Andy on Ventilator

Andy Rominger was confined to a ventilator at Watauga Medical Center in Boone after contracting COVID-19 and his health regressed in August. Content Exchange

WATAUGA — It was the longest week of her life. Lisa Rominger had no idea if her husband would make it off a ventilator. She had no idea if she would be the reason he died.

On Aug. 20, Andy Rominger was admitted to Watauga Medical Center with COVID-19. He stayed there for 20 days.

COVID-19 Wasn’t A Big Deal

For Andy, 54, and Lisa, 51, COVID-19 wasn’t a serious illness. They figured that if they got it, they would be fine.

They didn’t want to get the vaccine because, in part, Lisa said she never thought if she got COVID-19, she would end up in the hospital or have a serious case.

“I guess I was kind of like everybody else,” Lisa said. “We just don’t trust it. There hasn’t been enough scientific evidence. It hadn’t been tested enough.”

That was the key issue for Andy: he didn’t believe the vaccine had been tested enough. He thought it was rushed as he felt that all the talk was about COVID-19 and then all of a sudden it was all about the vaccine.

“It was so rushed because COVID-19 is so bad,” Lisa said.

Testing Positive

Andy got COVID-19 after his wife and son brought it home with them from work. They started to feel better, but Andy — who was gauging his sickness off his wife — wasn’t. Lisa got it two or three days before Andy, so he figured in two or three days he would feel better.

But after not feeling better, he went to Watauga Medical Center. When he got in, they told him he needed to stay.

He wasn’t sure if his stay would be long or not, so he called his wife — who had taken him to WMC — who was in the car and told her she could go home. That was August 20.

Once he got to an isolation room, the doctor told Andy his oxygen levels were at 82 percent, which is very low. He was kept on oxygen 24/7 and received test after test as well as X-rays to see how he was doing.

It wasn’t until the fifth or sixth day that Andy figured out how sick he was. That’s when the doctors called Lisa.

“(The doctor) thought that before his lungs and his blood oxygen got any worse, he thought it would be better to try to stay a couple of steps ahead of this thing before it got critical,” Lisa said.

So the doctors said they thought it was time for Andy to go on a ventilator to help his lungs heal and work better.

The Longest Week

Andy went on the ventilator on Aug. 26. During those days, Lisa would text Andy to tell him what day it was and update him on his condition. She called the hospital twice a day to get an update, which Lisa said staff were great in giving her.

“(Those were) the longest days that I’ve ever seen,” Lisa said. “My husband has had what they call the ‘widowmaker’ heart attack. That was nothing compared to what COVID did and how sick it made him.”

She said the heart attack was no comparison to the loneliness of how COVID-19 made her feel. It got to a point where she hated to go home because the silence was the worst part.

Before Andy was put on the ventilator, he was looking forward to it because he was so tired and worn out. All he would be able to do on the ventilator would be to rest. But while he was on the ventilator, Lisa started to blame herself because she contracted the virus first and brought it home.

“It hit me like ‘OK, if he doesn’t make it, it’s my fault,’” Lisa said.

Waking Up

When Andy came off the ventilator, he had no idea he had been unconscious for an extended period.

“I sat there and asked (the nurse) ‘how long ago was I put on the ventilator,’” Andy said. “She said ‘Andy, you came off the ventilator yesterday. You’re one of the lucky ones.”

After a week on the ventilator, Andy was taken off. But when he came to, he said he had a lot of brain fog. For him, he couldn’t remember a lot of simple things. He noted that he’d even forgotten that his family had moved to a new house just a few years earlier.

The last few moments he said he remembered before waking up after being on the ventilator was that he was dying.

“I really thought I was done,” Andy said.

A New Outlook

Andy, who was still on oxygen as of Sept. 27, was in the hospital for approximately 20 days. Even after leaving the hospital and going back home, he said he was still feeling the effects of COVID-19.

He said he would rather have that widowmaker heart attack “10 times over” than go through COVID-19 again.

After going through that, Andy and Lisa both have a new outlook. They said they now understand why there was such a big push to get the COVID-19 vaccine out to the public.

“Nobody is safe from this stuff,” Lisa said. “You think you’re not going to get it yourself, but then when it happens to you, it’s a totally different story, and it will change your mind. My greatest regret is not being vaccinated.”

When Andy was in the hospital talking to his family, and he heard them break down and cry, he said he felt guilty putting them through that partly because he was not vaccinated.

“As soon as I’m able to get the vaccine, I’m going to get to the vaccine,” Andy said. “I don’t care if I have to get 1,500 shots. I know what you go through without getting the vaccine. I can’t imagine going through anything more difficult than that.”

Even though he knows some people will be like him and will remain skeptical of the COVID-19 vaccine, he hopes their mind changes before it’s too late.

“Nobody should have to go through what I did to change (their) mind,” Andy said.

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