Coping with Covid: Local Santa Describes Recovery

For Joey Robinson, 55, the last week of March was pretty routine. He was up before daylight, traveled from his rural Crawford County home to the Louisville International Airport and worked eight to 10 hours daily at his job with E&B Paving. But there was something he didn’t know. This was to be his last typical week for some time.

It started with a constant sniffling. “I thought that was just sinus or allergies,” Robinson said. “I remembered noticing the trees blooming out and blamed my sniffles on that.   

“But by the time I got home on Friday, I was aching all over and had a low-grade fever,” he said. “We were expecting company that included a baby. I felt bad enough that I told Lorena [my wife] she better let them know we didn’t think they should come. I didn’t want to expose the baby to anything.”  

By Sunday, he was sick enough to report his condition to his employer. “My boss told me not to come in until I was better,” he said. It would be a while before that happened.

A Rough Patch 

Although Robinson knew he had many of the classic symptoms for the coronavirus, he put off going to the hospital. “I think it was partly denial,” he said. “I continued to feel worse and by Thursday, April 2, I was getting very short of breath. My temperature continued to rise.” It reached 103 on Sunday. His stepdaughter, a nurse, checked his oxygen level. It was very low. That is when Lorena gave him a choice. “Get in the car and I’ll take you to the hospital,” she told him, “or I’ll call an ambulance.”

Because he was getting weaker and it was harder to breathe, Robinson had little choice but to agree to go to the Harrison County Hospital in Corydon. He was tested for the flu, strep throat and the coronavirus. He tested positive for the latter and he was immediately admitted to the ICU and put on oxygen.

He was treated with a high flow of oxygen, spending 11 days in the ICU. A ventilator was discussed. “I said ‘No, unless it is the very last resort.’”

“It was a pretty miserable time,” Robinson said. “I spent six days literally fighting for breath. I really didn’t think I would live. I went several days without sleep. Occasionally, I would become so exhausted I’d pass out for 15 minutes or so. It was terrible.”

Isolation

“The worst part was the isolation. The only people I saw were the nurses, and I can’t praise them enough. They were wonderful. Every time they came in, even to bring me a drink of water, they had to put on all that protective gear. And they never did treat me like a leper or ostracize me in any way.

“The worst part was the isolation. The only people I saw were the nurses, and I can’t praise them enough. They were wonderful.”

“You know the isolation is bad when you find yourself lying there looking forward to the hour passing when someone would come in to flush your IV. But as great as the nurses and hospital staff were, I was so hungry to see someone I knew.

“I don’t know if it was fever, low oxygen or what, but through it all I felt like I was in a fog. And other people looked like they were in the fog with me. One day I saw someone wave from the doorway, I couldn’t even see who it was, but it had to be somebody I knew and that felt really good.

“It was awful to lie there and wonder if I had given it to anyone. I thought about everyone I had been in contact with, especially people I didn’t think might have the health to survive. Thankfully, I don’t think I passed it on to anyone.”

He said that Lorena, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), had begun taking precautions before he went to the hospital. “With her RA, her immune system has to be compromised, but she never did get it. Her doctor even did tests to see if she possibly had it earlier and was asymptomatic, but she hadn’t. 

“I have no idea where I got the virus. My best guess, and it is a guess only, is a crowded gas station where I stop about every other day to gas up the company truck,” Robinson said.

He had shopped in several retail establishments but was careful to social distance. “But who knows? There is no way to tell for sure,” he said. “I do know it is foolish not to take precautions to protect yourself and others.

“A lot of people think if it is your time to go, you will go, if it is not, you won’t,” Robinson said. He gives credence to that idea. “But on the other hand, I am not going to stand out in the middle of I-65 and play hopscotch. You don’t want to lie in a hospital bed and know you haven’t done what you could to protect others.”     

Recovery 

By the following Sunday, with the help of the oxygen, Robinson’s breathing started getting easier and his fever had broken.

And in a few days, at the nurses’ urging, he started trying to eat a bit.

Although Robinson had most of the symptoms associated with the coronavirus, he didn’t lose his sense of smell. “But it did mess with my sense of taste,” he said. “All food had a terrible metallic taste.” A coffee lover, he even turned down his breakfast coffee. “I told them at the hospital to leave it off my tray. Food tasted so bad I didn’t want to eat anything,” he said, “but I started trying to eat a little after they told me not eating would be just one more thing working against me.”

Robinson entered the hospital on April 5 and was released on April 17. He was on oxygen full time for three weeks after he came home.

Robinson entered the hospital on April 5 and was released on April 17. He was on oxygen full time for three weeks after he came home. “Then I started weaning myself off of it,” he said. For several weeks he needed oxygen at night to rest, but by mid-July, he was going without. “And I have been sleeping OK,” he said. 

“I still get a little short of breath, and when I take a deep breath, it is a bit uncomfortable, a tightening — like when it is very cold outside and try to get your breath.”   

He experienced a lack of concentration when he first came home from the hospital, something he thinks was caused by steroids used in his treatment. “I love to read and read a lot, but I would get through one paragraph and by the time I got to the next one I would lose the thought,” he said. “I’d be watching television, stop to answer the phone, and go back to the television and not turn the sound back on, just sit and stare at the screen. But once I got off steroids, it just took a few days for my concentration to come back.” 

Robinson said his employer, E&B Paving, was accommodating throughout his illness and recovery. “They told me to take the time I needed to recover and if it proved too much when I did come back, I could leave again for whatever time needed.” That turned out to be unnecessary.

Robinson went back to work June 8 and worked a 60-hour week. “They did give me lighter work than I sometimes do,” he said.

“I feel like I am back 110 percent,” he said, after working an eight-hour day, coming home and mowing his lawn and doing some extensive weed eating.

Community Support

“I was stunned at the reception the community has given Lorena and me,” he said. “We really appreciate all the prayers and support. We just couldn’t believe it. People know I like fish and couldn’t go fishing so someone brought me some. Everyone just bent over backward for us.”

“I was stunned at the reception the community has given Lorena and me,” he said. “We really appreciate all the prayers and support. We just couldn’t believe it. People know I like fish and couldn’t go fishing so someone brought me some. Everyone just bent over backward for us.”

Robinson’s humorous, witty and insightful Facebook posts are popular with his several hundred Facebook friends. And they reciprocated during his illness with numerous tributes and encouraging posts.  

“Reading them was like attending your own funeral before you died,” he said.

He recently gave back by donating plasma for use in treating other coronavirus patients, something he plans to do again.

Robinson may not be able to contribute to the community in one way he has for several years — doing local Santa Claus visits and appearances and serving as a Santa at the Cabela’s store in Louisville. “With the need for distancing, I don’t know if that will be possible this year,” he said. 

Priorities    

When there are four or five days that you know you are facing death, you change priorities, Robinson said. 

“You appreciate things you have always taken for granted. I am doing things with a different attitude. You are even thankful you are able to go to work. Things that used to matter don’t matter as much. Things I took for granted seem a lot more important,” he said. “You have to grasp the positive from every experience.”

“You appreciate things you have always taken for granted. I am doing things with a different attitude. You are even thankful you are able to go to work. Things that used to matter don’t matter as much. Things I took for granted seem a lot more important.” 

He did just that recently when he returned to his favorite sport: fishing. “That first time I was able to fish was the best fishing day I have ever had,” he said. “And I only caught two small fish.” •

Story by Sara Combs

Photo provided by Joey Robinson

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