Our Hospital, Our Stories"COVID and I" - Jerrold's Story

Posted on: Jan 06, 2021

65-year-old Vegreville town councillor Jerrold Lemko shared the story of his experience with COVID over the holiday season on social media, and continues to share his appreciation for those who saved his life.

Just days before the New Year, one Alberta resident’s Facebook post started making the rounds.

At the time of this article’s publication, the Facebook post has been shared nearly 3,000 times, with over 500 comments, and 1,200+ Likes and reactions. 

Entitled “COVID and I,” the story is a simple one. Posted by Vegreville town councillor Jerrold Lemko, it describes the tale of his battle with COVID in brutal detail.

You can read Jerrold’s Facebook post here. It garnered so much attention that CBC decided to interview him. 

Click here to read the CBC article.

In short, Jerrold recounts how he fell ill on December 4th, and how it was “a slow slide from there until Dec 17 when it went bad real fast.”

At that point, he was transported via ambulance from the Vegreville hospital to the Royal Alex emergency department for a five-day stay in the ICU. At age 65, Jerrold is considered at high risk.

He describes the step by step of what happened.

One of the earliest events was an ICU doctor breaking down the grim reality of Jerrold’s chances, with “no sugar coating.”

A “garden hose” with oxygen being pumped at the highest level possible. Five IV lines and a thick, pressurized arterial line that one Facebook friend described as “quite a plumbing fitting.”

Heart monitors, a never-ending headache, and constant intercom bleats for “code blues”—other people requiring intubation. 

Patients in the next bed over, whose faces you can’t see, being taken into and out of the room. Constant change.

Ice-packs under your arms to cool you down, and heated blankets to warm you back up.

Daily chest x-rays.

Extreme fatigue.

Alarms “ringing all around you.”

A stark description of what his death would be like, if his condition did not improve.

An emotional journey.

“What a beast this COVID is.” - Jerrold Lemko

After all of this, and much more, Jerrold thankfully regained enough strength to be transferred to the recovery ward, where he would remain for six days. He was moved to a room he shared with “three other fellows fighting their own COVID fight.” Jerrold told CBC that, in this room, these fellows celebrated “little victories” of being able to get up and go to the bathroom, or give each other the thumbs up. 

Jerrold has several groups to thank for his recovery.

Firstly, the hospital staff. 

“I want to say that this team of medical professionals are the best people in the world. Under such trying circumstances, staff shortages, long hours, the battles with all the emotions and all in between they are what make the difference,” he said. “These people saved my life.” 

His saviour, whom he said he was blessed to have with him all the way. In his words, “My God carried me through this time.”

Jerrold’s family doctor, Dr. Kapal Gupta. Dr. Gupta had Jerrold keep him informed of his health, continually followed up with Jerrold on his declining condition, facilitated his testing and made the call for him to seek hospitalization.

And of course, his wife, Anita. Just like Jerrold, Anita came down with a sore throat, cough, congestion and headache and self-isolated. She ended up testing positive for COVID around the same time Jerrold first got sick, but fortunately, her symptoms did not worsen.

She supported Jerrold through his ordeal and was relieved when he was admitted to the hospital—after he became too weak even to lift his head—where he could receive the care he needed. 

Jerrold recalls the nurses clapping as he was discharged on December 27th, with one nurse saying his recovery was indeed a much-needed miracle, “both for you and us.”

When asked why he felt compelled to share his story, Jerrold said, “When I was in the Royal Alex, I had a very positive relationship with each medical professional I came in contact with. Being that the nurses were around me 24/7, and always there, we shared time. I have the utmost respect for them and all they do under such difficult situations. I always told them that once I leave the hospital, I will be their biggest advocate and do whatever I could to get the message out there. When I got home, I proceeded to start that journey.

As one nurse later expressed to Jerrold, “Thank you for being brave enough to share your story, it's one many people need to hear, and not all for the same reason.

Jerrold also has a message to share with his fellow Albertans, regarding the severity of the virus and the necessity of health precautions:

“Don't for a moment think this COVID isn't real cause it is. Trust me. Do your part. The COVID fight isn’t over, we have a long way to go.”

Jerrold feels good and blessed to be back at home. Doctors advised his recovery will be a long road, potentially taking up to three months. But each day he is making small but important steps. He is looking forward to getting back to more cycling, gardening and camping—and, most of all, seeing his grandchildren. Patience and time will help him heal.

Thank you to Jerrold for sharing his story, and thank you to all the amazing frontline workers fighting for us every single day! And thank you as well to all the community members for the outpouring of positive comments, prayers and well-wishes for Jerrold and the Royal Alex staff.

Donations keep our frontline workers on their feet so they can help save more people like Jerrold. Please consider a gift to the Royal Alex.