The last thing Barry Kittay remembers before it all goes black for about 10 days is pulling out his health insurance card at UCHealth Highlands Ranch.
“Frankly, I’m not unhappy that I don’t remember it,” he later said.
Kittay, a Highlands Ranch resident now recovering from his battle with COVID-19, spent 11 days on a ventilator and 20 days altogether in the hospital while his body worked to overcome the virus.
He lost 55 pounds, as well as his ability to walk on his own and any desire to leave his house, he said.
“It kind of messes with your head. I lost all that time and I was really sick and close to death the whole time,” he said.
Though Barry, 60, may not remember much about what happened in the hospital, his wife, Doe, and one of his primary nurses, Kathi Waite, certainly do.
In mid-March, Barry went to see his doctor after he developed body aches and a cough. Without a fever, shortness of breath or other intense symptoms, he wasn’t able to get tested for COVID-19 and was treated for a possible cold, Doe said.
By March 21, Doe took him to the hospital, where he was admitted with presumed pneumonia and given a test for COVID-19. It came back positive.
“That was the last time I saw him before he came home,” she said. “They basically told me I had to leave, which was hard.”
That’s when Waite and her team of ICU nurses took over.
“Barry was very, very sick,” she said.
After a few days in the hospital, Barry’s oxygen levels continued to be insufficient, and at 1:30 a.m. on March 23, Doe got a call from the hospital.
“They let me know they were going to intubate him because he wasn’t getting enough oxygen,” she said. “That was the last time I talked to him ... the nurses became my lifeline to him.”
Over the next 11 days, Doe’s full-time job became her husband’s health. She fielded calls from nurses like Waite, updated friends and loved ones and even created a webpage with news about his condition.
“It gave me a really strong purpose, a more important purpose than anything,” she said.
There were moments when the situation was so difficult, her extreme optimism wavered.
“There were days I had to deal with the fact I may not be with him anymore,” she said. “I didn’t know how to sit with the fact that he could die.”
Barry was even closer to this possibility than Doe realized at the time. One night, his condition was so poor, doctors didn’t think he would survive to the morning, they later told Doe.
“For the most part we stayed very optimistic. We were very concerned for a little while after he got on the ventilator,” Waite said. “That’s pretty serious when you make that decision.”
At one point, his lung capacity was so poor, Waite’s team decided to try a technique called “proning,” where a patient is turned onto his or her stomach to improve oxygen intake, she said.
Barry doesn’t remember anything from this time other than strange, drug-induced dreams, he said.
“I kept wondering why I couldn’t get out of this nightmare,” he said. “I was so hot and so thirsty.”
Then, Barry started to do a little better, Waite said.
“I was with him when he first started to follow commands like ‘wiggle your toes’ or ‘nod your head,’” she said. “We were all very excited when he started following commands.”
Eventually, Doe got the news she had been hoping for: Barry was coming off the ventilator.
“When he left the ICU, everybody was cheering for him,” Waite said. “It was a great feeling. We had all taken part in his care.”
The process of coming out of such heavy sedation was not an easy one for Barry. He was confused and hallucinating and eventually, he had to be restrained after he continually yanked at his IV, tried to get out of bed and lashed out at nurses, Doe said.
“He obviously didn’t know what the heck was going on,” Doe said. “He thought he was on a military base at one point because in his early 20s he was in the military.”
Within a few days, he became lucid and was able to return home to continue recovering. Each day, he gets a little stronger. Benchmarks so far include going out for a walk, showering without any help and finding the strength to drive. Barry’s physical health isn’t the only thing that was affected by his hospital stay, however.
“It scared the hell out of me,” he said. “Loud noises bother me and I’m nervous. I’m nervous it’s going to come back and I’m going to have to do this again.”
After three years in the military and 20 years of working in law enforcement, Barry is no stranger to coming close to death, he said. But this experience felt especially close. Now, he’s not interested in doing some of the things he used to love, like going to Broncos games or a Motley Crue concert at the end of summer, because of the crowds.
“I can’t control what the person next to me does,” he said. “Right now, I have no desire to leave this house.”
These days, Barry lives with an oxygen meter on his finger, constantly checking it to make sure he’s not slipping back into the illness.
Before his stay at the hospital, Barry was frustrated by the restrictive measures put in place by the state to prevent the spread of the virus, he said. But not anymore.
“Early on, I complained about government overreach,” he said. “Now that I’ve had it, I’ve shut up.”
He and Doe both hope that sharing his story can stop people in their community from being reckless during the pandemic.
“The public has no idea what this is, how vicious it is,” Barry said. “They have no idea what they will lose if they get it.”
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