The day Cleveland Mayor Kevin Brooks was released from Tennova-Cleveland — where he underwent treatment for double pneumonia and COVID-19 — is a happy ending to a harrowing experience, one of illness, isolation, recovery and hope.
The mayor had spent 11 days in the hospital. Although he said it was the "sickest, he had ever been," with days hooked up to oxygen to enable him to breathe, he said one of the most difficult parts of being a COVID-19 patient is the loneliness and isolation.
But that feeling dissipated when he saw his wife, Kim, and son, Zach, for the first time since he had entered the hospital on June 30.
His daughter, Elizabeth, a nurse in Nashville, was unable to attend, but watched his release from the hospital via FaceTime.
“The doors open and you see your wife you haven’t seen in 11 days or touched her or hugged her …” His voice trailed off as he recalled the moment.
“There's not a day since July 10, when I was released to come home to my bed, that I don't wake up in the morning and say, 'Thank you, Jesus.’”
The last time he had seen his wife was when she brought him to the hospital.
Brooks had been feeling ill for several days.
“I knew something was wrong,” he said. “I had gone to a walk-in clinic the day before on Monday, the 29th."
While there, he received the COVID-19 instant test. It was negative.
“I said, ‘I feel terrible,' so they gave me a flu test, which was also negative.’”
The doctor told Brooks she could hear something in his lungs. A breathalyzer and Z-pack were prescribed by the physician, who told Brooks if he did not improve, he would need to go to the hospital.
“That was on Monday,” Brooks said. “On Tuesday, the family made the decision ... something is not right. So, Kim took me to the ER and you wave goodbye.”
She was unable to accompany him inside.
“You don't know if you're going to be there for three days, five days or 11 days,” Brooks said. “You just know that you're sick.”
The days were long and monotonous, with little human contact, except for medical personnel attired in personal protective equipment.
“I don't think enough people are talking about the psychological side of this virus,” Brooks said. "That’s a real part of this virus. Your wife can't come see you. Your friends can't come see you. Your pastor can’t come see you. Hospital chaplains can't come see you, and the doctors and nurses that are allowed to come in are dressed in complete HazMat ... literally covered from head to toe. They're isolating themselves from your sickness.”
“There are people who are suffering and dying alone,” he said of other COVID-19 patients.
Brooks said he was medicated with "everything they could throw at him" to try to figure out what was wrong.
After spending five days in the PUI (person under investigation) floor, doctors finally diagnosed Brooks with COVID-19. He was then moved to MICU.
“I was isolated and medicated with everything they could throw at me to try to figure out what was wrong,” Brooks said. “First, it was the double pneumonia and then when the COVID test finally came back, I had it in my lungs.”
The nasal test and cheek swap test didn’t detect the virus. However, when they tested his lung material, the result came back positive.
Brooks’ physician, Dr. Asma Khatri, told him his lungs looked like “shattered glass.”
Prior to the positive test, Brooks said Khatri was sure he had COVID-19.
“She kept saying, ‘I can see it,’ referring to his infected lungs. ‘I'm not going to give up, you have COVID, I’m confident of it.’”
As soon as the positive test confirmed the infection, the medical team at Tennova went into action, starting Brooks on clinical trials that included three vital drugs to treat COVID-19.
“It’s a miracle medical chain,” Brooks said. “The infectious disease specialist and my pulmonologist, Dr. Rutledge, explained to me that they build the Remdesivir, which is from Vanderbilt, which is the antiviral drug, the donor convalescent donor plasma, and very high doses of steroids."
His condition began improving.
“And that chemical combination is what I believe is saving lives in Bradley County,” Brooks said. “My Tennova family saved my life. I really think they’re on to something.”
There were still lengthy days and nights ahead.
Thankfully, Brooks was accompanied by his iPad, which was his sole connection to the outside world. He said his daughter sent out a link to an app, so his family and friends could send him video messages that offered encouragement and well wishes.
“I treasure those now,” he said of the video messages. “Every one of them. But in the hospital, in the ICU, they absolutely got me through. I knew people were praying. I knew people were calling my name and remembering my illness,” adding that seeing their faces and hearing their voices, often engaging in prayer, was vital in his fight to recover.
“It was family, it was friends and associates from all across the country,” he said. “I was shocked.”
A window in his hospital room buoyed his spirits.
“That was my only source of sun,” he laughed, adding that he requested for the window blinds stay open all night, so he could see the sun rise in the morning.
“It would literally hit me in the face and wake me up,” he said. “It would be a new day, and I would be so grateful.”
However, it would hurt to breathe.
“There's a verse that talks about giving God the sacrifice of praise,” Brooks said. “Even when you don't feel like it, even when it's not easy, you're still supposed to praise God, and that was hard to do. I struggled, but God said, 'If you praise me, I will bless you.'”
The mayor then remembered a popular song he had not heard in years with the following verse: “It’s your breath in my lungs, so I pour out my praise.”
He attempted to sing the song.
“I believe in my heart that when I began to say God, ‘In spite of my circumstances, in spite of my sickness, in spite of my isolation, like Paul in prison, I'm going to sing. I'm going to do this, because that's what you taught me to do.'”
It was a struggle to sing the verses, but Brooks persevered.
“It wasn't easy because I was having trouble breathing," Brooks said. “I was on oxygen when I sang it, but I can tell you my oxygen went straight up to 90-something — one of the highest readings I'd had that whole time.”
Brooks said he still wears his mask everywhere he goes.
“I don’t want to get it again,” he said. “I would not wish COVID on anyone. It’s that bad.”
Although some think masks are ineffective, Brooks said it is a line of many defenses against the virus.
“It's worth it; you don’t want this [virus],” he said, adding that there are still people out there who don’t consider the threat is real.
“They think it is made up or that it’s no worse than the flu," he said. "I take that personally now because I spent 11 days in the hospital.”
He encourages everyone who has survived COVID-19 to help others survive by donating their plasma.
“It truly is a lifesaving product that only COVID survivors can donate,” Brooks said. “Take the time to donate. It’s simple, painless and lifesaving.”