Bill and Rita Rawlings

Bill and Rita Rawlings at home with their five grandchildren after recovering from Covid-19.

In their more than 45 years of marriage, Bill and Rita Rawlings have faced challenge and change. Neither could have predicted that a bout with COVID-19 would hospitalize them both simultaneously.

After testing positive, the couple quarantined at home hoping to ride out the symptoms. However, when Rita’s breathing deteriorated, Bill drove her to the emergency room. She was placed on high-flow oxygen and admitted to intensive care.

One day later, it was Bill’s turn. The couple’s daughter drove him to the same hospital and he was admitted for COVID pneumonia. Like Rita, he required high-flow oxygen, a regimen of antibiotics and drugs to control heart rate and blood pressure. The couple required continuous medical monitoring because even the slightest movement caused severe shortness of breath and oxygen level drops.

For 20 days, Rita and Bill battled back from the virus. Finally, the couple stabilized and their family chose Select Specialty Hospital – Cleveland Gateway for its experience helping COVID-19 survivors heal.

Despite their shared experience, Bill and Rita’s recoveries took different paths.

Bill arrived at Select Specialty Hospital first and was able to begin working on the recovery plan the physician-led team of nurses and therapists created for him.

He was able to tolerate sitting in bed when physical therapists began a mobility program and worked through his first breathing exercises with the respiratory team.

When Rita arrived, she and Bill were able to share a room, however she was weaker and needed more support than her husband.

Conversely, Rita’s first mobility session lasted eight minutes before breathing became too difficult. In-bed range-of-motion exercises also caused physical distress.

Rita’s care team regrouped and created a customized recovery plan.

“The team always encouraged me not to give and to strive to get better,” Rita said.

She fought through tough days. At times, it was difficult to watch Bill’s strength grow while she faced setback after setback.

Bill progressed rapidly, graduating from exercises sitting at the bed’s edge while controlling his breathing to walking several hundred feet without assistance. Occupational therapists taught him how to monitor oxygen levels and listen to his body, ensuring enough rest and breaks.

Bill’s need for supplemental oxygen continued to decrease until the respiratory team cleared him for independent breathing. In just two weeks, Bill was ready to go home.

There was one problem. He did not want to leave Rita behind. While he couldn’t stay, he spent 10 to 12 hours at her bedside each day.

His love and the commitment of the Select Specialty Hospital team propelled Rita’s recovery forward. In time, Rita stood and began to walk short distances with support and a wheelchair behind her in case she needed to rest.

“Usually, if things get too hard, I quit,” she said. “But this is one time I couldn’t because of my family and wanting to get back to them.”

Rita turned 70 during her stay, and the staff ensured she enjoyed it. They sang “Happy Birthday” and donned party hats.

It was a turning point, lifting her spirits enough to continue pushing toward her goals.

Six weeks after arriving, Rita had made good progress but needed more time to rebuild strength and stamina. She departed for Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation Hospital, Avon, where she received three hours of physical and occupational therapy each day.

There, the respiratory, physical and occupational therapy teams coordinated to teach Rita how to incorporate breathing techniques into all activity.  They also provided adaptive equipment to ensure tasks, such as putting on socks, didn’t deplete her energy.

Over time, Rita built enough stamina to walk typical household distances, transfer safely between different floor surfaces and use steps.

Her care team also taught Bill how to assist Rita with entering their home and keeping the line to her nasal oxygen safe.

To her family’s delight, Rita was well enough to go home just in time to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.

“We weathered the storm,” Rita said. “We actually experienced a miracle first-hand. It was the most thankful Thanksgiving and the merriest Christmas we have ever had.”

Bill and Rita remain grateful for the care and support – physically and emotionally – the Select Specialty and Cleveland Clinic Rehabilitation hospitals provided.

Three months post-discharge, Rita reported her oxygen support had been discontinued and she was working out at her daughter’s gym three days a week and spending lots of time with the grandkids.

In the evenings, she and Bill are back to watching television in their favorite chairs, happily side by side.