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CORONAVIRUS: Destin couple surviving with the virus ... one day at a time

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log
The Destin Log

After more than a week in the hospital with coronavirus, Hal Aiken is just “thankful” and “grateful” to wake up each morning.

“I’ve never been down like this in my life, ever. Maybe four days with the flu ... maybe three times in my life,” said the 66-year-old who lives in the heart of Destin.

What started as a “little dry, hacky cough” on March 5 landed him in the emergency room of Sacred Heart in Miramar Beach on March 19 where he was diagnosed with the coronavirus. He was later released on March 27, but he and his wife June, of 45 years, are still under quarantine.

On Monday, Hal went to the health department for another test. Until the two test negative for coronavirus, they are still self-isolating with one another.

It could be weeks until the two are in the clear.

“The doctor in the hospital said it could take you months to be where you were (before) you got sick,” Hal said.

And April 21 marked 48 days since his first symptom.

Today he and his wife June are at home. Hal has lost 25 pounds and is reduced to walking with a walker and is still on oxygen due to the bi-lateral viral pneumonia the coronavirus manifested in him. June, who tested positive for COVID-19 after Hal was hospitalized, has yet to get a negative test back after three tests.

"I’m in good health,” June said.

“She’s healthy as a horse,” Hal said. “You wouldn’t know anything was wrong with her. That’s how weird this thing is, there is no pattern to it.”

Hal considered himself to be a healthy man. As a matter of fact, before being knocked down and hospitalized with the COVID-19, he said the last time he stayed in a hospital was in 1974.

“I spent one night because I had to get my wisdom teeth cut out. I hadn’t spent the night in a hospital since ... until this came along. So you can imagine what kind of patient I am not,” he said.

June said she and her daughter Melissa, who lives next door, were surprised that Hal got it because he’s such a germaphobe. She said he keeps wipes in his truck and is always washing his hands.

“I just like to be clean,” Hal said.

“He almost goes overboard. So everybody was so shocked ... with Hal having it was a little more than the norm,” June said.

“It kind of woke people up,” he said.

“If Hal got it, I could too. I told him I thought God was using him as an instrument. You just never know,” she said.

Hal said he has no idea where or when he got infected.

“I told someone the other day, if I knew that, I could make a million dollars,” he said.

Hal said doctors and researchers have proven that the virus can live on different surfaces.

“It’s very very sneaky, very mean. It’s like fighting aliens you can’t see,” he said.

TIMELINE

Prior to being hauled into the emergency room on March 19, Hal and June had gone to their local general practitioner on March 9.

“I started with a little dry, hacky cough ... you know how you feel when you first start to get a cold ... that feeling that come over your body and something ain’t right here. That’s the way I felt,” Hal said, noting that started on March 5. And by March 7, June was experiencing some of the same symptoms.

March 9 they went to the doctor. June received a steroid injection and Hal got pills.

“She got much better,” Hal said.

By the next Saturday, March 14, “she was doing great, I kept going down,” he said.

On March 16, they went back to the doctor, this time Hal got steroids and antibiotics but kept getting worse.

Two days later, Hal was in bad shape.

“I told June that night, I said ’Honey, if I don’t go to the hospital tomorrow, I’m going to lay right here and die,’” he said.

The next morning they called the ambulance and he was taken to Sacred Heart where he was tested for the virus. They started him on antibiotics and on March 20 it was confirmed that it was the coronavirus.

At that point, they started Hal on hydroxychloroquine.

On March 21, “they kept having to turn my oxygen up,” Hal said, noting he was up to 10 liters, which is extremely high.

“That’s when they started talking to me about putting me on a respirator. I knew the percentage outcome of that, and it aint good,” Hal said.

So he asked them to work with him through the night and see what his numbers were in the morning.

In the meantime, his church family at Immanuel Anglican Church, where he plays guitar in the praise band, and hundreds around the community had been “pouring out love and prayers for us,” Hal said.

“So anyway overnight, the new drug and massive amount of prayers kicked in and a miracle occurred,” he said.

His oxygen numbers started to come down and in a matter of days he was down to 3 or 4 liters.

On March 27 he was released to go home.

HOME, BUT NOT DONE

Since being home, the Aiken’s have experienced several challenges.

“It took about 2 1/2 weeks, because of this newness and nobody knows what’s going on for Medicare to digest it all,” Hal said.

It took a while for them to allow home health care to come in and do physical therapy with him, “which I desperately needed.”

He finally got started with PT on April 10.

“It’s taxing the hell out of me ... it’s working me to death, but it’s very simple,” he said, noting it would be easy on a normal day.

“My big fight is fighting this bi-lateral viral pneumonia ... that’s what it left me,” he said.

Hal explained how June is actually doing some of the “old school” beating on his back with her hands to loosening things up in his chest.

“I do an inhaler four times a day ... and with her doing that, I’m able to get bits of this stuff up. This ain’t nothing you’ve every seen in your life. It’s very thick, silky ... I don’t want to describe all that stuff,” he said.

In addition to playing percussion on his back, June is cooking him three meals a day.

“She’s waiting on me hand and foot,” he said.

Hal has gotten his appetite back and they have “been blessed” with folks in the community bringing over everything from fresh fish to a “big ole pot of chicken and dumplings,” he said.

However, “Everybody was saying y'all need to keep your distance from each other ... well hell I can’t walk. I’m so weak ... you lay on your back for five weeks,” he said.

"I look like an 85 year old person in a nursing home,“ he said, noting he was in great shape prior to the virus.

As for June, “I’m doing alright ... I’m in good health,” she said, although she hasn’t received a negative test as of yet.

"It’s a job too. I love being able to help him, but you’ve got to stay up on your game. You can’t just say we’re going to have a sandwich for dinner,“ June said, noting she’s trying to get some weight back on him.

“We had to break ground with Hal being sick on so many issues,” she said.

Between getting the health department to test him, to dealing with medicare and having certain codes and home health care, “we’re running weeks behind on everything,” June said.

“That’s why Hal is in the situation he’s in,” she said.

Hal went two weeks before they actually knew what was wrong, time in the hospital and then waited another two weeks at home before they could get any kind of physical therapy going.

“There was a lot of red tape created that had to broken through. So it’s just sent shock waves in every direction. It’s all new, you can’t really blame anybody. Nobody knew,” June said.

DAYS AHEAD AND LESSONS LEARNED

Hal went outside last Wednesday. It was the first time he had been outside since he got in the truck to come home on the March 27.

“There was a nice cool north wind ... it was really nice to go outside,” he said, noting he was only out for 45 minutes with his walker.

“We’re still in self quarantine,” he said, noting they have yet to test negative.

“It kind of disturbs me all of these die-hards that are ready to open everything back up. Is one month worth of money worth dying over?” he said. “I think the more we stay humble and apart with the social distancing ... the quicker we will really really get through this.”

One of the first things Hal said he’d like to do when he gets past the coronavirus is to work in the yard, maybe go fishing and get back in his recording studio.

“I’ve got a lot of things to do. But I ain’t out of the woods yet. I’m used to going. I love to work it makes me feel good. I really miss life,” Hal said. “People think ... oh you’re home, that means you’re fine ... hell no, that means I crawled out of the grave and I’m trying to get back where I can walk. It ain’t as bad as it was.”

“It’s going to be a long road,” June said. “But we’re accepting it and taking it one day at a time.”

Although they have a long road ahead, it’s their faith that has gotten them this far.

“I really have a lot of faith,” Hal said, noting that he and June have been Christians for years.

While in the hospital, “I would just tell God this is in your hands. It’s your game. If you take me, you take me, but I prefer you don’t because I’m in the middle of an album right now and got a lot of stuff I’d like to do, but that’s not my call,” he said.

His mantra became, “I’m just laying here in the arms of the Lord.”

“God had a plan in mind for this. I don’t understand really. We really don’t, but I accept it because of my faith,” Hal said.

He recalled the story in the Bible of having faith as small as a mustard seed.

“I just kind of lived off all those old things that I learned and believed,” Hal said. “I don’t believe it, I know it. I just learned when you’re in this situation, you better be able to turn it all over to God. Because you absolutely have no control.”