BEDFORD, Texas — Jim Adams is known for being tough. The 76-year-old former Marine served in Vietnam, is a retired FBI agent and did contract work including security and firearms instruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, working to bring the rule of law to the war-torn countries.
So, when Jim began feeling sick towards late March with a cough and low-grade fever, he initially brushed it off as the respiratory infection that always seemed to accompany his allergies. He went to an urgent care facility and received a steroid prescription, but two days later, still didn't feel any better, said his wife, Linda.
Jim called his family doctor, Paul Kim, M.D., with the Texas Health Physicians Group, who prescribed him antibiotics and medicine for his cough. But on April 2, he only seemed to be getting worse.
Jim and Linda Adams hold hands following his discharge from Texas Health HEB.
"He had rapid, shallow breathing and just was wiped out," Linda recalled. "We called Dr. Kim and he said, 'Go to the hospital emergency room.'"
True to character, Jim refused. Their daughter, Carrie Sinks, stopped by that evening and urged her father to go to the emergency room.
"I'll be fine," he said, according to Linda. But Carrie called the paramedics.
"They came suited all up, examined him and said, 'Mr. Adams, you have to go to the hospital. Your oxygen level is way too low;" Linda said.
Jim wouldn't get in the ambulance but did allow Linda to drive him to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Hurst-Euless-Bedford. Because of visitor restrictions, she couldn't accompany him inside.
"I said, 'Well honey, they'll probably just give you some oxygen so call, and I'll come get you later.'" she said.
But she wouldn't see him or hear his voice again that night or for weeks to come. Instead, she heard from an emergency medicine physician, Chris Bradburry, M.D., explaining that her husband had been given a chest X-ray in the emergency room.
"The doctor sent me a picture of his X-ray, and it looked awful," she said. "He said, 'Your husband is very, very sick.'"
Jim was intubated in the emergency room that same night and transferred to the intensive care unit. He'd later test positive for COVID-19.
"That began the ordeal of 18 nights on a ventilator, not knowing from one day to the next if I'd ever see him again," Linda said.
Jim's exposure to the virus is unknown. The couple had not traveled outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area, but an antibody test would later confirm that Linda, too, had contracted the virus though she remained asymptomatic.
Quarantined inside her Bedford home without her husband, she leaned on the emotional support of family and friends, including Rev. Lara Whitley Franklin, senior pastor of the couple's church, Martin United Methodist Church.
As a lifeline to her husband, she relied on news from her husband's pulmonologists, Dr. Harsh N. Patel and Dr. Anil Singh, and Texas Health nurses.
Clinical nurse leader Carrie Fossier, M.S.N., R.N., CNL, called Linda daily with updates. Linda especially cherished the calls from nurses checking in with her after their shift just to let her know that Jim was OK.
"That was wonderful because I just needed to hear someone's voice to let me know he was still alive," Linda said.
When Linda shared with Mandy Wertz, the hospital's chaplain, how awful it was not to be able to tell her husband that she loved him, Mandy came up with an idea.
"She said, 'You know what we're going to do? You call my phone and leave a message for your husband and I'm going to go play it for him,'" Linda said. "She did that a couple times and that just made me feel like I could still communicate with him."
Wertz had previously used the nurse call system to pray with patients during the pandemic but said it was the first time she'd thought to use it to relay a voice message.
"We've had to come up with new and creative ways to connect families and to support families during this time and that was one that just hit me spur of the moment," Wertz said. "I know that if I were in the hospital, I would feel comforted to hear the voices of the people I love, and if I had somebody in the hospital, I would want them to know how much I love them and how much I was praying for them."
The first time Wertz played Jim one of his wife's messages, she recalls how one of the sedated man's vital signs responded positively.
"He was calm and relaxed," Wertz said.
Doctors had attempted to take Jim off the ventilator once, but he wasn't ready.
Before they tried a second time, a doctor warned Linda that they might have to perform a tracheotomy if it didn't work.
"I said, 'No. Jim would not want that. He would be furious to know he was being kept alive even now with this ventilator. That's not the kind of life he wants,'" Linda said.
So, nerves were on edge April 19 when Singh removed the ventilator again. This time, Jim breathed on his own.
"One of the nurses told me Dr. Singh did a dance in the hall," Linda said. "I thought that was really cute. They just kept calling him their miracle patient."
Jim would spend a few more days on supplemental oxygen before being transferred out of the ICU on April 23 and onto the third floor. Nurses there would continue to keep Linda apprised of his condition.
Linda and Jim would also share one brief FaceTime call.
"He didn't have a voice. It was like a whisper," Linda said.
Though Jim could not say much in the call, Linda said just setting eyes on her husband filled her with relief.
On April 29, Linda, other family members, friends and the Adams' pastor waited excitedly at the hospital's entrance for Jim to be discharged.
As Brenda Whitley, Community Outreach manager, chatted with Linda about the almost 30 days the couple had been separated, it struck Whitley that Linda never got to look in the eyes of her husband's doctors or meet the nurses that had treated her husband.
"She's missed all of it. How scary that must have been," Whitley said.
Whitley asked Linda if she wanted to meet the caregivers involved in Jim's treatment, then brought them over one-by-one so they could answer questions or just merely fill in any gaps Linda might have regarding her weeks away from her husband.
"It was really kind of cool to see those interactions and hopefully that helped her," Whitley said.
Linda said it was nice to put faces to the voices she'd been talking to for weeks.
"I cannot tell you how pleased we were with the hospital experience," Linda said. "We'd never wish this on anyone, but I think we chose a good hospital."
Jim, 27 pounds lighter but looking relaxed with his hands folded behind his head, was finally wheeled out amid cheers from hospital staff.
"I thought, you know, I'm probably not supposed to touch him but I'm touching him," Linda said. "I held his hand and I could see how he had no strength in his hands at all. It really hit home that this has been a horrible virus."
Because he was still testing positive for COVID-19, Jim had to be discharged to a transitional care hospital. He has since tested negative for the virus and returned home Thursday.
He will have to continue home health care as he builds back up strength.
"We feel extremely fortunate," Linda said. "I cannot tell you how many people all over the country have prayed for him."
About Texas Health Resources
Texas Health Resources is a faith-based, nonprofit health system that cares for more patients in North Texas than any other provider. With a service area that consists of 16 counties and more than 7 million people, the system is committed to providing quality, coordinated care through its Texas Health Physicians Group and 29 hospital locations under the banners of Texas Health Presbyterian, Texas Health Arlington Memorial, Texas Health Harris Methodist and Texas Health Huguley. Texas Health access points and services, ranging from acute-care hospitals and trauma centers to outpatient facilities and home health and preventive services, provide the full continuum of care for all stages of life. The system has more than 4,100 licensed hospital beds, 6,400 physicians with active staff privileges and more than 26,000 employees. For more information about Texas Health, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit www.TexasHealth.org.