By mid-May, the Washtenaw County Health Department had recorded 1,235 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 235 more “probable” ones. Ninety people had died, some were still receiving care, and 1,048 had recovered.
We asked some of the survivors to share their stories.
Lucy Ann Lance is the longtime host of the “Lucy Ann Lance Show” on WLBY radio. She and her life partner, Doyle M. Barnes, contracted Covid-19 at the beginning of April. Both were hospitalized at Michigan Medicine, where Barnes succumbed to the disease on April 11.
Barnes had survived several strokes and suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Because of his health issues, Lance had been broadcasting from home long before Governor Whitmer’s stay-at-home order. She avoided stores and believed she was being extremely careful, but she did make one trip to Walgreens. “My symptoms started a couple days later.”
Her first symptom was smelling an awful odor. “I thought an animal had died in the house!” she says. She developed a slight headache and some flu-like symptoms but no fever. Her request for a Covid-19 test was denied because she had a normal temperature.
“I wonder, if we had gotten that test earlier on, would things have turned out differently?” she asks. Her symptoms got worse, and Barnes started to exhibit symptoms. Suddenly things got much worse and they both went to the hospital in an ambulance.
“On Tuesday, two days after we got to the hospital, they told me I qualified for [a clinical trial of] the new drug remdesivir. I got an infusion for an hour a day every day for the duration of my stay”–eight days. “That’s what turned the tide for me. I begged them to give it to my Doyle, but they said he didn’t qualify because of his underlying conditions.”
Lance says the hospital staff were extremely kind to them. A nurse told her that when she pushed their beds together, Barnes’s oxygen levels improved. “My heart lit up,” says Lance. “He knew I was there, and I was going to be sure everything was okay for him.
“So many families weren’t able to be with their family members as they passed out of this world. If I had to be sick to be able to be with Doyle at the end, I’m glad I got sick.”
She returned home alone but surrounded by love. “My neighbors are incredible. They bring food to my house every day. They walk my dog. The love and support on social media! People I don’t even know were sending me cards.”
She has had some dark times. “There were moments when I thought I couldn’t go on air again. I thought I would have to find something else to do. But getting back on the air was the best thing for me. We are who we are, and we do what we are supposed to do.” When asked if she has a message to share, she replies, “Every day there is joy. Just wait until tomorrow–you never know what it’s going to bring.”
Andree Naylor, eighty-eight, arrived in Ann Arbor from the Netherlands in 1958 as a student at U-M. She married an American and they had four children. Two are still in Ann Arbor, and two live in California.
Naylor keeps in close touch with her family and believes she contracted Covid-19 from her son Phillip, who developed symptoms soon after a visit. Before long, most of her Ann Arbor family had the virus.
Naylor first noticed symptoms on March 27. “I was extremely sleepy. I could sleep all day long.” She felt hot but didn’t believe she had because her fever was only 101. Her daughter gave her an Oximeter to keep track of her oxygen levels, which were low. She tested positive on April 2. Her oxygen continued to drop, and on April 7 she checked into St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor.
“I have nothing but great things to say about the ninth floor; it’s a beautiful place to be sick,” she says. Naylor was impressed by the level of care and extensive precautions staffers took to contain the infection, including changing PPE each time they came into her room. No visitors were allowed, but one of her daughters in California kept in touch with her health care providers by phone.
Naylor was too tired to speak to anyone at first. “I got oxygen, which was my main savior. I didn’t notice that I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t cough much–just a short, dry cough. But I wasn’t absorbing oxygen. I thought I was all there, but my daughter told me that I was in and out of consciousness.” Because she was asleep most of the time, Naylor didn’t realize how sick she was. “I only had one second when I thought, ‘Oh no, if I die I will leave a big mess,'” because she had not gotten her affairs in order.
Naylor was released after four days. Her son brought her home, where she lives alone, and he and, later, her daughter stayed with her until April 22. “My neighbors were fabulous. They put hearts on my door and the windows.”
Naylor attributes her relatively quick recovery to her strong physique. “I am very healthy. I swim, I ride a bike, I walk. One of the doctors also said I recovered so well because of the strength I had going in. I’m a good, hardy breed.”
Shawn Gullett-Naylor, fifty-six, is married to Andree Naylor’s son Dirk. She is a hairdresser who has lived in the Ann Arbor area her whole life. On March 20, her son Troy, twenty-four, was the first in the family to exhibit symptoms of Covid-19. He did not get tested but quarantined himself in his room and recovered in about a week.
“Pretty soon, we just started dropping like flies,” says Gullett-Naylor. Eventually, she got the virus, along with Dirk, fifty-six; her brother Phillip Gullett, sixty-eight; her mother-in-law Andree Naylor, eighty-eight; her sister-in-law Mary Gullet, seventy-one; and her ninety-year-old father, Ray Gullett.
Ray Gullett was hospitalized on March 29. He spent twenty-one days in University Hospital but never needed a respirator. He has since returned to his home, where he lives alone. According to his daughter, his motto is “You can do anything you put your mind to.”
Gullett-Naylor’s own symptoms were not the ones typically associated with Covid-19. “I cleared my throat constantly but never had a cough. I never had a fever. The fatigue is the thing that is the most noticeable about this. Dirk didn’t have a fever or cough, but he got the toe thing, and so did I and my brother. My middle toe turned brown.”
Gullett-Naylor suffers from colitis and went to the ER with stomach cramps on April 5. The care she received during her three-day stay at St Joseph Mercy Chelsea was “amazing,” she says, although the experience was strange because of the masks: “You can only see the eyes of the people who care for you.”
Gullet-Naylor was tired at first after returning home, but has since rebounded completely. She is grateful for the love and support she received from friends and neighbors and is relieved to have the whole thing behind her.
Asked what she has learned from the experience, she says, “We have to be more compassionate with each other. We need a bigger sense of community. When I started going to Meijer or Target, even though there is a big sign on the wall saying ‘You must wear a mask,’ there are so many people strolling around like nothing is going on. That to me is troubling.”
John Hinchey and Pat Forsberg-Smith. Hinchey is officially retired as the Observer’s calendar editor but jokes that he still “haunts” his successors. Forsberg-Smith is twice retired, as an AAPS music teacher and massage therapist. Both are in their seventies and lived in fear of getting Covid-19. But because they contracted it so early–Forsberg-Smith in late January, Hinchey in mid-February–they were never tested and didn’t suspect that they had the virus till after they’d recovered.
“Had I known that I had it at the time I would have been terrified, but instead it just seemed like a weird and unusually bad flu,” Hinchey says. It was only later that they realized that all of their symptoms were typical of Covid-19.
“I had the red, blistery toes on one foot,” Forsberg-Smith recalls. “I got a chest cold. I lost my sense of taste for a while. I remember eating asparagus and not being able to taste it and blaming the farming practices. I didn’t have a cough. I didn’t feel that I had a fever. I never felt like I was so sick that I had to stay in bed.”
Hinchey felt terrible for a week and coughed incessantly. Finally, he just went to bed for a couple of days and emerged feeling relatively well. He jokes that they shared the symptoms equally between them, so neither one got terribly sick.
The couple believe they got the virus from Hinchey’s daughter, who works at ISR with international researchers, one of whom had recently returned from a trip to Asia with a terrible flu. Hinchey is amazed they got off so easily.
“I don’t win lotteries or contests; I am not that lucky,” he says. Escaping with a relatively mild case of Covid-19, he says, “I feel that I have used up most of my good luck for the next decade!”
Wayne Wade spent his forty-ninth birthday in the hospital, and is extremely happy to be alive. He says he is “healthy as a horse,” and had been in his new position with the human resources department at Metropolitan Detroit Area Hospital Services for six days when he started to feel ill on March 24. He did not want to take time off but had no choice. His incessant coughing worried his fiancee, LaTrivia Peterson. A nurse at the VA Medical Center, insisted he go to St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor on the 26th. The next day, he was on a ventilator fighting for his life. He was on it for a week and spent three weeks in the hospital.
Peterson had the foresight to pack his phone and charger, which became his lifeline. “They were getting ready to put me on the vent, and I was shaking. They asked me to call my family before, and I was so scared. I looked at Mary, my nurse, and asked if she would be willing to hold my hand. Of course, being the guy that I am, I cracked a joke–‘dead man rolling!’–on my way to being intubated. I figured I would go out in style.”
While on the ventilator, Wade experienced powerful hallucinations. “I was telling stories, I was all over the place. I felt like I was awake the whole time but kept warping to different dreams.” According to a respiratory therapist who came to visit him later, this is a common experience.
“St. Joe Hospital has an amazing staff,” Wade says. “They were phenomenal. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it.”
Wade is working from home but is still not 100 percent. “It takes about three weeks to get the fog off of your brain. When you are in bed that long, you lose the strength in your legs, and trying to walk is a whole new experience.”
Reflecting on his brush with death, Wade says he wants to spend more time with his family. “When you come that close, it does stay with you,” he says. He is also concerned by the number of people who continue to doubt that Covid-19 is dangerous.”
He wants to “spread the word and tell people this is real. I have some family members that are posting that this is a hoax even after I had it. We need to get people to take this seriously. It was just awful.”
This article has been edited since it was published in the June 2020 Ann Arbor Observer. John Hinchey’s daughter’s employer has been corrected.