Joe's COVID Victory: Local Man Shares His Battle Against the Virus

posted on Saturday, June 12, 2021 in COVID-19

After being hospitalized 52 days in Spencer Hospital’s intensive care unit due to complications from COVID-19, you would think the last place Joe Overman would want to go is back to the hospital. Yet, that’s his goal.

“I’m looking forward to walking through those doors into ICU, without oxygen, to see my friends,” commented the Arnolds Park man.

 “I’m calling it ‘Miracle on First Avenue,’” he said with a smile, “as the hospital’s address is on First Avenue and it’s truly a miracle I survived COVID.”

Joe’s started feeling ill on March 4. He had most of the classic COVID-19 symptoms as he lost his sense of taste and smell, and had flu-like symptoms. He went to Test Iowa in Spirit Lake on March 8 and received his positive results the next day. His wife Barb initially tried to care for Joe at home, yet his health rapidly deteriorated.

“I had said to him that if he didn’t try to eat, I’d call the ambulance. Then, the next day, which was March 13th, I couldn’t wake him up, so I called 911,” she said. “They put oxygen on him right away and took him to Spencer Hospital as our family physician, Dr. Amanda Young, is based in Spencer.”

Joe doesn’t remember much of those first few weeks in the hospital. It was a challenging time as he was so ill and also because Barb, who initially tested negative for COVID-19, also became infected with the virus. Fortunately, her symptoms were mild, limited to loss of taste and smell. But, being COVID-positive meant Barb needed to isolate.  This included staying away from the hospital during her infectious period.

Joe was placed in intensive care and was on high-flow oxygen and a CPAP to help his breathing. He drifted in and out of consciousness. He was hospitalized for 16 days before Barb could visit, and once she was able to end her own isolation period, she was by his side daily.  While relieved to see her husband, she was worried to see how ill and despondent he was.

“I told her to call the funeral home and make preparations,” Joe recalled. “I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t do anything for myself. At nights, I was in such pain, I’d talk to God out loud and asked for help.”

The Overmans weren’t the only ones making such heavenly requests. “We had so many people praying for Joe – family, friends and through prayer chains, even strangers,” Barb shared. “Joe remembers one of his nurses holding his hand and praying with him. His recovery was our miracle.”

His family physician, Dr. Young, commented, “We were very worried about Joe. Many days he wouldn’t make any progress at all, and some days he would go backward.  His oxygen needs increased to the point we transitioned him to more intensive BiPAP therapy and there were several days we were considering we might need to intubate him.”

When Joe gradually started improving, even the smallest exertion was exhausting.

“I hated those PT guys when they came into the room,” he reminisced. “I didn’t want to get up and do anything. But, by the time they were done with me, I absolutely adored them.”

Joe remembers being despondent and frustrated with his lack of progress. He also recalls and is grateful for the encouragement and sometimes “tough love” he received from his care team.

“I think the day I can mark as a turning point was when I pushed the call button and asked the nurse to get something for me. She kindly, yet firmly, told me ‘no,’ that I needed to get out of bed,” he said.

And, through his determined effort and the support of his care team, Joe got better.

When he departed Spencer Hospital on May 4, a crowd of well-wishers lined the halls as he took his last wheelchair ride down the ICU corridor. “I cried; Barb cried; the nurses cried, and Dr. Young was crying. Tears of joy,” Joe said.

His caregivers sent him home with a basket filled with a few thoughtful gifts, including sugar-free candy as his care team knew he’s diabetic, a Spencer Hospital t-shirt reminding him he’s part of the team, treats for his beloved dog Kip, another t-shirt proclaiming he’s a survivor, and dozens of handwritten cards from those who helped in his recovery.

One of the items in the basket was a wooden plaque which reads: “Be the Exception.”

“I want to emphasize, if I am the exception, it was because of the doctors and nurses at Spencer Hospital. They never said anything negative. They pushed and pushed me to get well. Every time I recalled how sick I was, I remembered how wonderful my nurses and doctors were. They never let me get depressed. They never said anything negative.”

COVID-19 has left its mark on Joe’s mind, it’s also left its mark on his lungs, creating scar tissue that could provide respiratory health challenges in his future.

When Joe became ill with COVID-19, he was between his first and second vaccination doses. He and Barb both wonder if he would have survived the virus if he hadn’t had the beginnings of antibodies in his system that the first shot offered.

Barb emphasized, “If people could see what Joe went through, lying in that bed, not being able to breathe, they wouldn’t hesitate to get the shot.”

Joe nodded in agreement. “I’m getting better every day, yet it’s baby steps. Get vaccinated.”