BOURBONNAIS — Dale Shaw was so close to death due to the effects of COVID-19 that his wife truly believed a mid-April telephone conversation she had with her husband of 43 years would be their last.

Pam, 64, wanted so desperately to go inside the third-floor intensive care unit where her husband was being cared for to give him one last hug, one last kiss.

The nursing staff at Riverside Medical Center, however, said such an exchange was impossible.

This “end of life visit,” which, of course, Dale, also 64, had no idea of its significance at the time, was as gut-wrenching, horrifying and emotional an experience that Pam had ever experienced in her life to this point.

“It was horrible. I said goodbye to my husband through a plate-glass window. It looked as though he was sleeping. He was so sick,” she said while fighting back tears. “I will never get that image out of my mind.”

Fortunately for the Shaws, it was not the last time they saw each other. While it may have been the low point in Dale’s 91-day fight against COVID-19 in a healthcare facility, it is a fight he is winning.

It has been a fight for many in Kankakee County as well as across Illinois and the country.

To date, 63 deaths in Kankakee County have been classified as COVID related. Of the 1,350 total COVID cases within Kankakee County’s boundaries, 977 has been classified as “recovered.” Dale is one of those recoveries.

Dale returned home late last week from Riverside and he is now recuperating at home. Although he is unable to walk right now due to loss of muscle and is beginning his physical and occupational therapies, he is alive and that is really all that matters.

“COVID kicked my butt,” Dale said while seated in his recliner chair in the subdivision just north of the Kroger grocery store. Dale was basically hospitalized for the entirety of the months of April, May and June. He lost 50 pounds. He is now on oxygen and currently unable to walk. He only recently began using his arms again.

The coronavirus ravaged the former Exelon security guard and put him at the brink of death.

“Anyone who says COVID is not real is crazy,” he said. “I’m here to tell them otherwise.”

A YEAR TO FORGET

For Dale and Pam, like so many others, 2020 is a year they would soon like to forget.

Not only did Dale nearly become part of the growing death toll associated with the virus, but Pam also was hospitalized as she was infected with the virus only days prior to Dale diagnosis.

Pam was discharged from Riverside on March 31. The two nearly crossed paths as she was heading home after her discharge, Dale was being delivered by ambulance as family found him unconscious in his upstairs bedroom. He was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia and a high fever.

Dale admits many of the details regarding his medical journey are sketchy. He was in and out of consciousness throughout his stay at the hospitals where he was being treated and recuperated.

In addition to Riverside, he spent time at Kindred Hospital Northwest Indiana in Hammond, Ind., as well as Kindred Chicago Central Hospital in Chicago. He was returned to Riverside on June 12 to begin his acute rehab and then released on June 26.

Much to his surprise when he returned home, a large crowd of family and friends was waiting to greet the man some thought they would never see again.

He noted during his hospital stay he dropped about 50 pounds — mainly muscle. That loss of muscle is why his working to regain the use of his legs and further use of his arms.

MUCH WORK AHEAD

He believes those extremities will soon be put back into use sooner rather than later. He hopes to be once again walking within the next month or so. Until then he is using a wheelchair to get around the house and friends donated a scooter so he could get around the neighborhood which he has called home for the past 19 years.

COVID-19 is known to have far greater physical impacts on those people with existing health conditions. Dale has dealt with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, better known as COPD. Basically, COPD is a classification of lung diseases which block airflow and makes breathing difficult.

Outside of that illness, he said he was healthy.

“I was one of those people who didn’t think COVID would ever get here. I didn’t even think about contracting the virus,” he said. “But I’m here to tell people this is real.”

Pam nodded in agreement. She knows there are months ahead of them with rehab. And there will always be some worry in the back of her mind wondering if this could happen again.

“Our lives have totally changed. Nothing in our lives exists as it used to be. Our daily life consists only of this. Hopefully the worst part is over. At least we hope.”

FIGHT OF HIS LIFE

Dale said this better be the only time he has to face the coronavirus head-on. He doesn’t believe he has that much fight left in him to take it on a second time.

“I wouldn’t do it again,” he flatly stated.

His words made Pam tear up a second time.

“He was fighting for his life from Day 1,” she said. She acknowledged, however, that when it appeared her husband may not have survived, she told him he had her blessing to end his fight. Those words were some of the most difficult to ever cross her lips.

“I told him ‘If you want to stop, I understand.” It was hard to say, but he needed to hear that.”

Dale said giving up was not in his cards.

He kids his wife a little bit. He tries to make her laugh about those harrowing days. She asked him not to joke about such a serious matter.

“I’m not sure this is a story we will laugh about,” she said.

One thing she is sure of, however, is the fight Dale had within him.

“I know he had the determination to get out of this.”

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