Rarely sick, Gardell Tung admits he didn’t own a thermometer or any common pain relief medication prior to contracting COVID-19. “Even when I first started feeling poorly, I never thought it would get as bad as it did,” he says. “I have friends my age in New York who only had mild symptoms, so I wasn’t as concerned as maybe I should have been.”
After returning from a visit to his family in New York, Gardell Tung began experiencing symptoms he compared to bronchitis. “I didn’t feel that bad, but I just couldn’t stop coughing,” he says. “Then I started to lose my sense of taste and smell. That’s when I started feeling uneasy.”
At first, Gardell tried to care for himself and simply let the virus run its course. But, when he began coughing up blood, he decided it was time to visit the Emergency Room at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Round Rock. “I called ahead to let them know that I probably had COVID-19, and they had me wait outside for about two minutes before they called me back,” Gardell says. “I’ve been to other emergency rooms before where you would have to wait five to six hours before you could even get triaged.”
Gardell was admitted, and by that night had been moved to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) with low oxygen levels, a dangerously high fever of 104 degrees, and pneumonia in both lungs.
On his fifth day in the hospital, Gardell was eating breakfast when a nurse came in and told him to lay down immediately because he wasn’t getting enough oxygen. “It was odd because I shouldn’t have been able to talk with my oxygen that low, but I didn’t even realize something was wrong,” he says. The staff had Gardell try several positions and an oxygen mask to try to bring his oxygen levels up. “None of it was working, so they told me I needed to be intubated. Even then, I was very optimistic. I never once believed that I could die from this.”
Doctors sedated Gardell and put him on a ventilator to pump oxygen directly into his lungs. Although a ventilator does not cure COVID-19, it helped Gardell breathe while his lungs healed from the virus. For several days, Gardell’s oxygen levels remained low. Then, on the fifth day, he began requiring less and less supplemental oxygen. After one full week on the ventilator, Gardell was ready to breathe on his own.
“Waking up from that was really frightening, because I didn’t remember any of it,” Gardell says. “I still had all this equipment strapped to me and I was in pain from the tube being down my throat. But the staff were so patient with me. They were just amazing.”
When doctors removed the ventilator tube from his throat, Gardell says the severity of the disease finally sank in. “I knew I was lucky that the fever hadn’t caused more problems, but then I saw what came out of my lungs, and I realized I could have died from this.”
After 17 days in the hospital, Gardell was able to go home, breathing at 100 percent. However, he says it took about six weeks to regain his strength. “My legs atrophied from not moving for seven days, and I had to use a walker and do physical therapy to basically learn how to walk again. For a while, I couldn’t stand for more than five minutes. Then I got to a point where I could carry my groceries into the house, but I would have to rest in between trips. Now, I’m back to normal, or pretty close to it.”
Gardell says he recommends Baylor Scott & White to his friends because of the care he received and the compassion of the staff. “I have a whole new respect for doctors and nurses,” he says. “They had to put on a brand new smock and head-to-toe equipment every time they came in, and had to wear this hood that looked like a space helmet for their entire 12-hour shift. It’s not an easy job to begin with, and the conditions they had to work under because of the virus were tremendous, but they always came in with a smile. They were risking their own health just to save my life, and I’m so very thankful.”