Man recalls ‘lonely and dark times’ while hospitalized with COVID-19
Scott Bruegge’s journey started with a cough. He couldn’t have imagined that it would lead to being hospitalized with COVID-19.
The cough began on March 13. Bruegge told his boss and began working from home, just in case he had become infected. He then ran a low-grade fever, called his family physician and was told to monitor his symptoms. On March 18, those symptoms went away.
However, it got progressively worse from there. Bruegge’s fever got higher the next day. He began vomiting and becoming more lethargic. His cough became more persistent.
“We contacted my doctor’s office and the got me into the drive-through testing at LMH Health on March 20,” he said. “On March 22, I was informed that I had tested positive. They told me to monitor my symptoms and, if breathing became more difficult, to call my doctor. Things began getting extremely rough around 2 a.m. and my wife started calling around to figure out what to do since I was COVID-19 positive. At 9 a.m. on March 24, my wife brought me to the ER.”
Bruegge was admitted for inpatient care at LMH Health and his road to recovery began. He said he had the flu once before and initially thought he just needed rest and plenty of fluids.
“This was my first hospital stay and major illness, so I don’t have much to compare it to,” he said. “COVID-19 attacks your lungs and can turn into pneumonia very quickly. As a 50-year-old man who has a pretty clean health history, I am telling you, this is not the flu.”
Dr. Krishna Rangarajan, a physician with Lawrence Pulmonary Specialists, cared for Bruegge during his hospitalization. Dr. Rangarajan said that his case is one frequently seen with COVID-19.
“After he was admitted, Mr. Bruegge’s oxygen levels decreased quickly,” he said. “Once we took a look at his x-rays, we could see some of the classic signs of COVID-19 that are being presented during this pandemic.”
Rangarajan said stabilizing Bruegge was quick, but the road to recovery for COVID patients can be long.
“Mr. Bruegge is a young man,” Dr. Rangarajan said. “This can affect more than just the older population. He is healthy and still suffered the harsh consequences of COVID-19. There was nothing that could have been done sooner to make his condition better.”
Many people with COVID-19 have a mild cold and think they can rest, but then their condition gets increasingly worse. This was the case for Bruegge, and he came to the ER as soon as his symptoms got very bad.
“He came in at the right time and the team did all they could to help him improve as fast as possible,” Dr. Rangarajan said. “We closely monitored his heart rhythms and Mr. Bruegge kept his spirits very high.”
Dr. Rangarajan said he remembered one morning when Bruegge was more awake, Brugge found the medical staff had set up a Zoom call for him to see his wife.
“The first thing he heard was his wife’s voice and he immediately smiled from ear to ear,” Rangarajan said. “It gave us all hope and brightened a dark situation.”
Bruegge said his care at LMH Health was great and that his job was easy, listen to his providers and push himself to get stronger.
“I did small things to gain strength while in my bed or the recliner, so therapy time was devoted to pushing myself to regain my capabilities,” he said. “I never realized the skills you can lose after 12 days on a ventilator.”
As COVID-19 is severely contagious, LMH Health’s visitor policy didn’t allow for Bruegge’s family and friends to visit. He said he relied on pictures of his family to help him through.
“These pictures were a great reminder for me to get stronger each day so I could get home sooner rather than later,” Bruegge said. “I am so thankful for my wife, Shannon, and my daughters, Audrey and Ashley, for giving me pictures and post-it notes to hang up in my room. Since I was not seeing visitors, being able to FaceTime my wife, daughters, brothers, mom and dad the last few days was great. My voice was recovering from being intubated, so I did lots of texting with family and friends.”
This process has been long, but Bruegge is a success story. He did not do this alone and gives credit to his wife, daughters and extended family, as well as his faith and medical providers.
“I cannot say enough positive things about LMH Health,” Bruegge said. “This virus is just awful and being their first inpatient, they took every precaution to keep me and themselves safe. I was originally told I’d have 3 to 4 weeks of therapy in the hospital after getting out of the ICU, but I ended up being released for home health care and walking on my own six days later.”
Dr. Jennifer Schrimsher, infectious diseases physician at LMH Health, said there are a wide range of effects COVID-19 can have on the body. Though there is much more to learn about the virus, she said this disease can cause symptoms like shortness of breath, cough, fever, body aches and fatigue, which can wear on someone’s body.
“Some patients are reporting prolonged fatigue well after they’ve recovered from an otherwise mild case,” Dr. Schrimsher said. “However, most people should recover without any long-term effects.”
Dr. Schrimsher said for some critically ill patients there may be several complications that could last long-term. Some may develop damage to their lungs directly, but it’s unclear if this is caused by the virus, the immune system or the high levels of oxygen required while on a ventilator.
“The muscles can also be damaged,” she said. “This can cause prolonged, generalized weakness, but can also affect the muscles of the heart.”
While he still has work to do to regain his strength and other capabilities that he had before contracting this virus, Bruegge remains optimistic that he will continue his speedy recovery and continue my path to wellness.
“This is a very humbling experience for someone to go through at any age,” he said. “The staff members were all very encouraging and attentive. While LMH Health physically took care of me, the part that still makes me emotional is how much they reached out to my wife by calling her or taking her calls at all hours to provide her with updates on me. She’s been through a lot, but her love for me and her faith kept her spirits lifted so she could be strong for me.”
Shannon Bruegge, Scott’s wife, said that multiple times a day she would pray for God to heal her husband’s lungs, provide wisdom to his doctors and protect the nurses.
“Those nurses were my lifeline to Scott,” Shannon said. “I even asked them to do certain little things that he loves for me to do. I’d ask them, ‘Could you rub his head or could you play some John Denver?’ I would call just to see if (he) had been bathed. I just wanted to be there and simply couldn’t for so many reasons in this new world.”
His daughters said they are just happy to have their dad home. They are grateful he is safe and cannot wait to give him big hugs and kisses when he has fully recovered.
“I give credit and gracious appreciation to the LMH staff for medically saving me, but I also know that prayers and my faith prepared me to get out of that dark and scary place that this virus takes you to,” Bruegge said. “In my absence, my immediate and extended family have been amazing. They have helped grocery shop, mow and move furniture to accommodate me coming home. They checked in on Shannon during lonely and dark times and continued to lift her spirits.”
His final hope is that people understand the gravity of this virus. He hopes this time allows people to connect with loved ones safely and help stop the spread as best they can.
“I hope that this put some perspective on social distancing and the importance of washing hands and being extra cautious when in public areas,” Bruegge said. “I think that many people thought that this was just the flu or something that the older population or unhealthy people can get. It can affect anyone, and it is very real.”
– Jessica Brewer is the social media and digital communications specialist at LMH Health, which is a major sponsor of Lawrence Journal-World’s health section.