Husband's COVID-19 case reinforced wife's trust in God and focus on prayer

By Kathryn Nielson  ·  Oct 26, 2021

Division around virus reminds us to stay focused on Christ

My 49-year-old husband, Bruce, contracted COVID-19 a year after the outbreak, a year after wearing masks and quarantining, and weeks after the general population had started inching their way back to “normal life” like a bear coming out of a winter-long hibernation.

Four of us came down with the illness over a weekend. My mom, daughter, and I experienced mild cold-like symptoms and the highly annoying but non-life-threatening loss of taste and smell.

My husband wasn’t so fortunate. His COVID-19 involved a worsening sore throat and chronic cough that eventually led to two emergency department visits and, finally, hospital admittance.

While I was concerned, acquaintances who had gotten sick from the virus had experienced anything from a day of not feeling well to severe cold symptoms at most. Bruce’s age also gave me confidence that this wasn’t going to be a huge deal for him. Even after he was admitted to the hospital because he needed oxygen, I wasn’t very concerned because I knew it wasn’t uncommon for people to sometimes need a day or two in the hospital to get their oxygen levels back up.

Bruce and Kathryn Nielson

But when the 5 liters he was getting didn’t help, I got scared.

I received the dreaded middle-of-the-night phone call informing me they were transferring him to a bigger hospital that had more care options. The COVID-19 cough wreaked havoc on his ability to breathe, and every time he had a coughing spell, he would gasp for air afterwards. It was getting worse, not better.

At the bigger hospital, he was given 50 liters of Optiflow™, a high-flow oxygen therapy. The max they could give was 60 liters. If he needed more than that, ventilating him was the last option. Sleep eluded me for the rest of that night and the next nine while Bruce literally fought for breath in a hospital across town. The hardest part was knowing he was alone and that I was unable to be with him.

The morning after his transfer, I asked his nurse for a very honest answer about his condition. I hate surprises, and to say I wasn’t completely sidelined by this entire turn of events would be a lie. I wanted to be prepared for anything as best I could, but her answer still came as a shock.

“Some people do very well after being ventilated,” she said. “They get better and go home. Others never get off the ventilator and never go back home.”

Why on earth did this happen? Two days prior to being admitted to the hospital, he had accepted a position on staff at a church as its new student life pastor. He was finally getting back to his passion: teaching the Bible to young people. Surely God wasn’t finished with him yet. Plus, we were still young. But COVID-19 is not always predictable. It affects everyone differently, and simply being young is no guarantee.

I felt out of control and scared, questioning what would happen. My son, deployed overseas with the Marines, was on standby to come home in case Bruce was ventilated. I had to have a conversation with my daughter about life insurance and what the immediate future would look like if something happened. It sounds drastic, especially since he wasn’t yet on a ventilator, but I wanted to have the details worked out in the event the unthinkable happened, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to make decisions then.

And then I rallied the troops.

I called every friend I had ever made while living in Peoria, Illinois, over the past 28 years and asked them to pray. It wasn’t long before Bruce went global. People we didn’t know, but with whom I shared a mutual friend, were praying. I heard from people from churches I hadn’t attended in over 20 years. Bruce was on prayer chains all over the world. In essence, the Body of Christ stormed the gates of heaven on our behalf and prayed for Bruce’s healing and my comfort, and we felt those prayers.

At one point, I was responding to a text from a cousin whom I hadn’t talked to in years, and I remember texting the words, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know God loves me, and I trust Him.” The words came out slowly because I remember thinking, “Do I trust Him? Is that a true statement?”

At the end of the day, it is God who decides your outcome from this or any other medical emergency you or your loved one may have.

The response was uncharacteristic for me, a known worrier, to say the least, but an overwhelming peace came over me. I’ve always wondered how I would respond in a situation like this. Would I blame God or be angry with Him? Would I walk away from my faith? I was still concerned and fervently praying for God to heal my husband, but, at the end of the day, I knew that He loved me and whatever happened was for our good.

Bruce eventually turned a corner, and, as soon as he did, he made rapid progress. Within 48 hours of being off the Optiflow, he was home with oxygen tanks and a pharmacy’s worth of medications. Home is a third-floor apartment that we chose because we liked the view and didn’t want any neighbors dancing on our heads. However,  those three flights of stairs have proved to be challenging in the months since Bruce came home. For the first two months, he would only leave the apartment if necessary because the thought of climbing back up those stairs proved daunting. Each time he would make it to the top floor, the violent gasping for breath required what we have come to jokingly call “chilling in the oxygen lounge.” He needed 15 to 20 minutes to get his breathing down to a manageable level.

At three months out, pneumonia still shows up on X-rays, as well as scarring on his lungs that may or may not go away. He tires easily, and he hasn’t been able to enjoy his favorite activity of biking around the neighborhoods and on the trails. But he finished his last job well and moved into the new one with relative ease, so I’m thankful. Very thankful.

Here’s what COVID-19 has taught me:

  1. Science may be uncertain on this one in some ways, but God is not. Even with studies and more studies on COVID-19, the vaccines, and all the other unknowns surrounding the pandemic, at the end of the day, it is God who decides your outcome from this or any other medical emergency you or your loved one may have.
  2. The importance of the Body of Christ cannot be overstated. When it functions as God intended, it is a picture of unity and mutual concern like nothing the world can offer. For me, it was the difference between falling apart and feeling supported. The phone calls, texts, meals, and simple presence of another person sitting with me while I waited by the phone meant more to me than I can say. My only hope of repaying those who supported me in a myriad of different ways is to pay it forward in the future.

The world seems to be getting darker and darker, and the topic of COVID-19 and everything surrounding it is littered with debate and division. If nothing else, I have been reminded to keep my eyes fixed on Christ, to keep my trust anchored in Him and not what anyone else says, and to continue with what He has called me to.

Kathryn Nielson is a Communications Specialist at Samaritan Ministries.

Also read: Seek opportunities for truth and grace with COVID-19.