A couple weeks ago, Frank Arredondo added a line to his profile on Facebook: “COVID-19 Survivor.”
On April 21, after he spent 10 of his 15 days hospitalized in a forced coma and using a ventilator, the 60 year old was cleared to return home.
As a pharmacist for Apple Pharmacy, an independent drugstore with locations in McAllen, Palmview and Mission, he understood how vicious the disease is. Beyond that, he’s unable to remember much about the couple of weeks he spent there. Other than being terrified, Arredondo could only recall a few things from before and after being ventilated.
Luckily, his wife journaled.
In a five-part series posted on her Facebook account, Tyra Greene documented the struggle healthcare workers at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg endured to keep him alive. Returning home, Arredondo reads his wife’s journal as love letters.
“I love Tyra a lot, and I have always seen her as patient and loving,” he said through tears. “But the way she cared for me before being admitted, then to find out she was calling the unit during the day and night, every day, and receiving calls from doctors — I know that there are people who get admitted and get cut off from their families.
“She could not see me or talk to me, but she had enough faith in the people caring for me, and enough love to write during that time… She is like a pot of gold. She is my rock.”
Next month, the couple will be celebrating their eighth wedding anniversary.
Greene said that she was compelled to begin writing about her husband’s fight against the coronavirus because she wanted to share their story. She began documenting from the day he showed symptoms.
Late last month, he was feeling unusually lethargic. Then the headaches came. Then the body aches, then fever. After self-quarantining for a couple days, a coworker confirmed to Arredondo that they were diagnosed. Arredondo was almost certain he had it also, and got tested at the Hidalgo County Health Department.
“No energy, very little appetite, and overwhelming fear,” Tyra wrote after receiving confirmation that her husband contracted COVID-19.
Arredondo was quarantined in their bedroom for several days before she took him to DHR. By then, he developed a dry cough and was experiencing extreme fatigue.
On April 4, Greene was instructed by DHR to drop her husband off at their emergency department, and that they would take him to their COVID-19 unit. While driving, she said her worry was overwhelming when she looked at her husband at the passenger seat, who could barely catch his breath.
“I knew that taking him there, that there was a possibility of not knowing when I would see him again,” she said. “There were no visitors allowed. We know that some people die from this, so that was a very real thought that could possibly happen. So when I dropped him off and they took him in, all I could think was that I just have to believe that God is going to take care of this and that we will see him again.”
In her journal, she wrote about how she was overwhelmed with emotion when she came back home.
“No goodbyes, no hugs, he disappeared through the double doors and around the corner,” she wrote. “I drove home and sat there and cried. That’s all I could do. I felt lost, helpless, afraid.”
After becoming dependent on a ventilator, Arredondo’s body began to swell. He was put on a feeding tube, but the flow of fluid in his body was poor. He was also put on insulin because his blood sugar spiked. There were several other complications, and all Greene could do is listen on the phone and write.
“It was really scary,” she said. “You want to hear that what they are doing is helping, but honestly it was trial by error because there is no proven ‘do this so this can happen.’”
After several days, Arredondo’s health began to improve and was taken off a ventilator. Three days after, he was released to go home. Greene said she will never forget the relief she felt after being reunited with her husband.
“He did not know anything he had been through, but I knew,” Greene said. “The ventilators and all the trauma, then to see him finally being wheeled out. It was just the best, I could not believe it was happening.”
In his last few days at the hospital, Arredondo experienced hallucinations and delusions. Greene said that her husband begged her to pick him up because “there were people in another country who were after him and were doing bad things.”
Arredondo, who was born and raised in El Paso, has been a practicing pharmacist for more than 35 years, and as someone in the healthcare field as well, gained a new appreciation for their work.
“While I was there at the facility, all these people should all become saints,” he said. “They were just so patient and caring, and I just can not believe the level of love and humanity that these nurses and doctors showed me.”
Arredondo said that he has a steep road to recovery to get over. He lost a lot of weight and muscle in the past month.
“I lost so much mass,” he said. “My thighs and my calves and my butt. Luckily I lost a little bit of my gut, but my doctor said it will take months to get back to before.”
Arredondo and Greene run half marathons together often. Though the battle against the coronavirus was a setback, he is still set on running a full marathon someday. He is grateful for all the healthcare workers who have helped him recuperate.
“These doctors have high intellect, they are thick-skinned. They’re stubborn, and thank goodness they were stubborn… As a patient, I now appreciate the value of not just taking care of someone and being nice, but showing compassion.”