COVID-19 survivor: ‘It’s ugly, it’s real’

Carol Nord had a few precious minutes to see her family, including her daughter and grandchild above, in the parking lot of Norton Women’s and Children’s Hospital before she was transferred to Frazier Rehab July 17. She was admitted to the hospital on June 15 and was on a ventilator for more than two weeks. (Photo Special to The Record)

Carol Nord is used to being in charge. She’s the matriarch of her tight-knit family and she’s led Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Louisville for more than 30 years, including Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, St. Nicholas Academy and Nativity Academy at St. Boniface.

On June 15, when she was admitted to Norton Women’s and Children’s Hospital with COVID-19, she was at the mercy of medical professionals and God’s grace.

“The last I remember is the doctor calling for a ventilator. I got real anxious and said, ‘No! I don’t want that.’

“It was between three and four weeks later I woke up. I lost almost a month.”

She was discharged into a rehabilitation facility July 17 and expects to go home tomorrow, July 31, where she’ll be able to hug her family for the first time in more than a month.

During her recovery, she’s been trying to piece together the missing weeks and make sense of her ordeal.

It began with what felt like a stomach bug followed by a severe headache, so severe she went to the emergency room where she was tested for COVID-19. She went home to await results and within a few days she coughed up blood. She went back to the hospital in an ambulance, she said.

She spent more than two weeks on a ventilator and even longer sedated.

When she woke up, Nord said, “The doctor was pretty blunt.”

“He goes, ‘You’re not supposed to be here. There is no medical explanation why you are still alive — double pneumonia, worst COVID I’ve seen.’ ”

Recovery

Nord credits her recovery to her medical team and the power of prayer:

“Xaverians and Ursulines and Sisters of Charity and St. Meinrad monks — I’ve got everyone working on this. I’ve worked with so many groups. The power of prayer is super powerful in people’s lives.”

She also has an active CaringBridge site, a website where her family shares updates and friends can add comments. It has hundreds of comments from people who say they are praying for her.

“God is good. There is a plan,” she said. “You may not like his plan. But there is a plan.”

These are strong words from Nord, who has faced down serious illness twice before. She survived a brain tumor in 2001 and breast cancer six years ago.

At Frazier Rehab, Nord is regaining strength in her legs and upper body.

When she arrived on July 17, “They’d sit me up, I’d fall over. I didn’t know I could be that weak. Today I walked three times around — 300 feet,” she said at the end of her first week of rehab.  “I’ve started to try stairs. My breathing is the hardest part.”

‘It’s ugly, mean and real’

She’s frustrated when she hears that people still think COVID-19 is a hoax or overblown.

“The thing that bothers me the most is when people make it political. Come in and talk to the people who lost somebody. It’s real,” she said.

“Until it hits you personally, it’s not real to you. I tell you, it’s real. It’s ugly, mean and real.

“I didn’t go that many places. Kroger, Home Depot, my office. And I wore a mask most of the time. Sometimes I’d forget it. But it wasn’t like I was at big 300-people gatherings,” she noted.

“There’s so much we don’t know still. People want to know how did you get it? I don’t know. I don’t know.

“Everybody is susceptible. My one year-old-grandson had it. That breaks my heart. And my 5-year-old grandson. The 2-year-old didn’t.

“There’s so much we don’t know,” she said, repeating it as a lament.

A family’s challenge

While Nord was fighting for her life at the hospital, her eldest daughter, her son,  her son’s girlfriend and two of her grandchildren also battled the virus. The five of them quarantined at Nord’s home. Her other daughter, son-in-law and 2-year-old granddaughter tested negative.

Jessica Thompson, Nord’s daughter who tested negative, said her family’s ordeal was one of the hardest of their lives.

“Its so challenging because we’re relying on nurses and doctors to give us information. It was very stressful. I would call multiple times a day. The nurses were absolute saints. Some would give you a lot of information and some would say nothing’s changed.

“You would just hope for information. And I wouldn’t know what questions to be asking. You don’t want to call constantly, but you can’t be there. You feel so helpless it was heartbreaking.

“It was heartbreaking for us to know she was alone and we couldn’t reassure her,” Thompson said. “We felt the prayer and the support. But that doesn’t change the fact you can’t be with her.”

Thompson has only seen her mother for about two minutes since mid June. When Nord was moved from the hospital to rehab, her family and friends gathered in the hospital parking lot as she was transferred into an ambulance.

At rehab, only one designated family member can visit, to limit the spread of the virus.

As an accountant and the daughter who is most like her mother — the take-charge type — Thompson has advice for families.

“I had to pick up her finances. Luckily she was organized. I had to know her passwords and what bills needed to be paid. She had everything in order,” Thompson said. “That would add another level of stress on a family. I can’t imagine the added level of stress at that point.”

“So many things in life, you don’t take seriously until you have to,” she added.

Next steps

When Nord goes home, she still has recovery time ahead of her, she said. She plans to take it slowly and regain her strength. Her lungs, in particular, are still weak, she said.

She is the executive director of Nativity Academy, an independent private middle school in the Catholic tradition that educates urban youth. The school board has appointed an interim director while she takes time to recover, though even from her bed at Frazier Rehab Nord couldn’t resist talking about fundraising during this interview. But she has faith in the school’s faculty and staff, she said.

“We’ve got a good team and we’d already done a lot of prep for the new year. They already knew what to do,” she said. “We have a lot of the right people on the bus right now.”

She added that the pandemic “scares me as an educator.”

“We’re there to protect kids,” she said. “Everybody wants to get back to school. We try to take every precaution.”

Carol Nord, center, and four members of her family survived COVID-19 this summer. She was admitted to the hospital June 15, went to rehab July 17 and expects to go home July 31.

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