‘Just breathe,’ not so easy a command for Bob Hawk after COVID-19

Symptoms appeared mild at first, then Bob Hawk was hospitalized for pneumonia. Five weeks later, he's still using supplemental oxygen. His experience has shaken him to his core.

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December 4, 2020 - 3:39 PM

Bob and Ginny Hawk at their home in Iola. Ginny’s experience with COVID-19 was barely more than cold-like symptoms. Bob’s has left him with residual infammation of the lungs. Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register

Although Bob Hawk is free of COVID-19, five weeks later he struggles to take a deep breath.

His case of COVID led to double pneumonia, which has compromised his lungs. He now relies on supplemental oxygen.

“I certainly hope it’s a temporary new normal. I’ve never had lung issues before,” he said Wednesday afternoon. Now, frequent coughs interrupt his conversation, depleting precious energy.

Typically a spry 76-year-old, Hawk finds himself napping intermittently throughout the day. 

The fatigue is beginning to grate on his nerves. 

“I don’t like sitting around with this oxygen on. I’ve got things I need to do,” he grumbled.

The thought that he’s not the one calling the shots, doesn’t come easy. 

Bob Hawk points to a sign on his door, warning visitors of his oxygen use.Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register

BEFORE he contracted the virus, Hawk said he took it seriously, “but obviously, your attitude changes a little when it comes home to roost.

“At first I thought, well let’s just get the virus, to get it out of the way. Now, of course, I know different.”

Hawk admitted he wasn’t as vigilant about guarding against its spread as he could have been.

“Ginny was better about wearing a face mask,” he said of his wife. 

“We figured we were about 85% quarantined,” she said of their lifestyle.

When around their three daughters and their families everyone wore face masks. 

“We really weren’t going anywhere,” he said.

But somehow, somewhere, one or the other came in contact with the virus. 

Ginny displayed symptoms first. A slight cough, sore throat and headache, led her to believe she was coming down with a cold.

“But by morning, it was gone.”

The next day, Bob came down with the same symptoms, and likewise rebounded.

The only “irritation” was from their daughter, Angela, who insisted they get tested for the coronavirus.

“Grrrgh,” Bob said.

When their tests came back positive on Oct. 28, they were surprised. 

“We felt fine,” Bob said.

Ginny, in fact, said she had considered posting on social media that the coronavirus “is not all that bad,” to help allay people’s fears of the virus. “But now I don’t want to say anything so that people keep their guards up.” 

It’s the worst feeling knowing you could be guilty of spreading the virus and compromising someone’s health.

Ginny Hawk

RIGHT OFF the bat, the two called everyone they had been around during the previous week to notify them of their possible exposure to the virus.

“It’s the worst feeling knowing you could be guilty of spreading it and compromising someone’s health,” Ginny said. 

Ten days after their symptoms first occurred, the two continued to feel fine. 

“I was cruising,” Bob remembers. 

But a full two weeks after that first scratchy throat, “I began to go downhill,” Bob said. No amount of sleep could cure his fatigue. A persistent cough had developed.

In a few days’ time, a chest X-ray revealed he had bilateral pneumonia and he was put on a broad spectrum of antibiotics.

“All I wanted to do was sleep or stare off into space. I was pretty low,” he said. “I had absolutely no interest in anything.”

Ginny recalled, “Sometimes he wouldn’t eat his dinner. He’d just sit at the table and hold his head.”

By then, Bob was free of COVID-19, but was battling its repercussions.

On Nov. 12 he was admitted to the hospital where he was placed on oxygen and administered antibiotics and the antiviral drug remdesivir.

“By the next morning, I felt worlds better,” he said. “I thought I was on the road to recovery.”

Healthwise, Bob’s been through the wringer these last 12 months.

His phone, computer and TV all within easy reach, Bob Hawk often finds he’s more frequently nodding off in his easy chair. Photo by Susan Lynn / Iola Register

In the fall of 2019, he had both knees replaced. In January, he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. This fall, he had cataracts removed. And now COVID-19 and bilateral pneumonia.

“All I’m waiting for are the locusts to come,” he joked.

Because his rheumatoid arthritis is treated with drugs that suppress the body’s immune system, Hawk thinks that could have made him more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus and pneumonia. 

Even so, he was strong as a horse and active as a filly.

Hawk remained in the hospital for three nights. 

“Those were dark days,” he said. “That first night, especially, I was feeling so low. It was really scary. It made me realize we’re not guaranteed a tomorrow.”

Those were dark days. That first night, especially, I was feeling so low. It was really scary. It made me realize we’re not guaranteed a tomorrow.

Bob Hawk

Without family being allowed to be with him in the hospital during the pandemic, Hawk said the time passed slowly. His thoughts made a mental checklist. 

“I thought back over these last 17 years of retirement and how many wonderful experiences we’ve had traveling to South America, the Domican Republic, Kenya, India, Alaska, or wherever. I’ve always had the philosophy that I want to do as many things while I can, so when I can’t, I won’t have any regrets.

“I’ve always accepted that I’m never going to be wealthy, but I’ve always considered myself rich,” he said, thinking of his family and wide circle of friends. 

HAWK’S now on track to meet with a pulmonologist next week to see about his lungs. 

“Without the oxygen, everything slows down,” he said of his current dependency.

Thanks to technology, that consultation will occur via a telemed hookup. 

He said his experience with COVID-19 has shaken him to his core.

In consenting to do this interview, he said he hopes his story impresses on readers that COVID-19 “is the real deal. It’s not to be scoffed at,” he said. “If you feel symptoms, please be aggressive about taking care of it.” 

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