CASPER — Sixteen days passed between the day Lory August was admitted to a Thermopolis hospital and the day she was wheeled out of it. During those 16 days, as her family prayed and was told to expect the worst, Lory worried about dying alone, cut off by the disease that threatened her life.
“Even if I could FaceTime and talk to them and see them through the window, it was me alone,” she said. “I didn’t want to die alone. I wanted to be at home. Every time I talked to them, I wanted to come home. I want to go home. If I was going to die, I wanted to die with my family around me.”
On March 14, Lory had come back to Worland from a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband, Dan (Lory calls him Danny). She’d been battling cancer, first in her breasts and then in her spine. The chemotherapy had shot her immune system to pieces. After she got home, her chest grew tight and she started coughing. She developed a fever.
Lory figured she had pneumonia, an illness known to her by then. She isolated herself at home, not wanting to get Danny or anyone else sick. Her daughter, Shealynn August, had just come to visit from Louisiana with the grandkids.
But the symptoms persisted and worsened. Lory struggled to walk. On March 24, she went to Thermopolis for a regular cancer checkup. But she was so sick that the doctors ordered a scan of her chest. Her lungs were full of fluid, so flooded that her condition was critical. She and Danny were taken to a room where she was tested for the flu and strep. When those came back negative, they took another swab and sent Danny away. It was the couple’s 41st wedding anniversary.
Doctors look for flu and strep before they test for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The isolated room Lory was taken to had a special air filter. The health care workers were suited up in protective gear.
“We really didn’t know what was going on until the doctor came in and told me if I tested positive for it, because of my immune system and cancer and diabetes, that I probably wouldn’t make it,” she said. “I was like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’”
She planned to pray, and to fight.
Two days later, on March 26, the test came back. Lory had COVID-19, the first person in Washakie County with the disease that had spread across the globe. It had seemed far away before. Now it was right here, in Worland and in their family.
Because Lory’s immune system had been battered by the cancer treatments, the disease was severe. The family was told that she likely wouldn’t make it through the week.
“She was told that about three times,” Shealynn said.
Before the test had even come back, the family was asked about a DNR — a do-not-resuscitate order, which would’ve directed doctors not to take steps to revive Lory if her heart stopped. Did they want doctors to try to keep her alive? Did the family want Lory cremated or buried?
“It just — standstill,” Shealynn said. “I just felt like the whole world was standing still, and I couldn’t process what was going on.”
“I have a hard time talking about it because it chokes me up,” Danny said. “It’s one of those situations where it’s very surreal. You think about it, your everyday life, what’s going to happen. When you’re faced with it, in a matter of life or death, it’s like being turned upside down.”
Later that week, three days after Lory had been admitted to the hospital, the doctors asked if the family wanted Lory to be intubated — to have a tube inserted into her lungs to help her breathe.
“They asked if we wanted to intubate or keep her on oxygen,” Shealynn said. “This is how it was said: ‘You can choose to intubate, but in her critical condition, it’s likely she won’t come back out. She’ll stay on a ventilator and a feeding tube. Or she can stay on oxygen, and we can ask God for a miracle or she can go peacefully.’”
The family asked God for a miracle.
Because Lory was in strict isolation, the family couldn’t visit her room. She had no flowers, Shealynn said, no stuffed animals, nothing to warm up her room. Even the doctors and nurses tried to limit their visits, to ensure they didn’t get sick and to preserve the protective gear. Lory could FaceTime or call her family. If they stood outside, near a construction site, they could wave through a window. At home, the family remained under quarantine. They couldn’t leave the property. Friends brought them groceries. The community prayed for them.
But as the saga unwound, the family began to calm. Shealynn said a “peace” came over her. She said she knew a miracle was coming, that her mother was in God’s hands. Lory said she didn’t want to die and she wanted to be with her family. But even still, she didn’t panic. She felt the same spiritual peace that her daughter had, the same reassurance that she was not alone in her struggle.
Then, in the first week of April, she began to improve. She needed less and less oxygen, and she could breathe more on her own. Danny said her respiratory therapist — Mr. Ed — was an angel “because he created a miracle.”
On Thursday, Lory was released. It was a clear, bright day. As she was wheeled outside by two people in protective gowns and masks, doctors and nurses stood outside and applauded. She waved. Through her face mask, her voice was choked with emotion.
“Thank you guys, you’re awesome,” she said.
One staffer told her good luck. Her dietitian, who she’d never seen in person, introduced herself and told Lory to let her know if she wanted more hospital food delivered.
It was the first time she’d felt the sunshine or smelled the fresh air since she’d been admitted. She wanted to get home, to smell her own pillow, eat Shealynn’s cooking and see her grandchildren through something other than a video screen. Danny hadn’t seen her in 16 days.
“What do you say after 41 years?” he said. “The first thing I said was, ‘I love you.’”
Lory is under quarantine for a little while longer. She doesn’t want to get sick again, and she doesn’t want anyone else to get sick. She’ll be tested again later this week to make sure the virus is gone.
“I just pray that the test comes back negative so I can hug my grandchildren instead of talking through the window,” she said, growing emotional. “Hug my children, hug my husband and have him sit me with, sit on the porch. That’s my goal in my life right now.”
The family wants everyone to know this story. They want people, especially the sick, to take heart and understand that even now, even in a time like this, with a disease like this, there is still hope.