Chris Howell & Elsie Bigelow

#248: The Story of My Brother’s Battle With COVID-19

#248: The Story of My Brother’s Battle With COVID-19

It’s hard to fully appreciate the health impacts of the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease it spreads unless you’ve experienced it first-hand. We all know the inconvenience of sheltering in place, social distancing and that carnage the pandemic has caused to our businesses, careers and psyche.

But I never truly appreciated the nastiness of COVID-19 until our 57-year-0ld brother, Chris Howell, contracted the disease landing him in Swedish Hospital in Seattle for six days, two of those in the intensive care unit. He’s a fit outdoorsman with no pre-existing conditions. No one is immune. He lost 15 pounds on his “COVID diet” and some lung function, but luckily not his life.

Chris and his daughter, Elsie Bigelow, who with her husband Spencer just graduated from the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, share their unnerving journey. Elsie and Spencer were driving cross country in a fully-loaded U-Haul with their Golden Retriever Boog on the way to their residencies at the University of California San Diego as her dad battle the virus.

Below is a collection of photos chronicling their COVID-19 experience followed by an article from Chris’ wife Mary, who also contracted the disease.

In nearly 250 episodes of the Business of Story, this show is a departure from teaching storytelling techniques. Instead, I asked them to tell their story in hopes that you never have to experience what our family has gone through. If you’ve lost a loved one to COVID-19, our hearts go out to you. We can only imagine the pain.

Please share this episode in the hope that we can all bring more insight into how to protect ourselves from the beast and ultimately overcome its destruction.

Proud father Chris with his daughter on her wedding day: June 29, 2019, at Holy Names Academy in Seattle, WA.


Chris, Elsie and Mary at Sidney Kimmel Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.


Elsie and Chris loving the great outdoors.


Spencer and Elsie learning they will their residencies at the University of California San Diego.


Elsie and Spencer drive from Philadelphia to San Diego with their Golden Retriever as co-pilot.


Chris waiting in the tent outside a local clinic to undergo his first test.


Chris observes the excellent medical treatment he receives from the courageous staff.


Oxygen apparently going to his head.


The carnage COVID-19 has caused in Chris’ lung as witnessed in the bottom lefthand corner of his x-ray.


Chris lands in the intensive care unit at Swedish Hospital in Seattle on Sunday evening, March 29, 2020.


Back on his feet at home in Kingston, WA.


Mary’s Story:

I believe Chris was exposed to the coronavirus at men’s bathroom or a lodge he visited on Saturday, March 14, 2020. Symptoms arrived nine days later on Monday, March 23.

Listening to him talk and breathe, I knew it wasn’t allergies. I had been isolating myself from Chris and everyone else so that I could continue caring for my mom. This included staying in our condo in Long Beach, WA.

Wednesday, March 25, I left my mother’s house and headed to the beach. God told me I better go help Chris. I had to choose: Mom who has caregivers, or Chris who had none. I then turned around to go help Chris. I arrived home late to sleep in the “senior” suite with disinfectant spay, sanitizing the common area of the home as I entered.

We isolated Chris to the master bedroom and bathroom with outside entry. We had two chairs – one on each side of the inside door to pass food water and supplies back and forth.

That Thursday, Chris drove himself to his PCP at the clinic. 1st tent temp: 101.5, O2 91; no flu. Then he drove himself to the 2nd tent in urgent care where he was tested for COVID-19 and chest x-ray. Results showed possible pneumonia and they started him on antibiotics. Chris was exhausted and drove straight home after.  I picked up meds and supplies: 2-oximeters (one for each of us), a better thermometer that actually worked, gaiter-aid, and vodka for sanitizer on the way home. I always drove my own car to keep my distance and at home I wore mask and gloves.

Saturday, we found out he tested positive for COVID-19. At that point, he had 3 days of fever, O2 as low as 86 and he kept saying he could breathe deep and get that number up, but that took a lot of work. I kept asking him if he wanted to go to the ER, but he kept saying his friend, Al, was fighting it at home…

Sunday, March 29th, the doctor called to check and Chris didn’t answer because he was sleeping all the time. When he did finally answer, the doctor said they were getting ready to send police to see if he had died.  Chris agreed to go to the ER.

Listen to the episode to hear the rest of Chris’ story.

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