There are times when people touch our lives in unexpected and powerful ways. Amid extraordinary circumstances, strangers can share a common experience that unites them, instantly and enduringly. This is the story of such a bond, and of a remarkable recovery from a devastating illness.
Richard Barrington had been ill for a week. He was fatigued and had a fever and persistent cough. On March 24, 2020 breathing became increasingly difficult. He called 911 and was transported to Dignity Health -Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC) West in Prescott, Arizona. Little did Barrington know that for the next six weeks he would be fighting for his life as the first COVID-19 patient to be admitted to a hospital in Yavapai County.
Barrington is 77 years old and a heart attack survivor. By any measure, this puts him in a high-risk category for COVID-19.
“The doctor told my daughter that my chances of survival were less than ten percent,” says Barrington. “I’m a born-again Christian, so I’m prepared to die,” he pauses. “But considering the outcome, God must have something more for me to do.”
Barrington doesn’t remember much about his hospital stay. He was put on a ventilator right away and remained on it for most of his stay, mainly in the ICU. He was unresponsive twice.
Barrington’s daughter spoke with the staff several times a day, advocating for her father and developing a close bond with those who were keeping him alive and helping him heal.
“My daughter tells me that at one point, the staff asked what they could do to keep me comfortable and comforted,” recalls Barrington. “She suggested putting my phone on Spotify and playing my favorite Christian music playlist. It turns out that the music comforted the staff too.”
The staff’s affection for Barrington grew the longer he was there. His doctor nicknamed him his “miracle patient” because of Barrington’s strength in fighting the virus.
“The care was extraordinary,” says Barrington. “They were really rooting for me. One of the first days that I can remember is the day they took me off the ventilator. The nurses were joyful. ‘You survived, you lived, thank God!’ they said.”
Barrington continues to stay in touch with the staff at the Critical Care Unit. Nurse Manager Julie Briggs hears from him regularly. “Each time we communicate, he is always so grateful for the care he received,” says Briggs. “What a kind and wonderful man. It has been a pleasure to get to know him.”
Barrington feels the same about the friends he made at YRMC.
As far as his long-term recovery, Barrington is understandably taking it slow. After discharge, he stayed at a rehabilitation center for three weeks, followed by another three weeks at a nursing home, then a month in California where his daughter facilitated his care. He is now home and doing well.
“I’m 75 to 85 percent better now, but my energy level isn’t what it used to be. I still have memory issues too. Quoting scripture is harder,” he admits.
Barrington has been advised that it will take 6 months to a year to recover. In the meantime, he is reading aloud every day, on the advice of his doctor. Exercise, crossword puzzles and other interactive activities occupy much of his day.
Barrington encourages everyone to get a vaccine when it becomes available. “If we can lower the death rate and hospital rates, then let’s get it done,” he says.
The support and love between the staff and Barrington will live on in his heart forever. “I just don’t have enough praise to give those caregivers,” he says. “When I was discharged, the staff lined the halls to cheer me on. It was amazing that they would care that much to come out and help me celebrate my miraculous victory. I was feeling the love.”