CEDAR RAPIDS — After nearly 30 days on a ventilator, recovery didn’t seem likely for one Cedar Rapids resident battling COVID-19.
Dudley Hiles was in such bad condition that when doctors turned off his ventilator late last month, Hiles’ children already had paid for the funeral arrangements.
No one expected it when Hiles woke up about an hour later.
After a 48-day hospital stay that included 27 days on a ventilator to help him breathe, the 56-year-old was able to walk out of Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids on his own about a week ago.
“I was overwhelmed, so it’s hard to isolate what I felt,” Hiles told The Gazette while thinking back on his discharge. “They asked me if I wanted a wheelchair and I said, ‘No, I’m walking out of here.’”
An employee at Quaker Oats who works in the Aunt Jemima business unit, Hiles is an otherwise healthy individual and is uncertain how he was exposed to the novel coronavirus that has infected thousands statewide and killed more than 400.
He first began feeling ill in late March and, by March 26, Hiles felt so sick that it as if he was “physically falling apart.”
Hiles had gone to the hospital’s emergency room three times before he was finally admitted. He said he doesn’t remember much of that day because he was so sick, but said he knew Mercy Medical was following federal and state guidelines.
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Those guidelines dictate patients needs to have a fever — a symptom Hiles did not have — before they would be tested for COVID-19.
Before making his third and final trip to Mercy Medical’s emergency department, he read online that he would be admitted to the hospital if he told emergency room physicians he was suicidal. So that’s what he said.
Hiles tested positive for the novel coronavirus and was intubated within 24 hours of his admittance to the hospital.
“I knew I had a chance of dying, so I was asking God to forgive me for my sins,” Hiles said. “I was getting right with him because I knew this could be it. And it almost was.
“There’s a gripping fear when you face that, especially when you do it alone.”
After spending much of April on the ventilator, Hiles’s body was fighting sepsis in his lungs and other infections that led his family to believe he wouldn’t survive. His two children scheduled a time for the doctors to turn off the ventilator and made funeral arrangements.
So when the hospital called Hiles’ family after turning off the ventilator, they were expecting bad news.
“They were just grieving, but then they got a call like that,” he said. “It’s been a wild thing.”
In fact, Hiles said he was told by several critical care staff members that it was a miracle he was able to recover and maintain his cognitive functions.
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“Sometimes I feel like it happened to someone else. It doesn’t even feel like it was me because sometimes I sit on the outside and look in at it,” he said. “But yeah, I feel good having beat it.”
Hiles spent nine days — and his 56th birthday — in Mercy Medical’s in-patient rehabilitation unit regaining his strength before he officially was discharged from the hospital, on May 13.
He continues physical therapy, and still faces a long road to recovery. Hiles returned to the hospital this past weekend after experiencing vertigo, and was discharged on Monday.
But despite this, Hiles said there’s still much to celebrate, especially the outpouring of support and prayers he received from the community. He said he plans to get around to the activities he loves, such as a big steak dinner, but right after his discharge, Hiles said he took the time to enjoy the small things.
“When you miss home, your goals become very simplistic,” he said. “I was excited to have a cup of coffee. It had been 48 days since I heard the birds sing.
“So it’s small things you begin to miss.”
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