Stuart Hall never particularly worried about his health before the pandemic. At 52 years old, he and his wife, Kellee, exercise regularly, and they rarely have to visit a doctor aside from routine physicals.
With the novel coronavirus pandemic starting to take hold in the state, however, when Hall started to cough during a 5-mile walk near his Buford home in March, he did not take it lightly. After a few days, he started to experience flu-like symptoms, and a persistent fever led to one symptom after another after another.
Hall eventually endured a nearly month-long battle with COVID-19 at Northside Hospital Forsyth, fighting through life-threatening symptoms while his wife and kids were at home in quarantine.
Hall remembers first arriving to the Northside Emergency Room and seeing that a tent had been set up outside of the hospital and medical staff were wearing protective gear such as masks, gloves and face shields. His wife had to drop him off and wait for him in the parking lot.
As it was still early on in the pandemic, though, and those in the Emergency Room were unable to test him. Hall said that they told him that, based off of his symptoms and a chest x-ray, he likely did have the disease caused by the virus.
“’Because you don’t have enough symptoms and because we don’t have enough tests, we’re going to send you home to self-quarantine,’” Hall remembers medical personnel saying during his first visit. “Which I did. We came home and I stayed in my bedroom.”
Quarantined and worsening
Spending his days in bed, Hall tried to get better on his own. He took medicine to try to get his fever down, rested his body and kept everything around him clean. Despite any care that he took, Hall found his symptoms getting progressively worse. His fever kept spiking to around 104 degrees, and he still felt terrible.
After more than a week, Hall decided to call his general practitioner who then referred him to an infectious disease doctor. The doctor prescribed him hydroxychloroquine, which has been used to treat malaria, to try to help with his symptoms.
After he started to use the drug, Hall started to experience intense side effects. His heart started racing. The beating in his chest made him restless. Hall said that he did not sleep for 72 hours. All night, he would move from a chair to his bed just trying to feel comfortable enough to rest.
The Food and Drug Administration revoked the emergency use authorization to use hydroxychloroquine to treat certain COVID-19 patients in June as the administration found it “showed no benefit for decreasing the likelihood of death or speeding recovery.”
“There are varying opinions about hydroxychloroquine, but in my case specifically, it was a detriment,” Hall said. “It did not help. Once I started taking that medicine, it was like I jumped off a cliff, and I went downhill fast.”
As Hall’s symptoms started to get worse, he tried to stay positive. He said that he has never been sick like he was before, so he figured it was the medicine mostly making him feel so terrible. He decided to wait it out until the medicine subsided. Hall said that he did not really want to end up at the hospital.
“You read so many stories of people that are going to the hospital, going to the ER,” Hall said. “They get intubated and never see their families again and wind up dying in the hospital. And because we were taking this drug, I thought well maybe it’s just the drug needs to get out of my system.”
While he does not remember much of what happened during those few days when he was struggling with his symptoms at home, his family told him that the night of April 6, he was especially not doing well. Their oldest son, Grant, ended up staying most of the day in his bedroom with him to show Hall some comfort and support.
‘I just couldn’t breathe’
At 1 a.m. the next morning, Grant and Kellee forced Hall out to the car and rushed him to Northside.
“It was this precarious that my wife almost stopped at a fire station because she was so worried about me,” Hall said. “I told her — I just couldn’t breathe. But I told her to keep going.”
When they made it into the ER, medical workers allowed Kellee to come into the hospital with Hall and wait there for him. Grant had to wait in the parking lot where the couple’s two daughters met with him later on that morning.
After about an hour of waiting, a cardiologist told Kellee that Hall was having a heart attack and asked for her permission to take him into surgery. They gave him a stint and put in a heart pump as Hall was going through congestive heart failure. Doctors told him later on that they were convinced that his heart attack was caused by COVID-19.
At this point, doctors also told Hall’s wife and kids that there was little chance that Hall would survive. The cardiologist allowed Kellee to call their kids on speaker phone so that they could have a chance to hear from the doctor to find out what was going on. After medical staff stabilized Hall, Kellee and their kids were forced to go home and quarantine.
“I think this is lost on the general public that has not had a personal experience with COVID-19,” Hall said. “Your family members are not allowed in the hospital, so my family had to come home. Because I had it, it was a high probability they all had it. So they had to quarantine. They couldn’t go to the grocery store. But more so, they’re sitting beside the phone either calling or receiving phone calls every hour from doctors and nurses.”
As Hall fought against COVID-19 in his hospital bed, family, friends and coworkers all came to sit in the parking lot in their cars to show support. A nurse even put a blue heart in Hall’s window facing out into the parking lot so that friends below could send their prayers up to his room.
Hall stayed at Northside in a medically-induced coma for more than 20 days while doctors and nurses struggled to find a way to treat him. Family and doctors later told him that he had good days when it seemed like he might be getting better, but then he would have bad days when he was fighting an onslaught of symptoms.
One day late in April, he said he threw up inside of his ventilator, and his body went septic.
“I had a bacterial infection that was more dangerous than the virus to the degree that a lot of doctors and nurses didn’t want to come into the room because of how contagious and dangerous it was,” Hall said. “But they did anyway. Because those men and women are risking their lives to save other people’s lives.”
Chance for survival
Hall said that after struggling to find a way to treat him, Dr. Dwarakinath Harish ended up asking Kellee if they could try performing a plasma exchange on Hall, which is a process where plasma — the liquid part of the blood — is replaced with plasma from a donor. Kellee agreed to the procedure.
Medical staff planned to perform three plasma exchanges. They stopped after two when they saw that Hall was immediately recovering. Kellee told Hall that his eyes were looking brighter, he had started to use his hands again and he seemed to be doing better overall.
“By the third day, they’re taking me off some of the medicine I’m on, I’m asking for the remote control — which is the most male thing a person could do in a medical-induced coma, I’m asking for the remote control,” Hall said, laughing.
Just a few days later, Hall was on his way back home to his family.
In the weeks since coming back home, Hall said that he is still recovering. He is putting in hours of physical therapy and gaining back weight that he lost while in the hospital, and he said, fortunately, that he is making a faster recovery than expected.
His wife and kids have been trying to recover from the experience in their own way.
“I don’t think people understand the trauma,” Hall said. “They don’t understand how bad it was. It’s bad enough when someone you love gets sick and almost dies, and then when you add pandemic and quarantine and three very strong, young adult children crammed in a house with an incredibly strong, but very emotional mom and wife, that’s hard.”
On the road to recoveryMedical staff cheer on Stuart Hall as he is starting to get ready to leave the hospital after his recovery from life-threatening symptoms caused by COVID-19.
Comments and conspiracy theories
As Hall has been getting back to his life, friends and family, he said that some have said that he was lucky that he had COVID-19 or otherwise medical staff may not have known about his heart attack. Hall and his doctors at Northside believe, however, that COVID-19 was the direct cause of his heart attack. Hall said that Dr. Harish believes that the disease attacks the blood, causing blood clots and cardiovascular issues.
He has also started seeing comments made online debating the use of masks in public and even spreading conspiracy theories about the virus from those that believe it’s not as serious as health officials claim it is or even that the disease does not exist.
“The thing that I hope people would think about is it is insanely, incredibly disrespectful to the medical community and health care officials who are risking their lives to save total strangers,” Hall said. “That’s who it’s disrespectful toward. I find it interesting that in a country that loves to celebrate the greatness of our country, and we have several holidays where we remember men and women who have lost their lives to make our country free, that we cannot transfer that same idea to health care officials who are risking their lives to save people’s lives.”
Hall suggested that, for those who do not believe in the severity of the coronavirus, they should shadow or have a conversation with one of the many doctors or nurses who treated him and who are treating many others with COVID-19.
“I do understand that every case is respective to the person,” Hall said. “I understand that. I’m respectful of that, but what we know to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt is that COVID-19 is real. It is not a conspiracy theory. It may be being politicized by certain parties, but it is not a political agenda. It is killing people.”
As of the time of publication, more than 140,000 Americans have died as a result of the coronavirus — with more than 3,000 of those deaths being in Georgia, according to the Center for Disease Control.
“That is heartbreaking,” Hall said. “Because my outcome is not everyone’s outcome.”