Kim Hollingsworth tested positive for COVID in June 2020. It was the first incident in a chain of health crises for the Hollingsworth family in a year not soon forgotten.
She is a front-line worker, a licensed practical nurse since 2007 and the resident service director at Villa Maria Retirement Center. She is also a diabetic.
“I had a little cough,” Kim said, “but I had just tested negative and didn’t think too much about it.”
Then it hit, a never-before-experienced fatigue to the extreme and migraines so severe she “puked and puked some more.” She had never had a migraine. She has them now, though not as debilitating as those first days after her diagnosis. Her hair fell out in handfuls, but it’s back. Her sense of smell isn’t.
“I can smell, but it’s the same smell all the time. I describe it as a chemical smell similar to the smell of wet paint,” Kim said. “When I’m tired or stressed the smell is even stronger.”
She was out of work for five months, and was hospitalized for six days, what she describes as, “the worst.”
“You’re in an isolation room, and they make sure you have a phone,” she said. “That’s how they check on you. Even the IV pole is in another room.”
Her husband Bryan and her daughter Tanya visited her, separated by a window, visibly anxious. Hollingsworth admits she felt so bad she wasn’t up to assuring them everything was going to be OK. When she was released her daughter, who is also an LPN, checked on her daily.
“Mom couldn’t stand certain smells,” Tanya said. “It made her throw up, so I would come over here to cook.”
“Here” is the home of her grandparents, Duke and Leona Hollingsworth. Kim and Bryan live next door. Tanya lives in Indian Village.
“One day I walked in at Maw Maw’s, and it sounded like Pops was coughing up a lung,” Tanya said. “He had a temperature and I thought he should be taken to be tested. You know what he told me? ‘Oh, that’s just allergies and sinus. Your Maw-Maw burned one of those mosquito repellent candles last night.’ ”
Duke is 76. He had trapped 30 hogs the day before. Despite pre-existing health conditions, lungs damaged at work by a fire, a successful bypass and diabetes, he was very active and felt healthy. He didn’t want to be tested.
“I figured that if I went, they would keep me,” Duke said.
Tanya struggled with feelings of guilt that she might have been the one who infected her grandfather despite taking basic precautions. As he was being tested, she and her grandmother waited in the car for hours. At midnight someone from the medical facility called.
“They told us he was doing fine,” Tanya said. “But I knew that couldn’t be right because when we took him for testing, he was already struggling to breathe.”
Actually, his oxygen level had dropped dangerously.
“When he was loaded in the ambulance at 4 a.m., he quit breathing,” Tanya said. “They had to intubate him right there, before he was moved to a hospital.”
Available hospital rooms were next to nonexistent not only in Louisiana, but also in neighboring states Texas and Mississippi. A room was found at Byrd Regional Hospital in Leesville.
Tanya’s schedule had been a little busy, so she didn’t think much of it when she began to feel drained, until she almost passed out.
“She lost her sense of taste and smell,” Kim said. “But the real giveaway was that she didn’t shower for four days. This is someone who might take more than one shower in a single day. She was just too tired.”
Tanya recovered in a couple of weeks, keeping tabs on her grandfather’s progress. The family found a physician at Byrd like no other in Dr. David Aymond, according to Tanya. She refers to this as one of the many “God things” that happened during this ordeal. Duke Hollingsworth spent 31 days in ICU and 26 days on the ventilator.
“Twenty-one is usually the max,” Tanya said. “Then it comes out and the person usually dies.”
During his time on the ventilator, her grandfather had a stroke. Tanya, her husband and their pastor visited the hospital and prayed. Two days later, they got a call. His ventilator was pulled out, an accident that should not have occurred. It could have been the end, yet turned out differently. Duke went from oxygen mask to nasal cannula. But the stroke had left him paralyzed and in immediate need of rehab. However, no facility would take him because he had developed a serious bedsore and the rising number of COVID cases made debriding a bedsore a lower priority. One doctor tried to dissuade Tanya’s hope for her grandfather’s recovery. Another tried to get the family to sign a Do Not Resuscitate Order.
Duke was transferred to a rehab center closer to his Longville home just in time to be evacuated because of Hurricane Laura. Because space was at a premium, the family had no idea where he would be sent. After Tanya exceeded the speed limit to get to the rehab center to see her grandfather, for what she thought was the last time, the ambulance driver told her they had decided he was going back to Byrd. When he got there, it was determined that Byrd had too many patients. Duke was then was sent to Bienville Medical Center in Arcadia.
“It’s small, but the people care,” she said.
Every week, Tanya and her grandmother Leona took the three-and-a-half-hour drive to see Duke. At other times, a staff person held the phone so Tanya could see her grandfather. Then he began to improve. He could hold the phone for himself. Then, lift his arm and wave.
She thought about those doctors who thought she should just give up on him. From her perspective, and based on what she’s seen happen to others, her grandfather’s recovery verged on a miracle.
Then Bryan (Kim’s husband and Tanya’s father) became ill. He was securing items the day before Hurricane Delta was to make landfall. Because of his symptoms, Kim was advised by a nurse practitioner to get him checked out, just in case. Emergency services would be in short supply the next day. On the way to an area hospital, Bryan passed out.
“I couldn’t see if he was breathing or not,” Kim said.
She pulled over and called for an ambulance.
“The 911 operator said it would probably be some time before an ambulance would arrive,” Kim said. “Traffic was heavy because people were on the road to evacuate. I told the operator I saw one nearby and she told me that it was likely on its way to respond to an earlier call for an ambulance.”
The ambulance she had spotted started moving toward them.
“That was one of those God things,” Kim said, echoing the same theme as her daughter.
When Kim got Bryan to the emergency room he passed out twice. (In hindsight, she knows he was bleeding out. Kim insisted her husband be transferred, not put into a room to wait. In this new COVID reality, communication is limited and hospitals do not take suggestions from family members, even those with some medical training, but somehow it happened. When he got to Lafayette his blood pressure was 60 over 40 and his hemoglobin was 4. It is supposed to be 15 for an adult male, according to Kim. Immediately transferring him saved his life, another one of those God things, she said.
Bryan returned home, and had already been back to work, and began to experience similar symptoms. A CT-scan at an area facility showed an obstruction. He was on his way to Houston by ambulance with Kim following when an RV blocked east and west bound traffic for five hours. When they got there, she couldn’t go in unless she had another COVID test, though she had just had one. She spent hours going from place to place to get one.
Duke Hollingsworth returned home on Nov. 9 after 130 days of hospitalization. He was 60 pounds lighter. Then Leona, his wife suffered a heart attack, almost waiting too late to summon an ambulance because she thought it was a hiatal hernia giving her problems. She has since returned home, but with less pep than before all these incidents. The family is waiting for some final tests regarding Bryan’s condition.
On Jan. 1, 2021, Tanya’s husband Jared woke up with COVID symptoms and was tested. He had it.
“I had hoped 2021 would be the start of something better,” Tanya said with a chuckle.
She sees everything that has happened as happening for a reason and knows that even if she’s not in control, God is. Maybe he’s trying to get everyone’s attention, she suggests.
Kim is back at work. She wonders what people do who don’t have someone knowledgeable enough, articulate enough and persistent enough to advocate for them in general and particularly now with COVID precautions in place. As much respect as she has for health care professionals who are risking their lives daily and doing their jobs, she was dismayed by certain events in area hospitals as well as in a Houston facility.
She has been vaccinated, saying, “I did it because I don’t ever want to be that sick again. Tanya will be vaccinated when more data is collected about how it affects the reproduction system. She and Jared were discussing starting a family when this series of events began to unfold.
Why no one in her family died, and others did, Kim has no answers. Although her family has been impacted by unforeseen illness, she says they are the lucky ones.
“There is no possible way to make sense of this year,” she said. “We can’t take for granted the ones we love the most. No one is promised tomorrow.”
She tells about a co-worker of Bryan’s. He and his wife were hospitalized due to COVID. She died. They were in their 40s with a 12- and 13-year-old.
“This disease is real,” Kim said. “I saw this on a decorative sign and it’s so true: Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”