“It’s probably the most frightening thing you will ever hear,” Grant Hendrickson told ELi, describing his stay at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing after contracting Covid-19.
“When you’re in the hospital, you are in complete isolation. It’s scary and lonely. You hear people gasping for breath.” said the 38-year-old Hendrickson. “I wouldn’t want to send my worst enemy there.”
Asked by ELi if he would tell people about his recent experience, Hendrickson was eager to share his story about contracting Covid-19 in the hopes of saving them from something similar or worse. He posted this video on Facebook from his bed at Sparrow, asking others to follow public health guidelines and get vaccinated to avoid hospitalization.
According to Hendrickson, he, his wife Sarah, and their daughter took the pandemic seriously, doing things like masking-up and maintaining social distancing. But they came down with Covid after letting their guard down once.
The family was invited to party, which they thought was going to be a small outdoor gathering on a patio. It wound up being a larger gathering on an enclosed patio with no one wearing masks. The trio stayed, and they all caught Covid.
Symptoms for Covid patients like Hendrickson can vary from nothing to life-threatening conditions.
The first symptoms appeared for Hendrickson three days after the event – and just five days before his appointment for a Covid-19 vaccine. He initially experienced body aches, which progressed to a terrible fever and chills along with chest congestion. After a week, Hendrickson went to Sparrow Hospital because he was having shortness of breath.
Dr. Aaron Nichols, an MSU Internal Medicine resident who treats Covid patients at Sparrow Hospital, told ELi on Friday that people usually go to the hospital when they are struggling to breathe because it is a symptom that they can easily recognize as a sign of danger.
But Covid can also cause other serious, life-threatening effects, such as heart problems and blood clots, which patients cannot necessarily recognize on their own. Nichols recommends seeking immediate care if you know that you have been exposed to Covid and feel any severe or debilitating symptom.
Even though Hendrickson describes himself as having been in “picture perfect health” before Covid-19, he remained in the hospital for six days, receiving steroids, Remdesivir, and supplemental oxygen. He returned home with supplemental oxygen in tow.
Nichols told ELi that steroids (to reduce inflammation) and Remdesivir seem to reduce the number of days that patients are hospitalized, but that the treatments will need to be studied longer for healthcare professionals to know more about their effectiveness.
People of any age can experience severe symptoms, but vaccines offer significant protection.
Hendrickson told ELi that he wanted to share his story to combat the ideas that young people will not be seriously affected by Covid and that vaccines are ineffective. He regrets not having gotten vaccinated instead of getting Covid.
Nichols agrees with Hendrickson’s messages, telling ELi that during each wave of the pandemic, he saw previously-healthy people of all ages – including some in their 20s – in the hospital.
He also encourages everyone eligible to get a vaccine and to consult their doctors or local health departments if they have questions about the vaccine.
Nichols called the vaccines “highly effective” and said that he personally has not seen anyone who has been vaccinated hospitalized due to Covid. A few individuals had received the first dose of the vaccine and were hospitalized for reasons unrelated to Covid.
Covid has far-reaching effects, both on the personal and community level.
At Sparrow Hospital, non-Covid patients are still receiving the same type of care that they did before the pandemic. But medical professionals now must consider the availability of resources like personal protective equipment and even the availability of employees – adding more stress to caregiving, according to Nichols.
Nichols said health care professionals have to fear catching Covid and bringing it home to their families, adding more stress to their days.
The pandemic has also altered interactions with patients. Talking with people through masks and shields makes it harder to connect. And, while physicians often prescribe specific care to treat Covid-19 symptoms, with so many unknowns and such an unpredictable disease, treatments sometimes don’t work out as hoped for.
Since Covid patients are isolated in the hospital, care teams typically must communicate with their families over the phone. Nichols describes the ongoing new reality as “emotionally taxing.”
When an entire family is infected, the disease can be that much more tiring to battle. Sarah Hendrickson, who teaches theater and improv at Michigan State University, has had pneumonia as a result of Covid. Their daughter has been asymptomatic, but parenting has been hard as both parents slowly recover.
It took Hendrickson and his wife about three weeks to feel noticeable improvements in their conditions, but both feel on the mend now.
Hendrickson is an employee benefits consultant, meaning he works with people to help them understand what is included in their health insurance plans and how to best utilize those services. This experience, he said, “gives me a unique perspective to better serve clients. They shouldn’t be worrying about cost” as they are trying to recover from serious illness or hospitalization.
In terms of his own experience, Hendrickson, who has performed as a professional singer around the world, described his lungs as normally powerful. But now the infection is mainly affecting his lungs, and he feels exhausted just walking to the bathroom. The uncertainty of how long recovery might take is difficult, he said. One thing he knows for sure: recovery is “going to require strength and mental fortitude.”
Want to know how to get a vaccine locally? Check out this report from ELi.
This article was updated at 9:20 a.m. to more accurately reflect the specialties of Sarah Hendrickson and Aaron Nichols.