Mary Hayes has had an eventful year.
In November, she, along with her partner, Tim Overdorf, had COVID-19. She was put on a ventilator for 10 days. Then, in January, she was put on a ventilator for five days.
She didn’t expect to come through it. But when she opened her front door Wednesday afternoon, Hayes was the picture of health. The 76-year-old has made a full recovery, but it took a long time to get where she is now.
It started Nov. 25, the eve of Thanksgiving. Hayes and Overdorf were both sick and coughing. The pair were cautious about quarantining, and Hayes rarely left the house. Overdorf regularly left the house, but kept safety at the forefront.
At first, Hayes assumed it was a sinus infection but, as her temperature continued to rise, she realized it was probably COVID-19. Overdorf, who, in some instances remembers details better than his partner, said that around midnight on Thanksgiving, Hayes was fine.
“Then around 2 a.m., I went in there, and she was pale, couldn’t hardly walk across the room,” he said.
Her temperature was 103.5. They went to IU Health Tipton Hospital, only a few minutes from Hayes’ home.
“By the time we got there, she couldn’t walk,” Overdorf said. “I said, ‘Here, I can help you.’ And she said that she couldn’t walk, and we had to get a wheelchair.”
“I don’t remember this part at all,” Hayes added.
Overdorf was told he could stay in the waiting room but he’d be fine to go home, so he did. He got a call a few hours later. Hayes was being transported by ambulance to IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
The doctors told Overdorf that Hayes had pneumonia, severely damaged lungs and she had been ventilated.
“They sedated her, and that hadn’t been enough so they put her in a chemically-induced coma,” he said. “So that was my Thanksgiving day.”
While Hayes’ body worked overtime to let her heal, Overdorf paced the house without sleep for two days.
“My brother, he had it too, and he was just across Indianapolis, in just as bad of shape,” he said. “It’s really a miracle. I thought I was going to lose them both in one day.”
Ten days later, Hayes emerged from the coma. She didn’t remember anything.
“I kept saying, ‘What are you talking about? Survived what?’ I couldn’t remember anything,” she said.
Some details are hazy, but Hayes said she was at IU Methodist for five days after coming off the ventilator. Then she went to Miller’s Merry Manor in Tipton.
Hayes began to regain some strength at Miller’s, but she said she still couldn’t really walk and “was basically bedridden.” In late December, Hayes’ therapist noticed her panting, and decided to consult the nurse. She returned to IU Tipton, where she stayed for a few days.
On Jan. 1, which is also Overdorf’s birthday, Hayes was transported by ambulance to IU Health North Hospital in Carmel.
She was being ventilated again. She remembers some things: that she initially told the doctor “no” to being ventilated again, and that she was scared she wouldn’t come out of it this time.
This time, Hayes was on the ventilator for about five days. She stayed at the hospital for a few days, and returned to Miller’s Merry Manor to recover.
A lot goes into recovering from the ventilator: Hayes underwent speech therapy; she had to take three “swallow tests,” which entails eating while taking an X-ray of the throat; and, she had to learn to walk again.
The very first time Hayes stood up out of bed after her first ventilation, she felt like she was going to collapse immediately.
From that moment, Hayes was afraid to try using a walker.
“I was petrified to get up on the walker because I didn’t have the strength,” she said. “Once I got up on that walker, everything changed.”
Hayes said that being able to use the walker changed her entire mindset.
“The therapist (at Miller’s) said they were amazed,” she said. “One day I was learning to get up on the walker, the next day I was walking down the hallway.”
Hayes was still in her rehabilitation phase when she went home in February. She was told she’d go home with a walker and on oxygen. And while she had in-home therapy and was using a walker when she first got home, she ditched it within two weeks.
“Tim re-did the shower to have a walk-in shower, and I got a shower chair and everything,” she said. “I haven’t really used it. I didn’t know I was going to recover so fast.”
Having a supportive family was a big part of Hayes’ progress. Daughter-in-law, Jenny Hayes, really stepped up, Hayes said. She helped Overdorf manage the details of her care, and took over keeping everyone in the family informed.
Of all the difficult things Hayes has been through, not being able to see her family was one of the hardest. All told, Hayes and Overdorf — who have been together for more than 45 years — didn’t see each other from Nov. 26, 2020, to Feb. 13.
“From the day I left for Methodist to the day I came home, it was 80 days not seeing him in person,” she said. “Now, we started FaceTiming, but it’s not the same.”
There’s a caveat, though.
“I cheated a little,” he said. “When she came home from Methodist, I knew she was coming to Miller’s over here. So I stalked her, I sat out in the parking lot and waited. They pulled her out of the ambulance, and I just waved, but I got to see her.”
The time away was difficult, but the result was, in the words of Hayes’ doctor, miraculous.
“I saw my doctor this morning,” Hayes said Wednesday. “She said, ‘You’re a miracle. You’re just a miracle.’”
That’s not the first time Hayes has heard that. She’s been called a miracle by several doctors and staff, which makes her feel self-conscious.
“I honestly just thought that I was never going to be okay,” she said. “That I was never going to be able to get back to where I was, or go out and take walks and go shopping.”
Overdorf said she’s more than okay.
“She got back to herself so fast,” he said. “She goes out, jumps in the car, goes off to Kokomo, sees places, visits her friends.”
Hayes said that she doesn’t really feel like a miracle, she was just determined to get back on her feet. And she wants everyone to know that if they were on a ventilator, they can do it too.
“You can get through it,” she said. “Just keep trying. I think God kept me around for something, and maybe that’s to show that you can recover.”