CEDAR RAPIDS — The odds were not in favor of Rachel David after she was infected with the novel coronavirus in early November.
At 83 years old, the Cedar Rapids woman is among those most at risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19, particularly after she was hospitalized and placed on a ventilator.
But her daughters, Rebecca David and Jeannete Abraham, say this is not the first time Rachel has had to learn to start her life over. Because of that resiliency, Rachel was able to return home from the hospital this past month, they said.
“She’s a fighter and a survivor,” Rebecca said of her mother, who immigrated to the United States to make a new life and has suffered the death of a husband and daughter.
‘A willpower stronger than anyone’
Rachel’s bout with COVID-19 is described by her daughters as a roller coaster. She had been going about her normal routine on the morning of Nov. 5. But by the afternoon, she was unresponsive and “very weak,” recalled Rebecca, who was visiting her mother at the time.
“What struck me about this was how normal the morning was for her. She had her normal energy level, was making total sense and then, boom, in half an hour she was unresponsive,” Rebecca said.
“It was very, very scary.”
An ambulance rushed her to Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, where she tested positive for the virus and was admitted to the hospital. She only stayed three days and was well enough to be sent home for the first time on Nov. 8.
But by early the next morning, Rachel once again was unresponsive, confused and weak. Rachel returned to Mercy Medical on Nov. 9 — less than 12 hours after she had left.
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A little over a week later, she again had made good progress and, on Nov. 18, was sent to an outpatient rehabilitation facility in Cedar Rapids.
But yet again, she returned to Mercy Medical’s emergency department on Nov. 23 — this time with severe symptoms, including difficulty breathing. She was admitted to the intensive-care unit and placed on a ventilator.
Though she’s generally healthy, Rachel’s age puts her at high risk for death, the doctors told Rebecca and Jeannete. After the sisters made the decision to intubate her, they “spent all night crying.”
As a Mercy Medical chaplain held the phone close to her ear, the sisters spoke to Rachel, pleading with her to “tell COVID to leave your body.” Later, Rachel would say she heard them say it.
“We knew in our hearts, she’s been through so much in her life that her will to fight was there if we could connect to her,” Rebecca said. “I’m convinced that the reason she pulled through is that she connected with us.
“She has a will power stronger than anyone I’ve met in my life.”
After a harrowing five days, Rachel began to recover and was taken off the ventilator. She spent a couple of weeks at Mercy Medical’s inpatient rehabilitation unit before she was finally discharged home on Dec. 22.
‘Be good to one another’
The Cedar Rapids woman’s experience with COVID-19 has reaffirmed and strengthened her spirituality, which she said has taken her through many difficult experiences in her life.
Rachel, who also goes by her Arabic name Rachide, was born in 1937 in a farming village located in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. She married George David and immigrated to the United States in 1960 when she was 23 years old.
The pair went on to have three daughters.
All three daughters graduating from college was a bright spot for Rachel, who only had an eighth-grade education. Her family, who were farmers in Lebanon, couldn’t afford to send her to further schooling.
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Six years later after they immigrated to the United States — and just a week after their third child was born — George died unexpectedly. Rachel, who was still learning English at that time, took a job at the Cedar Rapids Country Club, which she kept for 51 years.
In 2003, her eldest daughter Rose died — another devastating loss for Rachel and her family.
A stronger connection
A devout congregant at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in Cedar Rapids, Rachel pointed to her faith, in addition to the technology and expertise used by medical professionals, as a driving force that helped her recover from COVID-19.
Rachel will undergo physical and occupational therapy for the foreseeable future to help her regain strength and to learn how to walk on her own again, a lasting affect of the virus on Rachel’s life, Jeannete said.
Despite this, Rachel said she has walked away from her COVID-19 experience with a stronger connection with family and other loved ones.
Both Jeannete and Rebecca said they realized the importance to stay close to the people they love. Rebecca’s perspective on what was important on the morning of Nov. 5 was a “180 difference” from what was important to her that same afternoon, she said.
Rebecca said her mother’s experience also has crystallized for her how devastating the pandemic has been for others, adding that it is important the public continue to practice public health safety measures, including wearing a mask and obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Going through this up close and personal, it’s a horrifying experience,” Rebecca said.
“I see how this is affecting people, and it’s an awful thing. So be good to one another.”
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