LAWRENCE, Kan. — For 35 days, John Rathbun called Lawrence Memorial Hospital home. And each day, he made note of the nurses and technicians who helped him in his fight against COVID-19.
Rathbun, of Lawrence, started having trouble breathing in July. He visited the emergency room and returned home after receiving oxygen, but later tested positive for COVID-19. Rathbun thought he could tough it out at home with rest, but his symptoms worsened. He was hospitalized July 8.
"They had called my wife and said, 'Hey, there is a good chance John is going to be put on a ventilator. Does he have a DNR?'" Rathbun said.
At the start of each 12-hour shift, a different frontline worker added his or her name to the information board in Rathbun's room.
"I just took my phone out and just typed their name in," Rathbun said. "I am an old salesman, and I wanted to know people's names."
While hospitalized, family members were not allowed to visit due to COVID-19 restrictions. When he started to feel scared, a nurse stood by his side.
"Summer just reached down with her blue, glove hand and grabbed a hold of mine," Rathbun said. "She looked at me and said, 'You get a good night's sleep tonight, John. You deserve it.'"
By the end of his stay, the list grew to 66 health care workers, and the COVID-19 patient had a story about each of them. Like Tanya, No. 2 on the list.
"She is the one who gave me ice cream to make the Ensure go down a little bit easier," Rathbun said.
Another story, about No. 36, also stood out.
"Summer, who is a respiratory therapist, who on the night of 7-25 figured out I have the wrong mask and she went and got me a new one," Rathbun said. "It made all the difference."
Russ Johnson, LMH president and CEO, said in a statement provided to 41 Action News that the LMH staff is "laser-focused" on providing the "safest, highest quality of care" to all patients.
“John remarked that each nurse went above and beyond to care for him. Actually – above and beyond is just what our clinicians do every day," Johnson said. "That is what sets LMH Health apart; the little kindnesses and small gestures that make our patients feel like they are being cared for by family – a family that is also highly skilled and expert at what they do.”
Now, the loving husband and devoted grandfather is back at home and recovering. While Rathbun does that, the list of those who were by his side reminds him that he has guardian angels looking out for him.
"I owe my life to every single one of those people who took care of me," Rathbun said.
He sent the following letter to LMH leaders to let them know of the work their frontline workers are doing:
Dear Dr. Kimball and Ms. Hoopingarner:
In addition to completing the enclosed survey, I felt compelled to send a letter regarding my 35-day stay at LMH while being treating for COVID-19 from July 8 until I was released from care on August 9, 2020.
I never anticipated that I would spend most of the month of July and a part of August at LMH being treated and recovering from the effects of COVID. Up until July 8, I was a fairly normal 65-year-old man finishing my 42-year career at Cutler Repaving, Inc and enjoying my 4 grandchildren while preparing for eventual retirement.
Thanks to the gifted doctors, nurses, and therapists at LMH, I will now be able to enjoy those grandchildren for many more years because they truly saved my life and placed me on the course for complete recovery from a virus that was constantly changing and, as such, continually challenging.
Attached to this letter is a list of every nurse, day shift and night shift, that watched over my care during my stay. I kept track of their names as I never want to forget them and what they did to give me back my life.
And I am not simply talking about all the times they took my vitals or drew my blood. I am talking about the many small kindnesses they all went out of their way to provide daily, just because that is who they are and that is why they decided to get into nursing.
I can never repay the debt of gratitude I owe each and everyone of these men and women. They are the very meaning of what it is to be a community hospital. The City of Lawrence is indeed the lucky beneficiaries of this awesome community of caregivers.
I had two therapists, one physical therapy and one occupational therapy, that made a tremendous difference in getting me back on the way to full recovery.
Kate Renyer was the PT, and she is an incredible young woman that can motivate her patients to keep them moving forward. Without her incredible talents, I am not sure I would have made a full recovery. As much as anyone, she was responsible for putting Humpty Dumpty back together again!
Jess Reed was the OT assigned to me and took great care in assisting me with my daily activities of bathing and dressing and did it without ever causing me to lose my dignity. Additionally, she provided physical activities to strengthen my upper body that were always challenging, but necessary.
On the days that Jess was off, I had the opportunity to work with Gayla Smysor. Gayla also had incredible ability and kindness as an OT. As it turns out, I know her husband and mother-in-law, proving that a community hospital is truly a microcosm of the larger community.
All three of these young women had a tremendous impact on my recovery and ability to regain what I had lost due to the virus. All three each had great personalities that allowed them to keep me motivated and always moving forward to achieve my goals.
The three pulmonologists that oversaw my care from beginning to end are truly some of the finest human beings I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Dr. Mitchell Tener, Dr. Amanda Gudgell and Dr. Krishna Rangarajan, or as I nicknamed them, Dr. T, Dr. G, and Dr. R, saw me every day and sometimes more than once a day and constantly kept my wife, Kathy, informed of everything involved in my care.
This communication was especially important given the fact that my wife was not allowed to visit due to the constraints of the virus.
All three of them were on top of my care and treatment and sometimes I wondered when they slept or saw their own families.
From the moment I first met them, they never wavered from their belief that I would survive and make a full recovery. They did make it clear that this would not be easy and often referred to it as a marathon and not a sprint. I adopted their thinking and while the days in the hospital were long and sometimes tedious, I knew I could not give up because my doctors were not going to give up.
As I prepared to leave LMH on my last day, I only wished I could have had Tina Turner on hand to sing her anthem, “Simply The Best”, to honor those nurses, doctors, and therapists that rescued me from what might have been a less than acceptable outcome. They are, simply the best!
Please feel free to share my thoughts about my stay at LMH with all your staff and the wider community at large. It is my hope that through my experience the community comes to realize the incredible and wonderful people that make up Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
I know I will never forget them!
Yours very truly,
John R. Rathbun