After months of ill health from COVID-19, John Alward urges others to consider vaccination
John Alward would have received his COVID-19 vaccination in early 2021 if it was readily available and he was eligible.
Unfortunately, he never got the chance.
When the now 46-year-old Cornville man became ill on Jan. 22, it was the start of a long, scary experience with COVID-19 that has continued to present day, nearly three months after he was discharged from the Alfond Center for Health (ACH) in Augusta after a hospitalization that began on Jan. 31.
“I would have gotten vaccinated,” he said. “We’re vaccinated for a lot of things and those vaccinations have saved a lot of lives. This disease is nothing to fool around with. It’s nothing you want to experience.”
Doing all the right things
Despite not being able to be vaccinated before his illness, Alward said he and wife Vicki, tried to do everything they could to keep themselves safe.
John, a broadband systems engineer for a telecommunications company, was working from home, keeping his public and social interactions to a minimum and following the virus safety protocols.
On Jan. 20, he briefly visited with a customer and then stopped at a local convenience store for a sandwich. Two days later, he started having flu-like symptoms and then tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 25.
“I thought it was the worst flu I’d ever had and ended up going to Redington-Fairview General Hospital (RFGH) in Skowhegan where I was treated with fluids before going back home,” he said.
Alward’s condition worsened and he returned to RFGH on Jan. 31. He was admitted, given oxygen and then transferred to the ACH the following day. He would stay there for the next five weeks.
A week into his stay, Alward was feeling a little better, but then setbacks came with a collapsed lung and the insertion of a chest tube, followed by the discovery of pulmonary emboli in his lungs. He was given blood thinners to treat the embolisms and eventually started improving in late February to where he could get out of bed and sit in a chair for short periods.
“Just sitting on the bed, with my feet on the floor, and trying to get to the chair was my workout for the day,” he said. “I had a lot of good people who helped me out tremendously.”
One very difficult aspect of his hospitalization, Alward said, was not being able to see his wife or children – a 20-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son – for the first three weeks after he was admitted due to COVID-19 visitation restrictions.
“It wasn’t until Feb. 20 – my birthday – that my wife could come in,” he said. “The scary part when I was admitted was not knowing if I’d ever see my family again – my wife, my kids, my parents, my in-laws, my sisters…the whole family.”
Months of follow-up care
Alward’s eventual hospital discharge and return home on March 8, while greatly welcomed by him and his family, did not signal the end of his COVID-19 journey.
He needed home health nursing from MaineGeneral HomeCare, in-home physical and occupational therapy from MaineGeneral therapists and follow-up appointments with his nurse practitioner at Somerset Primary Care, who made house calls.
After that, he began outpatient PT and OT rehabilitation and, later, pulmonary rehabilitation. He also has been trying to regain the 45 pounds he lost during his illness.
Describing his physical health on May 17, he said, “I can go all day now without needing oxygen. I stop it when I get up in the morning and don’t put it back on until I go to bed.”
“I’m still limited physically from being bedridden for so long, but I’m now able to walk without a walker,” he added. “The week of May 17 was the first time I was able to – slowly – climb the stairs to the upstairs of my house. It’s been quite a journey, but I feel quite fortunate and humbled.”
Life after COVID-19
Alward said his sudden, serious health issue had a significant impact not only on him, but also his wife and children.
“There have been continuous hurdles I had to get over and all I wanted was the smooth race. What I wasn’t prepared for was when I went home – how much of a physical and mental challenge it would be,” he said. “You think, ‘I’m finally home, I’m good,’ but I never dreamed the overall toll this would have on my body. Until you experience it, you just don’t realize how physically draining it can be.”
Alward said he hasn’t been able to work since late January and didn’t expect he’d be able to until sometime in June or possibly later.
“My company’s been great but I’m still probably weeks away from being able to return to that,” he said on May 17. “My normal life hasn’t returned yet but I’m probably at 60 percent now.”
Throughout his whole hospital experience, Alward said he and his family received excellent, compassionate care and support from the many clinical and non-clinical staff with whom they interacted.
“The nursing staff coordinated a birthday party for me with a cake and cards, which meant so much to me,” he said. “The staff was very great to me and also very supportive of my wife. They have a very special place in my heart and I’m forever indebted.”
Prepared for the future
Alward and his wife received their COVID-19 vaccinations in May.
“We discussed it a lot and, with the number of variants out there, we chose to get vaccinated. I don’t yet know the full impact of what COVID-19 has done to me and I don’t want to run the risk of getting it again,” he said.
“Getting vaccinated is a personal decision and you have to do your research and make an informed decision,” he added. “The odds may be fairly low that you’ll end up in the hospital for 40 days like I did, but if you do, it’s going to change your life and the lives of everyone around you. And even if you have a mild case of COVID, you can still suffer from some of the side effects.”
To learn more about COVID-19 vaccination options, visit www.mainegeneral.org/covid.