George Waters, M.D., has admitted many COVID-19 patients to WellSpan York Hospital. But the hospitalist never imagined he would become one of those patients himself.
Now, after weeks on a ventilator, Waters finds himself having to learn to walk and use his left arm again, after suffering some temporary paralysis. His days are full of therapy and hard work at WellSpan Surgery and Rehabilitation Hospital, where he was transferred and expects to remain until mid-February.
Waters looks forward to being able to do basic tasks, such as walk up a flight of stairs or drive a car, and enjoyable activities, such as playing his guitar. He wants his life back.
“At no point did I ever think I would get it and not be able to walk when I woke up,” he said. “I think it hits everyone differently. But I don’t know if people realize that you can suffer neurological damage. I also developed a blood clot as well. It’s a very dangerous virus. I would not take it lightly. I would definitely follow guidelines in terms of social distancing and wearing a mask, because you don’t want to get this.”
Waters became ill in December, noting he suffers from some underlying conditions that make him more prone to severe illness from COVID-19, including diabetes and high blood pressure. His oxygen levels were so low when he came to WellSpan York Hospital that doctors immediately put him on a ventilator. He received wonderful care from many of his work colleagues and nurses, who lined the hallways to celebrate with him when he finally was discharged from the hospital. But being ill with COVID-19 was a frightening and challenging experience.
“When I woke up people were telling me it was January,” he said. “I found that very disconcerting because it was a new year too. It was very confusing.”
And now he has a mountain to climb.
“The big thing is unfortunately my feet are paralyzed so I can’t walk, and I can’t really work my left arm. I’ve got some neurological deficits,” he said. “I have been told in the literature that COVID can do this, can cause a peripheral neuropathy.”
The therapy team at WellSpan Surgery and Rehabilitation is using a harness, which is suspended from the ceiling, to support Waters as he learns to walk again. He’s also working on building his muscles, which became weak due to his long hospitalization. Waters hopes that his paralysis is temporary but expects that his rehabilitation may take months. He has been encouraged that tests are showing his nerves in his limbs are growing, a good sign that he may regain feeling and movement.
Waters did not have a chance to get the COVID-19 vaccine due the timing of his illness. He notes that he would follow recommendations from his colleague Dr. Eugene Curley, a WellSpan infectious disease physician, who has said the vaccine is both safe and effective and an important tool in ending the pandemic.
“Patients should discuss the vaccine with their primary care provider,” Waters said. “For me, COVID was a very serious disease. I feel like right now everything is just upside down. What I am looking forward to is a return to normalcy. It’s the little things I’ve taken for granted my whole life – those things seem like real goals now. The simple things mean more than I can say. Take care of yourself.”