There are, by now, hundreds of thousands of coronavirus stories out there. I write to update you on one I reported last week.
Terrance Hughes is running out of time on a ventilator.
“Big T,” as the beloved Denver pastor and civil rights leader is known, has been hospitalized at the VA Medical Center in Aurora for COVID-19-related lung and kidney failure since March 9. He has been breathing with the help of respirator for 22 days now.
Ventilator-use beyond 23 or 24 days is considered too much of an infection risk, so his intensive care doctors hope to wean him off the machine by Sunday or Monday at the latest.
Their updates about his weaning process have been at times ecstatic and at others agonizing for Big T’s wife, Rachel Hughes, who has COVID-19 herself, and is quarantined alone in their home in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood, unable to be at her husband’s bedside or hold his hand as he and his doctors fight for his life. She spends her days praying and waiting for them to call with updates.
After our story about the couple ran last week, Big T, 56, had what Rachel considered a breakthrough when doctors said he breathed on his own for five minutes and wiggled his toes when they asked. The week since has seesawed between progress and setback, one day going for 8 hours off the respirator and the next being too weak to breathe without it at all. Her hopes soared Friday when he breathed on his own for four hours and he opened his eyes, albeit groggily from sedation.
“He had his eyes open a little bit today,” she said after speaking to him via an iPad a nurse held up to his face. “I asked him to blink for me. It was a couple of seconds, and a little sluggishly, but he did it. He did it.”
So far today, Saturday, he has breathed on his own for at least four hours.
Rachel says the doctors and palliative care nurses who on March 25 warned her of the possibility they couldn’t save him have stopped with their hushed tones, heavy signs and sympathy. Maybe it’s because he’s getting better, she figures. Or maybe because they’re worn out.
There is for Big T’s wife of 19 years — and, she knows, for thousands in Colorado — no respite from the daily ups and downs, the hourly rising and falling of hope.
Rachel’s cough has eased a bit and her strength is up in her own fight against a virus she still feels, weeks after her own diagnosis, moving through her body “like a worm.” Her focus and mood are up. She has more energy to research some of what the doctors tell her and make the phone call after phone call it takes each day to update family and friends.
“I have really found out some things about myself, about my strength. The Word says God won’t put more on you than you can bear. At the beginning, I was like, ‘Lord, you think I can bear this? OK.’”
She daydreams about Big T waking up and about the first thing she’ll tell him: “That I love him so much.” She has news articles, text messages, Facebook posts and cards and letters she wants him to see. She’ll show him a picture of the white roses with lavender lilies U.S. Rep. Jason Crow sent. And another of the orange tulips a friend left on their front stoop a week ago that since have opened just as the flowers outside their house are starting to blossom.
But there are times – “Of course. Of course.” – when the possibility that he won’t live sinks in. And there are also times when it sinks in that others in their family could contract a virus she thinks of as “pure evil.”
“I don’t know if I could stand anybody else I love or know going through this while I’m dealing with my sweetie having it. I let them all know that he’s taking it for the team, taking it for ya’ll. This is awful. Awful.”
Doctors are hoping that despite his starts and stops over the past week, Big T will somehow be able to breathe fully on his own in the next few days when they remove the ventilator. If he doesn’t, they plan a tracheotomy. That procedure poses risks of possible contagion for the doctors, as well as risks for Big T developing a new infection.
A “do not resuscitate” still isn’t and will never be an option for Rachel Hughes. Big T is still in there somewhere, she insists, and he has not given up his fight.