COVID survivor: “Don’t hesitate. Get the vaccine.”

SAN LUIS VALLEY — When it comes to COVID, Lynn Coleman and his wife, Rebecca, were like many people. They were healthy and active. Coleman, 69, was busy with his job as a ditch rider in Conejos County, and both he and Rebecca were busy with the business of life and no pre-existing conditions that would put them at any special risk. “I’m normally a healthy person, Lynn says. “I really don’t go to the doctor that much. I can’t even remember the last time I went.”

They both knew COVID was a serious virus, but they were cautious and didn’t take any unnecessary risks. And, with a virus that had been around for more than a year, they figured they had dodged the bullet.

So, when the vaccine became available, Lynn and Rebecca decided against getting vaccinated out of a hesitation about the unknown, long-term side effects.

And then, almost a month ago, everything changed.

Rebecca got sick with symptoms that were just getting worse. She went to the doctor who tested her for COVID and did a chest ex-ray. “They told her she had COVID and pneumonia,” Coleman says, “and they sent her home.” Coleman was also tested, and his results were the same.

“We have no idea where we got it,” he says. “No idea, at all.”

When asked how he felt when he got the news both he and Rebecca tested positive for the virus, Lynn says, “It was…scary. You wonder what’s going to happen. How is this going to go? Am I going to make it or will I be a statistic?”

Rebecca continued to decline. And then, on April 30 when Lynn took her oxygen level and saw that it had dropped to 50 -- normal oxygen level is above 90 – he rushed her to the hospital where she was immediately admitted to the ICU.

Meanwhile, Lynn had become symptomatic. For the next three weeks, he suffered with very low energy, no appetite whatsoever and a low oxygen level. The antibiotics and steroid medication prescribed by the doctor also gave him anxiety. “It was a pretty scary time,” he says. Luckily, his daughter, who lives in Idaho, flew up and spent a week taking care of him. His other daughter has been with him daily and his son, who lives in Arizona, is with him now.

But Rebecca is still in ICU where it’s been a very rough go.  “We thought we were going to lose her for a while,” Lynn says. So far, she has been able to avoid being put on a ventilator, but she is still on a high amount of oxygen to help her breathe. Lynn is optimistic. Although he hasn’t been able to see her, he and Rebecca have been texting back and forth and he can tell that she is improving.

He isn’t certain when she will be able to come home. As far as his own situation, Lynn is hoping he can return to work within the next week or two.

“COVID is nothing to laugh about,” he says. “Some people say it’s just a cold, but this hit me like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. I’m one of the lucky ones. Soon, I can go back to work. But if I could go back in time, I definitely would have gotten the vaccine.”

When asked what advice he would give others, Lynn Coleman answers without a second thought. “Don’t hesitate. This stuff is for real.” 

Special thanks to Donna Wehe at SLVRMC for facilitating this interview.