Beating COVID-19: Georgetown man shares progress from ventilator to recovery

Cindy and Ed Givens take a stroll at their rural Georgetown residence. Submitted photo/RAF

Those rays are shining on Ed Givens of Georgetown as he works the earth with pitchfork and hoe, preparing his garden for spring. Just a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Givens was on a ventilator in Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, fighting for his life. The Nanticoke ICU team fought along with him, and they won.

“I was one scared puppy there for a couple weeks,” Mr. Givens admits.

It all started with a trip to visit their grandchildren, at a time when a couple of cases of COVID-19 had been found in the United States, but it wasn’t yet the top of the news. People were worried about traveling to China or Italy, but a Wisconsin trip seemed perfectly safe. On the way home to Delaware, both Mr. Givens and his wife, Cindy, found they had a little cough.

“Our 2-year-old granddaughter had a cold, so we assumed we had picked something up from her,” Ms. Givens said. “We started thinking it might be the flu.”

Ms. Givens never had more than a mild fever and a slight cough, plus a brief loss of taste and smell, but Ed soon started to get sicker.

“I tried to go out and do some yardwork, but I just couldn’t,” he said.

Mr. Givens, who prides himself on his lawn and garden, had to admit it might be serious. They called Mr. Givens’ primary care provider, Dr. Joseph Karnish. He prescribed Tamiflu, but Mr. Givens’ condition worsened. The couple decided to go to a walk-in clinic where Mr. Givens was given a flu test, which was negative, and then he was screened for the coronavirus.

It took four days and his results came back positive.

That same day, Mr. Givens’ struggle to breathe became more than could be managed at home. His wife drove him to the hospital.

“Dr. Karnish suggested an ambulance, but we didn’t want to expose any of the ambulance crew,” she said.

Dr. Karnish arranged for Nanticoke staff to meet him so he could be put in isolation garb.

“It came on quick. It hit me hard. Finally, I just had to wave the white flag and Cindy took me to the emergency room. I went south pretty quick once we had gotten there. If I had waited one more day and stayed home, and not went to the emergency room I wouldn’t be here today,” said Mr. Givens.

Helping Mr. Givens walk into Nanticoke was the last time his wife would see him for more than two weeks — and during that time, she feared more than once that it might be the last time ever.

“At a certain point, I had gotten so bad, I called my wife to tell her where my will was, where our safety deposit key was,” Mr. Givens said.

Ms. Givens said, “We knew it was serious, but that made it real.”

His condition went from serious to critical and he became the very first patient in Nanticoke’s new COVID-19 ICU.

“I wasn’t even there 24 hours and I had double pneumonia and they had me on 100% oxygen. They didn’t want to put me on a ventilator but finally they had to put me on the ventilator. And you know the statistics of coming off of that and coming home are pretty slim. Of course, that was a bad time for Cindy and me. You read so much. But once they did that, I think I began to fight a little bit harder,” he said.

Ms. Givens said the day her husband went on the ventilator was the worst. “I had to figure out how to tell my children,” she said.
And she had to tell them by phone.

Family comfort and reassurance was difficult for Ms. Givens to come by — she had also tested positive for COVID-19. She called family members to be with her children even before calling them with the news, because she knew she couldn’t be there, and she knew how devastating it was.

Ed Givens of Georgetown delivers a pitch during batting practice for Starboard/OT, a travel softball team comprised of men over 60 years of age. Delaware State News file/Glenn Rolfe

“I didn’t want them to be alone,” she said.

While Ms. Givens’ symptoms were very mild, being COVID-19-positive meant she had to stay in isolation. Family members and friends called, brought food and left it on her porch, and did all they could. But the ICU nurses were one of her most important lifelines.

“I could call at 5 a.m. or midnight, and they would always pick up,” she said. “ICU nurses are absolute an-gels on this earth, and they became my best friends. They were just wonderful.”

They helped Mr. Givens FaceTime-call with his wife so the couple could stay connected, and they worked to keep his spirits raised as well. When he wanted chocolate ice cream and there was none to be found in the hospital cafeteria, one of his nurses stopped on her way to work and picked some up for him.

He had spent so much time in the hospital and medicated that he was losing track of time. “I always wanted to know what day it was,”
he said, remembering how astonished he had been upon learning that March had already passed, and it was April.

In the hospital, Mr. Givens was missing his hobbies — playing softball and growing giant pumpkins. “The nurses put up a calendar for me, and they decorated it with a softball player knocking coronavirus out of the park, pictures of gardening, giant pumpkins.”

The sickness was scary, but Mr. Givens was determined to beat it.

“When Dr. Thomas, the pulmonologist, came in to see me one day, I told him: ‘There’s a lot of fight in me. I don’t want you to give up, I don’t want the ICU nurses to give up, because I’m not going to give up.’”

Mr. Givens said Nanticoke staff tried three different medicines on him. The third one was the charm. “The last one, no sooner than it was in my system I started turning around,” he said.

His quick turnabout resulted in a new word in their vocabulary.

“Cindy had talked to the IC nurses … and his lungs ‘are a crap-ton better’ was what the ICU nurse had used. ‘Crap-ton,’ I think it’s Cindy’s favorite new word now,” said Mr. Givens. “Within a couple days they were a crap-ton better. The next day they were a crap-ton better than that.”

Without a doubt, Mr. Givens says he owes his life to the medical staff at Nanticoke.

“Of course, the real heroes are the doctors and nurses that I had at Nanticoke. They just did an awesome job. We fought together,” he said. “Of course, I don’t remember a whole lot. I was sedated a lot of the time.”

Mr. Givens’ physical fitness no doubt helped in his recovery. He had already pitched in five softball games in February as his Old Tymers Senior Softball team — The Starboard — won their second national championship before falling ill.

“I think a key factor in beating the virus was my health,” he said. “I come outside and get active every day.”

After six days on the ventilator, he started to turn the corner, and not a moment too soon. Mr. Givens says the ventilator was a difficult experience. “I would hate for anyone to go through that,” he said. “It felt like someone had jammed a wooden stick down my throat, I felt like I was choking the whole time.”

The Nanticoke team took him off the ventilator on a Sunday, and by Monday, he was telling Dr. Thomas, “I’m going home tomorrow.”
Incredibly, he was right.

Turn the clock back to the fall of 2018: Ed and Cindy Givens with their precious giant pumpkin. Submitted photo

“They told me I had to keep my oxygen level above 90 percent,” Mr. Givens said. He made sure to breathe deeply and keep that O2 level where it needed to be — and Tuesday, April 7, he was discharged.

Like his spring yard, Mr. Givens is starting to flourish at home.

“I got home that Tuesday and by that Friday I was outside cutting grass with a push mower — and bagging it. Now, I didn’t do a whole lot. It took me three days,” he said.

His yard is meticulous, and he’s planting pumpkins in hopes that by the fall, he can once again have a harvest gathering at his home. He is back at the side of his wife, with whom he’ll celebrate a 40th wedding anniversary in June.

And he’s literally laying the groundwork — several five-foot wide holes, three-feet deep filled with compost and his secret gourd-growing concoction — for what he hopes this fall will be his field, or patch, of dreams: The Great Pumpkin, maybe several.

“You know, with the year that I have had so far, this has got to be the year for the 2,000-pound pumpkin,” said Mr. Givens. “I am expecting big things.”

But life still isn’t quite back to normal. The softball season is canceled, and Mr. and Ms. Givens are keeping their social distance. Her parents live nearby, but they are in their 80s, and she doesn’t want to run the slightest risk of infecting them, so she hasn’t been able to visit with them in a while.

Both have reached out to the health department and blood bank to volunteer their convalescent plasma that might help others fighting COVID-19.

In addition to offering up their antibodies, the Givens couple share some advice.

“Reach out, and don’t’ be afraid to accept help,” Ms. Givens said. “It’s important to stay connected to others.”

For anyone who wants to avoid getting COVID-19, or who wants a fighting chance at beating it, the high-energy Ed Givens recommends staying fit. “I know being active made a difference for me,” he said. “A key factor was my health, being so active.”

Ms. Givens has this special request of her husband.

“I have asked Ed, if he wants to become famous again, that it has got to be for growing the giant pumpkin, not for battling the deadly virus,” she said.

Staff writer Glenn Rolfe contributed to this article.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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