’t watch daycare kids or work because I’ve been sick. There’s no income coming in. Food pantries give you food. But, they don’t give you toilet paper, laundry soap… those things that you need to live.
How could somebody help COVID-19 victims?
I would make care packages. I would fill it with things like gatorade or crackers. You don’t think about it, but also stuff like salt for the mouth gargle. Anything that you would use a lot of when sick I would put in a care package and give to somebody else.
Bobbi-Jayne is one of thousands across the country that not only struggles to simply stay alive, but now struggles to keep their families fed, clothed, and housed. Sick and without work, many have already exhausted their options to help themselves. Below are resources you can use to be a part of the solution for COVID-19 patients like Bobbi-Jayne.
- Donate to help recovering victims through the New York Times’ Relief Campaign, which redistributes money to NGOs across the country.
- Help buy medical supplies. Americares trains healthcare professionals and donates PPE to facilities in need. Right now, they’ll match any donation by doubling it.
- Donate blood and plasma through the Red Cross. Shortages from closed blood drives have crippled the donation system.
- Search for the food bank nearest to you here and donate food or offer to volunteer your time.
- Gather supplies and create care packages for somebody in need, whether to drop off on a porch in your community or ship across the country. See the information above for Bobbi-Jayne’s tips on what to include.
*Picture retrieved from the Daily Mail at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8231353/Thousands-cars-line- San-Antonio-food-bank-millions-file-unemployment.html.