Imagine having a loved one be taken to the hospital and you are unable to go along to be there to show love and support. Now imagine the moment the ambulance doors closed before you, it would be the last time you would ever see your loved one in person alive again at your home.
That is the sad reality many families are currently facing throughout the COVID pandemic. It is the sad reality Sondra Wolfe is now left with along with the many memories of her husband Mike following his recent passing from coronavirus.
On August 17, Mike began experiencing symptoms that are connected to the virus that has plagued people all across the globe from country to country.
“He just started feeling bad on the 17th,” said Sondra. “When we got home that night he was fatigued and weak and had trouble getting into the house. Then he started getting a cough, having chest congestion and a fever.”
Knowing a rapid test center was available in nearby Leon, the Wolfes decided to make the trip the following day for Mike to be tested. A short time later, the results were in and Mike was notified he tested positive for COVID-19.
Mike was immediately put into quarantine and the public health office began notifying each person that had been in contact with him for contact tracing. Those individuals were informed they had been in contact with a positive case and they would need to quarantine as well.
Two days later, Sondra began experiencing symptoms as well.
“They didn’t have me come in test, assuming I was positive due to contact with Mike, to help limit exposure to healthcare I assume,” she continued. “My symptoms were very different though. I had started out with sinus pressure and pain, headaches and a very mild fever. My fever never got very high where his did.”
By day two, Sondra began experiencing a sore throat as well.
“I had a dry cough, but not a deep cough with mucus like he did,” she said. “I had chest pain, but not chest congestion and shortness of breath if I attempted to do anything.”
Sondra remembers the fever Mike was unable to shake regardless of how many over the counter medications he would take or how much rest he would get.
“I was sick about 10 days and for two to three days, we didn’t know who was going to take care of who,” she remembers. “We were both feeling pretty sick until I finally started feeling better, but he just continued getting worse.”
By August 23, the decision was made for Mike to be taken to the local Wayne County Hospital for treatment as he was unable to catch his breath and coughing terribly.
“He was treated with steroids, inhalers and oxygen and his condition improved so he was released to come back home,” Sondra said. “The next day he wasn’t doing too bad, until Tuesday his conditions worsened again. He couldn’t breathe well and by that time I was so weak and fatigued I couldn’t walk to the car. I was having chest pains that wouldn’t go away and I couldn’t catch my breath, so I called an ambulance.”
The ambulance arrived to the Wolfe residence and unbeknownst to Sondra at that time, it would be the last time Mike would leave their home to never return.
“The last thing I said to him in person before he left that day was that I loved him as I gave him a hug.”
Mike was treated at the Wayne County Hospital August 25 and 26, again being given additional oxygen, the use of inhalers, pain medications to help with the chest pain, until there was nothing further they could do within their walls. As his oxygen sensors began going down, the decision was made to have Mike air-lifted to Mercy Hospital in Des Moines where they would take over his treatment.
“They sedated and intubated him here before he was placed onto the helicopter, then off he went,” she said.
While at Mercy, no visitors were allowed. Mike was in the infectious disease unit dedicated to COVID patients as they feverishly worked for him to get better. Nurses and healthcare workers would hold Zoom meetings with Sondra to allow her to talk to Mike, however with him being sedated, he was unable to respond.
“I would talk to him and I hoped he could hear me, but he couldn’t respond,” she sadly remembers. “I would talk and tell him I love him, but he couldn’t talk to me.”
Each time they would believe he was slowly turning the corner, a new complication would arise. Mike was having kidney complications, battling staph infection in his lungs and blood and as they attempted to use antibiotics to fight the infection, he became septic. Hospital staff continued doing everything possible to keep him comfortable while helping him fight the virus.
As his kidneys and lungs began to fail, heart issues would arise as well. Sondra received a call and was asked to make the trip to the hospital. Hopeful, yet unsure what news she would be greeted with, she made the trip to Mercy.
Upon hearing the devastating news there was nothing more that could be done for her husband, she made the only decision she was left with.
“After 12 days I was finally able to see my husband after being separated,” she recalls. “I held his hand and talked to him knowing it was our final goodbye.
After a short few hours, Sondra and her daughter were escorted from the hospital knowing Mike would spend his final moments alone in the hospital without his family by his side. Mike, a beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, son and uncle, passed away on September 7 at 4:05 p.m.
“We were being careful, we were staying home when this all began in March,” said Sondra. “I was babysitting our grandkids, but staying home. I have been in only one store since March. Mike hadn’t been in any until very recently after he returned to work. Back before he returned to work, we were mostly isolated at home with only contacts being with our grandkids and my daughter.”
“We were worried about it, Mike was 66 years old with some underlying health conditions, but he was living with those things, they weren’t killing him,” she continued. “They were controlled, but how many people in their late sixties don’t have some kind of health concerns.”
For over 30 years Mike has played a large role in many communities, beginning to grow his beard each July to take over his beloved role as Santa Claus for several community events. He loved bringing joy and happiness to all those around him.
“This virus isn’t a hoax and it isn’t going away in November,” Sondra stated. “This isn’t just a cold. We need to listen to our doctors, public health departments, scientists and do what is needed to slow down transmission. We need follow simple rules like washing hands and wearing facemasks and staying socially distanced and avoid large groups.”
Sondra hopes by telling her story some good can come from her and her family’s pain and loss.
“If my story can help change and save one person than it is worth being shared,” she said in closing. “We need to take care of each other and have empathy for one another. We don’t have to stop living our lives, but we do need to be careful because this is very real.”
Memorial services were held for Mike on September 13 at Thomas Funeral Home in Corydon where family was able to say their final goodbyes.