SIERRA VISTA — The short walk from the Canyon Vista Medical Center Emergency Room doors to his brother’s vehicle was an indescribable feeling for 58-year-old COVID survivor Robert Ellis.
“All I could do was thank God,” he said when asked what that brief moment meant to him. “There were times I didn’t want to be here (or think I’d make it).”
To be going home with his family on March 10, while the director of the critical care department, Anna Ray, and Emad Hammode, one of his many doctors, escorted him out, was a moment he had wanted since he was admitted to the ICU on Jan. 13.
“I take great pride that he’s come so far,” Ray said. “We developed a bond not only with Robert but his family as well. I wanted to walk with him out of respect and admiration.”
Ray said Ellis’ journey and success was a light in a rather dark time with this pandemic that has lasted more than a year.
“It was extremely satisfying to see (him) walk out of the hospital,” said Hammode. “It was heartwarming to see the family and the care team’s support for him.”
Ellis went to the Canyon Vista Medical Center Emergency Room on Jan. 10 and tested positive for the coronavirus. Ellis’ brother, Tim Ellis, said on that day he was given “the Trump cocktail” of generic drugs and sent home.
Three days later Robert returned and was admitted. He stayed for the remainder of the month before being released. A day and a half later, he was taken back to the hospital.
“I heard a thump in the bathroom and when I went in there (Robert) said ‘I think I passed out’,” said Robert’s wife, Sade Ellis. “His oxygen crashed to 52 percent.”
The next day Ellis was intubated and placed on a ventilator. X-ray and CT scans of his lungs were completely black because of the virus. He was on a ventilator for three weeks, and remained in the hospital an additional 15 days after being taken off the ventilator.
“I missed him,” said AJ Ellis, Robert’s 8-year-old son. “I never want him to go back to the hospital.”
Ellis gave Tim his power of attorney while he was in the hospital. It was Tim who made the decision to have his brother intubated and provided treatment permissions for doctors, despite objections from Robert.
“It was tough (being Robert’s power of attorney) because when you love somebody you want the best for them so you’re always second guessing yourself,” Tim said.
Ellis was given a paralyzing medicine because his body was fighting the ventilator. He has to relearn walking and other activities as a result of that medication. In addition to the coronavirus, he battled multiple infections, which worsened his condition.
“He was very, very ill,” Hammode said. “He was requiring a lot of oxygen.”
While on the ventilator Ellis received 40 liters of 100 percent concentrated oxygen. Two days after being released from the hospital, when the Herald/Review spoke to Ellis, he was receiving three to four liters of 100 percent concentrated oxygen.
Hammode said there isn’t a time frame for how long Ellis will need to be on oxygen but that and therapy — for speech and physical recovery — are important.
“When I first went in (Dr. Hammode and I) butted heads,” Ellis said. “But now I love him. (The hospital staff) did the right thing by me.”
Hammode, Ray and the rest of Ellis’ care team hit a couple of hurdles during his stay. On Feb. 13, his condition turned for the worse. Tim said it was the lowest his brother went during his ordeal. Ellis was given meropenem, an antibiotic, to help with the infections.
“They gave him a 5 percent chance to live,” Tim said. “It was the last thing they could do medically.”
The family relied on faith and the power of prayer to help Ellis in his time of need, especially since they were unable to visit him in the hospital. Tim said four of their sisters came to town on Ellis’ birthday and prayed outside the hospital for his recovery.
“It was very difficult (being alone),” Ellis said. “I’m going through the hardest thing I’ve ever been through in my life. If it wasn’t for God I wouldn’t be here.”
Nurses, doctors and other staff were doing what they could to be there for Ellis and help connect him with his family as much as they could. Tim said when a family member would call the staff would take the phone to him, even when he was unconscious, so the family could talk with him and have some sort of easement.
“The called me and his wife before they intubated him (so we could talk with him),” Tim said. “They were giving him as much as we as family could do (if we were there). He became their golden child.”
Hammode says Ellis’ support system is part of the reason he was able to recover as quickly as he has.
“He had very good family support,” the doctor said. “He kept his spirits up and kept fighting.”
Ray attributed Ellis’ personality to his recovery.
“He allowed us to do the things we needed to to to help him,” she said. “He’s a tough guy and he’s going to get through this. We’re rooting for him for a 100 percent recovery. He’s going to continue to be in our prayers.”
Before being released from the hospital, Ellis had to learn how to swallow and eat on his own. He didn’t eat solid food until the last few days in his hospital.
“Every 12 hours they were taking blood,” Ellis said. “They believe they got all of the infections.”
Before contracting the virus, Ellis wasn’t overly concerned about the effects.
“I thought I was healthy and if I get it, I’ll get it,” he said. “(This experience) has changed how I look at everything.”
Tim echoed his brother’s changed perspective.
“This pandemic is very real,” he said. “Who knew this would turn our world upside down?”
Ray and Hammode hope the public is still cautious and taking precautions.
“You never know until it hits home how severe COVID is, and by then it’s too late,” Ray said.