David E. Williams ’12 knew what he was experiencing wasn’t the flu.
When he left his day of work as the University of Central Arkansas’s veteran’s service coordinator March 16, Williams developed intense chills, an unusual symptom for him when encountering any illness. Already informed of the symptoms COVID-19 can cause, Williams self-isolated and later tested positive for the virus.
Williams’ coronavirus experience included a 17-day hospital stay, with eight of those days being on a ventilator. He is now home and furthering his journey toward recovery.
“I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy,” he said.
During his week of self-isolation at home, Williams’ symptoms worsened. He developed a 100-degree fever, cough, headaches and tiredness. He also lost his sense of taste.
Staff at the Veterans Affairs clinic in Conway tested the Marine Corps veteran for flu and strep throat before suggesting he receive the coronavirus test at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock. When preparing to be admitted to the hospital in Little Rock, Williams’ temperature was at 102.4. His truck was even roped off in isolation.
He doesn’t remember what was going through his mind at the time.
“I really couldn’t tell you other than I was just leaving it in their hands and the good Lord upstairs,” said Williams, who noted he believed he would be fine.
It was clear the virus had taken up much of Williams’ lungs. During his stay, a doctor explained to Williams that he would need a ventilator—and that there was a chance he may not be removed from it.
“That is when reality really set in for my wife and my kids and everybody else here because she knows what it means when you go on a ventilator,” said Williams, whose wife, D’Anna, is a nurse. “Being that they can’t come and see me, and I can’t talk to them, that was getting very scary at that point.”
During his hospital stay, Williams lost more than 25 pounds. He was periodically woken up and given commands to test his body’s functions. He was fed through a tube, and doctors used FaceTime so that D’Anna could see him and stay updated due to hospitals prohibiting visitors to limit the spread of the virus.
Williams has very little memory of what life was like on the ventilator.
“For me, it was only like a day. I only missed a day. But come to find out, it was eight days later,” he said.
He does remember, however, feeling comforted by being in the care of health care professionals, some of whom were UCA alumni.
“I did notice a couple of nurses that were actually UCA students. At least one or two of them were my veteran students,” he said. “That made me feel good that I actually knew somebody there, individuals there, that I could depend on and that I’d be taken care of. That’s why I wasn’t as worried.”
Everyday functions have become a struggle for Williams. He lost a significant amount of muscle strength and dexterity, and his cognitive ability weakened. For instance, he struggles with control over writing and his hands shake after forming about five words.
Williams was required to complete certain tasks before being allowed to go home, such as showing improvement in his balance and mobility and staying fever free for four days.
At-home recovery for Williams includes working toward strengthening his mobility, being able to walk without requiring the use of an oxygen tank and improving cognitive abilities. His days feature exercise routines, chess, trying to remember passwords, and responding to the many friends and family who have been reaching out to him.
When he was cleared to go home and recover April 8, his discharge included hospital staff cheering him on as he exited the building. The Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System dubbed him its “miracle patient.”
“I don’t think I’m a miracle patient,” he said. “I think that the doctors and nurses there, they worked the miracle because for me to go on that ventilator, it was all guesswork. The thing is if they would have took me off too early or too late, it could have been a different scenario.
They did a tremendous job making sure that they were monitoring me well, checking me out over those days, seeing if I was progressing. I guess that’s why they were waking me up, asking me to do these different commands and stuff to make sure that I’m still up and functionable. I’m not the miracle; it’s what they did down there.”