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COVID-180: Why one man has changed his stance on the vaccine after being hospitalized with the virus

Published: Sep. 23, 2021 at 5:50 PM CDT
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) -

Back in April, Gundersen Health System celebrated the closing of its COVID unit.

“We thought we had beat it for the most part,” said Gundersen RN Adam Plowman. “There were very low patient numbers. We had the vaccine--it was effective.”

In July, it re-opened.

“Seeing people dying again is a challenging thing,” Plowman added.

The health system now has all 20 COVID unit beds occupied. It’s seeing patients in two other units as well, with more critical care cases walking in with one request.

“Many times they say to us, ‘Can I get the vaccine?’ and now it’s too late,” Plowman explained. “Another common one is ‘I never thought it would hit me this hard. I never thought it would be me.’”

63-year-old Mark Miller was one of those people.

“I was more dead than alive when I came in [to the hospital.] I don’t think they thought I was going to live, I really don’t think they did,” said Miller, a De Soto resident. “I was that guy who would try and find information to dispute the seriousness of COVID.

I went from being an active, vibrant individual. There wasn’t anything that I really couldn’t do to now if I walk 20 feet, I will have to stop and rest.”

Back in July, Miller started developing a runny nose--that symptom quickly took a turn to severe, making it difficult to breathe, resulting in a 16-day hospital stay.

“There’s a lot of sick patients right now and I know that we are short staffed and nurses are getting to the point of being exhausted,” Plowman emphasized. “Nurses are tired at work. Knowing that these patients are counting on us, it’s super important to remember that. That’s what gives me more fuel each day.”

Plowman is one of many nurses switching gears from his regular unit to help those sick with the virus.

Their dedication is something felt by those they’re helping.

“The care I received by the nurses on that unit was amazing... it was instrumental in saving my life,” Miller reflected.

Having hospitalizations on the rise, doesn’t just effect the ones sick or those taking care of them. It impacts the entire community, including canceling elective procedures.

“Some people can’t get [a knee] surgery done now and they have to postpone it just because the hospital census is so high due to COVID,” Plowman explained. “I’m supposed to get married a month from today and with how bad the pandemic is, I don’t know if I will be able to have that option.”

“What if I would have died? What kind of impact would it have had on my family?,” questioned Miller. “Seriously, because I said I don’t want to get a vaccination. I’m not worried about it... that’s selfish as hell. It’s extremely selfish.”

Miller’s hospitalization and release still impacting his loved ones. His daughter travels to his home every two days to check on food supply. His elderly father helps him get where he needs to be.

“I feel for the patients who are discharged and excited to go home, but they come to the realization that it’s not going to be back to normal for them,” said Plowman.

While Miller is no longer isolated in a hospital room, he may need to be on oxygen for the rest of his life.

It now takes upwards of three hours to get ready for the day.

“It’s like wash an arm and wait five minutes cause my oxygen levels drop,” Miller explains.

Even needing 30 minutes to make a sandwich for lunch.

COVID-19 hasn’t just changed Miller physically, it’s also transformed his mindset when it comes to the vaccine.

“I guarantee when my time is up, as far as the 90 days when my immune system is in a good place, I will get vaccinated. There is no doubt about it,” Miller said. “It would almost be like a betrayal if I didn’t get vaccinated. A betrayal of like a trust because the nurses cared for me and they know my story.”

For Nurse Plowman, he worries that people will refuse the vaccine because they see those who got it still getting sick.

“These people who are vaccinated [and hospitalized] are 60 years and older and have a lot of other illnesses,” Plowman added. “What I want people to know is that these patients are still surviving and I feel strongly that it’s because of the vaccine.”

He also notes that many of those in the unit are young, unvaccinated, and otherwise were healthy.

Miller doesn’t want others to become a statistic.

“You don’t have to be in this kind of position,” Miller said gesturing to his oxygen tank. “There’s no guarantee, but the odds are much greater if you get vaccinated, that this isn’t going to happen to you.”

Pleading for the community to get the vaccine, so it doesn’t take a health scare of the death of a loved one.

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