Of the couple, married 38 years, Tom Stokes was stricken with COVID first. Within a week, he was running a 104-degree fever. He was so nauseous he couldn't eat. He was so weak he could barely stand. He came to WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital April 2 but doesn't remember anything at all about the next month.
A week later, Tom’s wife, Linda, also tested positive for COVID. She stayed home, alone in the couple's Stevens home, trying to take care of herself. It wasn’t working. She finally called an ambulance to come and rescue her. April was "a little blurry" for her as well.
The couple ended up battling COVID at the same time in the Intensive Care Unit at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital, where they say the care was "fantabulous" and compassionate, helping them through a dark and frightening time.
Tom was on a ventilator for three weeks. He had to be resuscitated twice. Early on, Tom’s condition was so dire that his health care team asked Linda to come in and see her husband, at a time when visitors were not routinely allowed in the hospital.
"I almost collapsed going in to see him," she said "I didn't feel well myself by that point. I was short of breath."
Once the couple was both in the hospital, the staff arranged for Linda to visit her husband again. He was still on the ventilator at the time, so the couple could not talk. The staff later connected the couple via Zoom, on a tablet. Tom was off the ventilator by then but still not coherent.
"My sister told me, 'Just say anything. Just talk.'" Linda recalls.
With oxygen treatments and intravenous medication, Linda recovered and left the hospital after five days. Tom never knew she was there, just a few rooms away from him during her stay in the ICU.
After a month – the longest stay of any COVID patient in the Ephrata hospital’s ICU to date – Tom was ready to be discharged to an area rehab hospital. The ICU was so delighted by his recovery that the staff arranged a goodbye ceremony, during which employees from throughout the hospital lined the hallways, cheering him, waving pompons and wishing him well as he was wheeled to a waiting ambulance.
Tom, who lost 60 pounds while he was battling COVID, was determined to continue getting better after he got home from the rehab hospital. He put chairs in the couple’s driveway and backyard, walking to one chair, sitting and resting, and then walking to the next, slowly rebuilding his stamina. It took him a month to go from the front door to the backyard without stopping. Linda, who lost 20 pounds, worked to rebuild her stamina too. Together, they grew stronger and regained their lost senses of taste and smell.
Tom now walks 4 miles a day. He says his doctors tell him, "You're a miracle, dude!" Linda weeds her garden. The couple spent the end of the summer basking on their porch and enjoying their two dogs, thankful to be alive and grateful for the care at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital.
This month, the couple returned to the hospital with a laundry basket stuffed with goodies for the ICU team, to show their appreciation.
Erica Martin, nurse manager of the Intensive and Progressive Care units at Ephrata, said her staff "treats every patient like they are their own family member. That's what they did with Tom."
The staff also gave him state-of-the-art care, including "proning" him, or placing him on his stomach so his lungs could more easily inflate, improving his oxygen levels. Martin said Stokes recuperated so well that he looked like a different person when he returned to the hospital.
"It meant so much to us that he has recovered. At one point, we did not think he was going to make it. The fact that he came in, with his wife who was also a patient, was a bonus!" Martin said. "We in the ICU don't always get to see a lot of that. We don't know what happens to people after they leave here. Seeing him meant a lot to the staff."
Nursing assistant Terri Wissler met the couple to accept the basket of goodies and give the staff's thanks. She spent a lot of time with Tom when he was in the hospital, talking to him, sitting with him, encouraging him to wake up and hearing his first words when he got off the ventilator, when he asked for a glass of water.
"I couldn't tell you what happened except for this," Tom says, "as soon as I heard her voice, I knew who she was."