Mar. 31—FRANKTON — Vickie Hart thought she'd dodged a bullet.
The first week of October, the two-term Frankton Town Council president's husband William "Will" Hart, a retiree of Chrysler in Kokomo, came down with a mild case of COVID-19, experiencing body aches and losing his senses of taste and smell. The couple lived separate lives for the duration of his quarantine, she in the living room and guest bedroom, he in the family room and their marital bedroom.
"He got over it rather quickly," she said.
At 68 with several underlying conditions, including asthma and diabetes, Hart considered herself lucky when the managed to avoid the illness caused by a novel coronavirus. In addition to following the guidelines set by local, state and national health departments, the retired county government worker thought maybe the medication she was taking for an autoimmune condition spared her from becoming ill.
"That's the strange thing. I just assumed if I was going to get it, I would get it then," the Middletown native said.
But by the last day of 2020, Hart realized her luck had run out.
"When I started feeling bad, I was really surprised it was COVID," she said.
Hart is one of thousands of Madison County residents who have come down with COVID-19 and survived it. But she still suffers lingering effects of what has been a devastating illness to many.
"The symptoms were just like what everybody else had when COVID was acknowledged," she said.
Like most people, Hart started hearing about the devastating new disease and the havoc it wreaked around the world on the news around February 2020.
"It was the scariest thing that I'd ever been through," she said. "I would not wish that on anybody."
As a government official, she took the health warnings seriously and worked with her colleagues to set up procedures to keep town employees and residents safe. That included moving town council meetings online and town business to appointment-only, requiring visitors to wear masks, and making hand sanitizer available to the public.
Hart said she took the pandemic especially seriously following the hospitalization of Frankton resident Fred Partlow, the first recorded casualty of the pandemic from Madison County. In fact, Hart doubts Partlow actually was the first, believing many in the county already had died of COVID-19 without it being acknowledged on their death certificates.
"I don't think it was acknowledged as early as it should have been or could have been," she said.
On a personal level, by April, Hart mostly stayed at home and even avoided visits with her two children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
"We didn't do the traditional Easter thing," she said. "They were trying to be protective of us."
Like many, Hart and her family became weary of the mandates and their separation from one another. Hoping the medical theory that warmer weather and outside activities provided from protection from the spread of the coronavirus, she and her family started hanging out occasionally and attended the traditional Fourth of July fireworks.
"A lot of people came to that, and people tried to be cautious. We were parked in cars," she said. "Of course, at that time, everybody was getting a little bit tired of the restrictions. But of course, with my health concerns, I knew I had to be careful."
On Dec. 30, Hart said, she started experiencing body aches and a sore throat. Shrugging it off as a cold or flu, she took some Tylenol.
"We were supposed to go out that night to go eat, and I said, 'I don't feel like going anywhere,'" she said.
The symptoms became increasingly worse as Hart experienced a loss of appetite, gastrointestinal discomfort and trouble breathing. By Jan. 6, her family was urging her to go to the emergency room.
When she arrived at Community Hospital Anderson, Hart's blood oxygen saturation levels registered at 83, and before it was all over, would dip as low as 77.
"When I got there, I was so sick. I had no energy," she said. "I remember thinking, 'Am I going to make it?'"
Hart's daughter, Jennifer Brown, accompanied her to the emergency room to check her in.
"That was the last I saw my family or they saw me for 9 1/2 days," Hart said.
The first couple of days, she was knocked out from the medications.
"It spiked my blood sugar way up," she said. "They had to start giving me insulin three or four times a day. It was a battle there trying to give me the medication I needed and trying to keep my glucose from getting so bad."
Days later, Hart remained so weak, even a trip to the bathroom required a Herculean effort. Respiratory therapists were called in to help her get moving so her lungs could expand.
"I was so weak, so winded, I couldn't breathe. It felt like I'd run 10 miles," she said.
By the sixth day, her oxygen saturation had risen to about 93. Doctors had told her they would allow her to go home if her saturation readings reached 96 and stayed there.
"I tried to do double breathing treatment so I could get out of there," she said.
As someone who had been hospitalized many times before, Hart said it was the loneliness after the first couple of days that got to her. In the past, her family could come and go relatively freely and she normally would have been allowed to leave the room, she said.
Still when a nurse commented about her being all alone, Hart insisted she wasn't.
"I'm a Christian and I'm proud of it," she said. "I told her I'm not alone. He's here with me."
Brown said because of her parents' ages, keeping an eye on their health is what she does. But her mother's COVID-19 experience was something new.
"That's not something I want to do again," she said.
Like the rest of her family, Brown thought it was doubtful her mother would become ill with COVID-19 and thought her symptoms were due to a sinus infection. At her doctor's insistence, Hart took a COVID-19 test.
"It came back positive, and I was pretty shocked about that," Brown said.
When her mother called and said she was having trouble breathing, she became concerned.
Arriving at the emergency room, Brown, who hasn't had COVID-19, said she felt a little frustrated by the slowness of the intake process.
"There wasn't a sense of urgency with her breathing, and it took a while to take her back to check her oxygen level," she said.
In spite of everything she'd heard about COVID-19 and the statistic regarding those who are hospitalized, Brown said she is a positive person, so it never crossed her mind that possibly could be the last time she saw her mother.
"I'm a Christian woman and have a strong faith in God that he will look over her," she said. "If it was her time to go, obviously, that would be horrible, but she's a strong Christian woman."
A couple of months after her illness, Hart said, she's still experiencing some aftereffects. Not yet at full strength, her voice is raspy, and she remains on not one medication like she was before, but two to combat the blood glucose elevations.
"It's not as high as it was, but it's not down to as low as it has been all these years," she said. "I'm doing OK now. It's just still going to take some time."
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