Ed Givens was Nanticoke Memorial Hospital's first COVID-19 ICU patient

The shadow of COVID-19 has darkened Delmarva, but there are moments of light, too.

Rays are shining on Ed Givens, of Georgetown, as he works the earth with pitchfork and hoe, preparing his garden for spring. Just a couple of weeks ago, he was on a ventilator at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, fighting for his life. The Nanticoke ICU team fought along with him, and they won.

It all started with a trip to visit their grandchildren. At the time, a couple cases of COVID-19 had
been found in the United States, but it wasn’t yet top news. People were worried about traveling to China or Italy, but a trip to Wisconsin seemed perfectly safe.

On the way home to Delaware, both Ed and his wife, Cindy, found they had a little cough.

“Our two-year-old granddaughter had a cold, so we assumed we had picked something up from her,” Cindy said. “We started thinking it might be the flu.”

Cindy never had more than a mild fever and a slight cough, plus a brief loss of taste and smell, but Ed
soon started to get sicker.

“I tried to go out and do some yardwork, but I just couldn’t,” he said.

Ed, who prides himself on his lawn and garden, had to admit it might be serious. They called Ed’s primary care
provider, Dr. Joseph Karnish. He prescribed Tamiflu, but Ed’s condition worsened. The couple decided
to go to a walk-in clinic where Ed was given a flu test, which was negative. He was also screened for the coronavirus.

It took four days for Ed’s results to come back positive. That same day, Ed’s struggle to breathe became
more than could be managed at home. Cindy drove him to the hospital.

“Dr. Karnish suggested an ambulance, but we didn’t want to expose any of the ambulance crew,” she said.

Instead, Dr. Karnish arranged for Nanticoke staff to meet him so he could be put in isolation garb. Helping Ed walk into Nanticoke was the last time Cindy would see him for more than two weeks. During that time, she feared more than once that it might have been the last time ever.

“At a certain point, I had gotten so bad, I called my wife to tell her where my will was, where our safety
deposit key was,” Ed said.

“We knew it was serious, but that made it real,” Cindy said.

Despite the care team’s best efforts, his condition went from serious to critical. Ed became the very first
patient in Nanticoke’s new COVID-19 ICU. It was a dark time.

“The worst day was the day when Ed was put on the ventilator,” Cindy said. “I had to figure out how to
tell my children.”

And she had to tell them by phone. Family comfort and reassurance was difficult for Cindy to come by because she had also tested positive for COVID-19. While Cindy’s symptoms were very mild, being COVID-19-positive meant she had to stay in isolation. She called family members to be with her children before calling them with the news about Ed, because she knew it would be devastating. 

“I didn’t want them to be alone,” she said.

Family members and friends called, brought food and left it on her porch. But the ICU nurses were one of her most important lifelines.

“I could call at 5 a.m. or midnight, and they would always pick up,” she said. “ICU nurses are absolute
angels on this earth, and they became my best friends. They were just wonderful.”

They helped Ed FaceTime with Cindy so the couple could stay connected and worked to keep
Ed’s spirits high. When he wanted chocolate ice cream and there was none to be found in the
hospital cafeteria, one of his nurses stopped on her way to work and picked some up for him.

Ed spent so much time in the hospital and medicated that he lost track of time.

“I always wanted to know what day it was,” he said, remembering how astonished he had been upon learning that March had already passed and it was April.

In the hospital, Ed was missing his hobbies – playing softball, growing giant pumpkins.

“The nurses put up a calendar for me, and they decorated it with a softball player knocking coronavirus out of the park, pictures of gardening, giant pumpkins.”

The sickness was scary, but Ed was determined to beat it.

“When Dr. Thomas, the pulmonologist, came in to see me one day, I told him, ‘There’s a lot of fight in me. I don’t want you to give up, I don’t want the ICU nurses to give up, because I’m not going to give up.’”

Ed’s physical fitness no doubt helped in his recovery. He had already pitched in five softball games in
February. His senior softball team won their second national championship before he fell ill.

“I think a key factor in beating the virus was my health,” he said. “I come outside and get active every day.”

After six days on the ventilator, he started to turn the corner, and not a moment too soon. Ed said the
ventilator was a difficult experience.

“I would hate for anyone to go through that,” he said. “It felt like someone had jammed a wooden stick down my throat, I felt like I was choking the whole time.”

The Nanticoke team took Ed off the ventilator on a Sunday, and by Monday, he was telling Dr. Thomas,
“I’m going home tomorrow.” Incredibly, he was right.

“They told me I had to keep my oxygen level above 90 percent,” Ed said. He made sure to breathe
deeply and keep his oxygen level where it needed to be. On Tuesday, April 7, he was discharged.

Like his spring yard, Ed is starting to flourish at home. His yard is meticulous, and he’s planting
pumpkins in hopes that by the fall, he can once again have a harvest gathering at his home. He is back at
the side of Cindy, with whom he’ll celebrate a 40th wedding anniversary in June.

And yet life still isn’t quite back to normal. The softball season is canceled, and Ed and Cindy are
keeping their social distance. Cindy’s parents live nearby, but they are in their 80s and she doesn’t want
to run the risk of infecting them. 

Both Ed and Cindy have reached out to the health department and blood bank to volunteer their convalescent plasma that might help others fighting COVID-19.

In addition to offering up their antibodies, the Givens shared some advice.

“Reach out, and don’t’ be afraid to accept help,” Cindy said. “It’s important to stay connected to others.”

For those who wish to avoid getting COVID-19 and those who want a fighting chance at beating it, Ed recommended staying fit.

“I know being active made a difference for me,” he said.