“I have a life”: Recovery continues for north Boulder resident who spent 65 days on ventilator – The Denver Post
Barbara Gould isn’t the same person she was at this time last year, when she was first hospitalized with COVID-19.
When a person spends three months in four different hospitals, everything changes.
The north Boulder resident was on a ventilator for three times as long as the average COVID-19 patient at UCHealth. She lost her hair. She had to relearn how to walk and talk. Her liver sustained untreatable damage. She’s spent months in recovery.
Her journey hasn’t been an easy one, but with the support of her family and her faith community, Gould has found her way.
“I do not recognize myself yet,” she said. “But I will.”
Last year, after returning in mid-March from a long trip to South America, Gould and her husband Allen Taggart started to feel feverish. They developed coughs and felt extremely fatigued. Taggart recovered, but Gould did not.
On April 7, 2020, Gould recalls feeling something indescribably different in her chest. Days later, when her condition worsened, she was put in a medically induced coma at Boulder Community Health and began using a ventilator. Clark Berngard, a pulmonary critical care physician and medical ICU director at Boulder Community Health, was part of her treatment team. He said Gould has been the sickest COVID-19 patient he’s treated who lived.
For Berngard, it’s both beautiful and dark to be in medical care at a time such as this one, particularly in the small community of Boulder where health care workers often know the people they’re treating.
“Sometimes we have these beautiful, miraculous saves like hers, and other times, we provide a dignified death (for) people when they transition out of this world,” Berngard said.
When it was determined Gould needed to be put on an ECMO machine, which allows a patient’s blood to flow out into an artificial lung and gives a person whose lungs are failing a chance to recover, she was airlifted to UCHealth.
All in all, she spent three months in four different hospitals, including 65 days on a ventilator and 15 days on an ECMO machine.
During her stay at Kindred Hospital, where she received long-term care after doctors decided she was well enough to be taken off the ECMO machine and weaned off the ventilator, Gould recalls hearing people protesting outside the Colorado State Capitol. They were protesting police brutality, namely George Floyd’s death, but Gould had no idea why. She wasn’t conscious when it happened.
She missed two deaths in her friend circle and the entire statewide shutdown at the beginning of the pandemic.
The time lost has been one of the most challenging pieces to grapple with.
“I couldn’t fathom what it was to have missed two months. I couldn’t understand that,” Gould said. “And in some ways, I’m only now starting to understand the time that was lost.”
Hope and patience have been the Taggart-Gould family’s motto over the past year.
Through it all, the family leaned on the support of one another and of their community at Congregation Har HaShem in Boulder. Synagogue members made more meals than the family could eat and constantly offered prayers.
At one point, when doctors said it was time to begin talking about palliative care, Allen Taggart sent out a request for prayers and healing energy.
“I think the power of that energy and love that was communicated and received really made a difference, and that’s not to take away from the incredible expertise of the medical teams that saved me,” Gould said.
Routine also helped the family stay strong, despite the near constant anxiety and the fact that they weren’t able to spend any time with Gould in person. They’d await daily phone call updates during shift changes at the hospital. They’d go for walks. They’d regularly FaceTime with Gould, once she was in space to do so. Allen Taggart sent special love poems and songs regularly to his wife.
Gould’s daughter Rebecca Taggart used the family calendar she receives annually from her aunt to track her mother’s condition each day. Maintaining a routine and regular communication with the medical team helped the family stay sane.
“We couldn’t be with her. That really added to the anxiety and the pain. We’re all a very, very close family,” she said. “In a normal world, all three of us would be sitting by her side.”
The long haul
After being sedated for an extended period of time, Gould had post-intensive care syndrome, or PICS, which happens when a person has health problems that persist after critical illness. For Gould, it led to a lot of anxiety as she recovered, largely due to the trauma experienced while spending time in an unconscious state.
As a social worker with a life of experience in understanding trauma, it was helpful for Gould to step back and consider what happened to her from an intellectual perspective instead of an emotional one.
“For people who have been through it, I hope that they will understand that it’s a process, that it’s not that there’s something wrong with them,” Gould said. “It’s a reasonable reaction to a very difficult situation, and there’s help out there.”
Boulder County Public Health spokesperson Angela Simental said the county currently is not tracking data on the number of people in Boulder County who are long-haulers, or those who experience prolonged COVID-19 symptoms for weeks or months after initial infection.
A study published in the British Medical Journal estimated that 10% of COVID-19 patients become long haulers.
Gould is not a long-hauler in the traditional sense, considering she has not had prolonged coronavirus symptoms. However, her recovery has been a long haul due to the extended time spent in critical condition on a ventilator and an ECMO machine.
“Patients who were once in critical condition, and who have come off ventilators, are often referred to rehabilitation centers for a variety of immediate post-COVID support for impairments related to physical, cognitive and mental health,” Massachusetts General Hospital wrote in an article about recovery and rehabilitation after COVID-19.
This holds true for Gould, who continues to rehabilitate a year after she was first infected with the virus.
She regularly sees a speech therapist and is continuing physical therapy. Gould and her husband take regular walks, whether at Wonderland Lake, Coot Lake or around the neighborhood.
Not long ago she graduated from pulmonary rehab at Boulder Community Health.
Keri Anderson was one of the respiratory therapists who helped Gould with rehabilitation, which included walks on the treadmill and workouts with weights that helped her regain strength.
As a respiratory therapist, Anderson helped a couple other patients recovering from coronavirus, but she said Gould’s experience was by far the worst.
Anderson said it was incredible to witness her recovery, the way Gould became stronger and more confident as time progressed. In her final week of rehab, Anderson remembers watching Gould dance on the treadmill.
“It was like a miracle. Honest to God,” Anderson said.
A new person
Gould has always been appreciative of life. She’s a natural helper, the most selfless person her daughter’s ever known. Her first grandchild will be born later this year, and Gould can’t wait. She has moments to look forward to and for that she is grateful.
But her experience with coronavirus gave her a new perspective. Life is different now. The person she was and the person she now is are not the same. Gould is learning to find peace with that, but it’s a process.
“There’s a lot of grief about (how) my life is never going to be the same,” she said. “That’s the difficult part and also the blessing because I have a life. I’m alive.
“There’s grief for what is past and what has happened and there’s also hope and joy for the future,” Gould added.
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