Auburndale’s Keith Johnson Talks About His Journey and the Healthcare Workers Who Saved His Life
by MARY TOOTHMAN
Amid the confusion, sadness, and fear that COVID-19 has brought, an Auburndale man is calmly and gratefully sharing his story of recovery with others to praise and give thanks to the healthcare workers who fought fiercely for his life.
“They saved my life, and did their duties like the true heroes they are,” says Keith Johnson, 53, a licensed pool contractor. “They saved me from certain death, and did me an incredible service in terms of care and compassion. A true testament to their professions. So many went way above and beyond their job descriptions to show me love, care, and compassion,” he says. “It was an experience that has truly changed my outlook on my fellow man.”
Healthcare workers at BayCare’s Winter Haven Hospital were just incredible, he says. “They would kneel at my bedside and pray for me. I spent many times in tears with many of them. When I was so weak I couldn’t fight anymore — and I am a fighter — they gave me the pushes that I needed. The ICU team saved my life, but there is no doubt in my mind I could not have made it back to this point without that team. This battle broke me physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
Johnson’s near-death fight with the virus was dramatically life-changing. “Doctors spent extra time talking to me to help me understand. They would also linger in my room and have spiritual discussions with me,” he says. “My ICU team was so very attentive and patient. Nurses came into my ICU room and sang to me as they worked while I was sedated.”
What follows is a question-and-answer exchange between Johnson and Central Florida Health News:
CFHN: Do you remember when you first heard about COVID-19, and what you thought?
Johnson: Initially, when I first heard of it, I did not take it very seriously. I even joked while we were working to make modifications in response to the pandemic.
I did make many changes to the way my business operated, like most prudent business owners. Most of my staff was sent to work from home, and my entire field crew was ordered to work independently — not allowed in the office, and instructed to split up to go to different suppliers at different times.
We also discontinued weekly staff meetings and closed our retail store for a while. Now we are open with numerous modifications designed to protect us and our clients.
CFHN: Please tell us how you wound up hospitalized, and how you learned your diagnosis.
Johnson: I was infected on a Saturday. I started showing symptoms on the following Tuesday. I went to my primary care doctor on Wednesday, who would only test me for the flu. I tested negative for the flu, and I was advised that since I had not traveled, they refused to test me for COVID. At that point, I was certain that I had it because I was declining rapidly. I went to urgent care that evening, and they did an X-ray and I provided them with the symptoms I was presenting. The nurse practitioner decided to test me. Those results were going to take seven days. She advised me to come back on Saturday for a follow-up X-ray.
Based on that X-ray and my labored breathing, she told me to go to the Winter Haven emergency room. The hospital staff met me at the door and took me straight to a private room. I was tested at the hospital on Saturday, with a 48-hour turnaround on results. I was glad for that, as I knew I would not survive the seven-day result time from my first test.
The results came back late Monday night. They placed me on a ventilator early Tuesday morning. I was on the ventilator for 10 days. On days six through nine, they were communicating to my wife that it was not looking good, as I was not responding to coming off of sedation.
I woke up on Easter morning, finally, spent another day in ICU and was moved to a dedicated COVID floor for 15 more days, where I received the best possible care one can imagine.
CFHN: Do people talk to you now as if you are a COVID-19 expert?
Johnson: Many do. I have posted very publicly in an attempt to educate others and to try to protect my caregivers. I am hoping to minimize the illness in my community. I often get a fair amount of pushback — especially regarding masks — which is normal, due to the foolishness that exists these days. My message has spread far and wide, which I am very proud of. I have spoken to people as far away as Australia and have had people translate my message into several languages for their own countries. I have spoken to people in Canada and all over the USA. I spent dozens of hours communicating with people from everywhere during my time in isolation, which helped me tremendously.
I was often heartbroken by what others shared. The people who have yet to be truly affected by this have no clue of the dynamics involved or how it can and will alter their lives forever.
CFHN: What was the scariest part? Did you think you were dying?
Johnson: Without question, I knew my chances were slim. When I went to the hospital, I knew I was in trouble. When the time came to put me on the ventilator, I knew it was either that or die. One of my male nurses told me he was in awe of my bravery. Bravery had nothing to do with it; I had no choice. I watched my father die a few months ago from cancer. I remembered what his doctor told him about removing his bladder. That there was only one option. One way forward. I followed in my father’s footsteps. I had only one path that didn’t result in certain death in my mind, and that was the ventilator. I was also very aware that only 35 percent of the people who go on ventilators come off of them. I am not certain of that number but it was certainly my perspective at the time. I decided to go for it and planned to fight like hell.
CFHN: What advice do you have for doubters out there?
Johnson: I am saddened by what I see. People are just unwilling to do what we need to do to beat this thing. Masks, in my opinion, are very important — but that is only one tiny part of the puzzle. There are so many things we can do to mitigate the situation.
Instead of going to the convenience store twice a day for coffee or drinks, bring them from home. Instead of going out for lunch, bring it from home. Instead of going to the grocery store or Walmart, (use delivery services).
Instead of going shopping, order online. When you do go out for recreation, go places where others are not. Be considerate. Think about every action before you take it and evaluate safer alternatives. There are often many choices.
You lose the options when the doctor is staring at you telling you to go on a ventilator or face death.