35-day COVID-19 inpatient kept track of every Lawrence hospital worker who helped him

photo by: Lauren Fox

John Rathbun, pictured on Nov. 6, 2020, holds a list of the nurses who aided him during his 35-day stay as a COVID-19 inpatient at LMH Health this summer.

John Rathbun entered Lawrence’s hospital in early July terrified that if he got put on a ventilator he’d never come off of it. But the 66-year-old Lawrence resident, luckily, never needed one.

Rathbun was a COVID-19 inpatient at LMH Health from July 8 until Aug. 9, a recovery process his doctors referred to as a marathon, not a sprint. He entered the hospital low on oxygen, extremely tired and with a nasty and persistent cough. He left 30 pounds lighter, and to this day he still goes to the hospital for physical therapy sessions.

“I want to make it clear to everybody: This is a serious, serious thing,” Rathbun said. “I’ve got 35 days in this hospital that proves this is not a hoax.”

Rathbun said that because of the work of his doctors, nurses and therapists, he would be able to continue spending time with his four grandchildren and eventually enjoy retirement. Rathbun currently serves as vice president of sales at Cutler Repaving, and, as a salesman, remembering people’s names is important to him.

In an October letter to LMH Health regarding his stay and recovery, Rathbun listed the names of the pulmonologists who oversaw his care and “never wavered from their belief that I would survive”: Dr. Mitchell Tener, Dr. Amanda Gudgell and Dr. Krishna Rangarajan. He commended his therapists, Kate Renyer and Jess Reed, who were responsible for “putting Humpty Dumpty back together again,” he wrote. He even included the first names of every nurse who oversaw him during his stay.

Every time a nurse started a shift and wrote his or her name down on the whiteboard in his hospital room, Rathbun would put it in his phone. By the time his 35-day stay ended, he had recorded 66 names.

In his letter, Rathbun said the nurses didn’t simply take his vitals and draw his blood; they went out of their way to provide daily acts of small kindnesses.

“I kept track of their names as I never want to forget them and what they did to give me back my life,” he wrote.

One day, a nurse named Tanya Eckhardt told Rathbun he should drink the Ensure that was on his bedside table every day. Ensure is a nutrition shake that contains a lot of protein and helps people gain weight, but Rathbun wasn’t a fan. When he asked Eckhardt if she had ever tried Ensure, she admitted it wasn’t great. Then, 10 minutes later, she was back with a cup of ice cream. Rathbun combined the two into a shake, and “it made all the difference in the world,” he said.

If his coffee was cold in the morning, a nurse would bring him a new cup. If he asked for tea instead, a nurse would bring it with extra honey packets. And that wasn’t as simple as it sounds. During Rathbun’s infectious stage, every time nurses entered or exited Rathbun’s room, they had to put on or take off multiple protective layers of clothing and face shields, a process that could take about five minutes, Rathbun said.

“I can look at this list and just see people’s names and recall different things about each one of them,” Rathbun said of the nurses. “You know, they were all special in their own way.”

A nurse named Tiew asked Rathbun one day if he was having regular bowel movements, and when he said he was working on it, Tiew came back with her signature “cocktail”: hot prune juice.

Lashaun reminded Rathbun that part of his job while at the hospital was to rest. So after taking his phone for an hour and forcing him to, she came back with a bottle of lotion and gave him a foot massage.

Tiffany Beck was on the night shift one time and heard Rathbun continuously coughing. She said she couldn’t give him any more cough medicine, but the nurse, two months pregnant, did give him a piece of candy that helps her with her morning sickness.

Before leaving the next morning, she stopped back in Rathbun’s room and asked if the candy had helped. When she found out it had, she left him with her whole tin.

“That’s the kind of stuff that you can’t make up,” Rathbun said. “That’s what I mean, all the small little kindnesses.”

In his letter to LMH Health, Rathbun noted the debt of gratitude he owed the men and women that helped him, and said they are “the very meaning of what it is to be a community hospital.”

When asked what he would tell people who don’t believe in the virus, Rathbun called it a “serious, serious thing.” He said that while people have stances on personal freedom and mask wearing, “the only way to tamp this thing down and to suppress it is to stop the spread, and the mask will do that.”

“Don’t wear it because you’re going to save yourself. Wear it because you’re going to save somebody else,” he said.


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