“I contracted COVID around the 1st of April. My symptoms were a high fever for three days, then extreme fatigue that ended up lasting for months. The worst lasted for about two weeks. I have a chronic illness called Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome that often gets triggered by infection, so my husband and I were terrified it would trigger.
Brian was sleeping in another bedroom for safety and I begged him to stay out of our room. But he kept coming in to make sure I was ok and not vomiting. I begged him to at least wear a mask when he brought food or checked in, but he complained it made him feel claustrophobic.
A couple of days later, I’d been sick maybe 4 or 5 days, Brian started sneezing and coughing. He was a professor at South and teaching remotely. I could hear him in the living room with his class, and noted that he was sneezing and coughing more and more.
I was back to working remotely. My doctor couldn’t get a COVID test scheduled for me and the teledoc said it sounded like “a flu-like virus,” since I didn’t have any respiratory issues.
Brian went to lay down and rest, and I got a bad feeling that he was coming down sick, too. I asked him by Messenger if he needed to call the doctor, and he wouldn’t.
Two days later he could barely get out of bed to teach his online classes, but he did. He was hacking horribly and having problems with breathing, so I called the Teledoc and they put him on antibiotics, a steroid pack, and cough syrup, but didn’t do a COVID test, saying it sounded like “pollen allergies.”
He started to improve and got energy and his appetite up. I was gradually feeling stronger and started taking back over household chores. I told him he needed to stay isolated as much as possible, because test or no test, I knew what he had.
Brian had a history of pneumonia, and after the meds ran out I asked his doctor for another round. She was concerned that he hadn’t been tested and ordered a COVID test. It came back positive a few days later, but during those few days, he worsened.
With only antibiotics and the cough meds, and no steroids, he could barely get out of bed because he felt like he would collapse. He had no appetite and slept most of the time. I asked over and over if I needed to call for an ambulance. He refused and said he thought he was turning a corner and just needed to sleep. He wasn’t sleeping well because he couldn’t use his CPAP.
The Friday before he died, he gave his final online class. He sounded powerful and I thought he must be finally getting over it. I told a co-worker that I thought he was getting better. I was so wrong.
The next morning, I woke up to a message from him on my phone that he sent through Facebook Messenger. He called 911 for an ambulance because he got up to use the restroom and almost blacked out in the hallway.
I had heard the front door opening but was in bed. I assumed it was him taking one of the dogs out to potty. He never came to wake me, because he was afraid he might trigger my Cyclic Vomiting by waking me early or stressing me out.
I saw the message about 20 minutes later and freaked, calling him, but getting no answer. He called about 30 minutes later. They had him on oxygen and he said he could tell a big difference already. He thought that once I fed the dogs, I could come up to the hospital. I explained to him that he couldn’t have visitors.
The next few days were a mix of ups and downs, and then pure hell. He improved during the day but got worse at night when his O2 sats would drop very low. It was damaging his liver and renal system.
Two days before he died, he called me in a panic. They were putting him on a respirator within the next half hour, because his O2 sats dropped overnight to 82% and nothing was working. He couldn’t breathe and was coughing nonstop.
The last words we were able to say in that 45-second conversation were love you. I told him the doctor had told me this might be needed, to give his lungs a rest, and they knew what they were doing, and I trusted them. He was in an absolute panic and he calmed down when I calmed the terror in my voice.
I knew in my heart the last words I told him was a lie. I told him he’d be ok and they’d keep me updated. He should be doing much better in a few days without exhausting his body from coughing constantly and not being able to rest.
They intubated him on the respirator. I was updated a few times that day and told his vitals improved. They were hopeful the next day because his vitals were holding steady and they were getting a lot of “junk” out of his lungs.
The day before he died, I was on my way to feed my mustang horses when the doctor called and said they didn’t expect him to make it through the night. Maybe not the rest of the afternoon. His O2 dropped again and his labs showed dangerous levels of toxins in his renal system. His organs were shutting down, and they asked permission not to give him CPR.
At 1:30 a.m., I was called and told he passed away.
He was never able to say goodbye to his teenage son in Mobile, or his mom, sister, and niece in PA. He was not able to update anyone as to what was happening. Later I saw his phone where he’d messaged a few people that he was feeling better, but then no one knew of his passing until I made a post to Facebook with the update of his situation.
Because of COVID, my house had to be completely sanitized and it was a horrific nightmare that is still surreal. Friends and family came in and took the risk of contracting COVID to help me sanitize the house, and also to make funeral home arrangements.
It has been six months since his passing. There are good days, bad days, and days where it isn’t real. There are days I laugh and smile and make plans for my future. Then days where depression is so hard, like today and sharing this story, knowing that I still have to clean out his office at the university, still doing home renovations, and not being able to tell him about things that are going on.
I don’t have a husband anymore. It’s just me. No one who can run an errand or to give a card to. No date nights. No one taking off their CPAP in the middle of the night and waking me with his snoring.
Him always having dinner cooked so that I could take care of my horses and pets. No more outdoor adventures collecting fossils for his research. No annoying OMG he’s in a bad mood, he needs to grow up moments anymore. This is what COVID took from me.
Had Brian lived, it wouldn’t have been days on the respirator, I was told at least THREE WEEKS. I don’t think the general public knows how long this can go on.
I want people to be safe. I see so many people around me who are tired of masks and mock social distancing. They mock the death rate and science because they have not been directly affected by COVID. Indirectly, they are inconvenienced. Maybe they even caught it and had a mild case, but got better. Now the “newness” of the fear has worn off.
You don’t see people offering to pick up toilet paper or groceries for strangers anymore. Or run errands to help someone who is socially isolated.
I wish that I could move forward with my life and every time I begin to heal, some aspect of Brian’s death drags me back into it. I know I’ll never, ever truly heal from it. I’ll never forgive him for sneaking out of the house to the ambulance without waking me. Even though he did it out of love for me, because he didn’t want me to get sick with my CVS. But he cost me my chance to touch him one more time, and say goodbye.
I still have fatigue from COVID, but it’s getting better. It was bad for months. I have gotten through this year with Friends, family, and the support of friends on Facebook, some of which I have never met. They’ve all kept me going with support, love, and encouragement. I also stay as busy as I can, so I don’t dwell on things. Having animals and horses to take care of keeps me with a purpose.”
Dr. Brian Axsmith was a paleobotanist at the University of South Alabama.