In a hospital ICU for two months, heavily sedated and on a ventilator, Las Vegas-area paramedic John Foster’s chances of surviving COVID-19 seemed slim. After he woke up, for days he thought he still might be in a bad dream.
“I had to learn to make my mind work,” recalled Foster, 61. “It was foggy. It was hazy. I wasn’t sure if I was still in a perpetual, terrible, depressing dream.”
Today, 20 months after he drove himself to the hospital with a cough and shortness of breath, he is enjoying spending time over the holidays with family and friends before returning full time to the work that he now sees as his life’s purpose.
“I have a whole different perspective on life,” he said. “To me, it seems like I’m reborn. Not in a strange biblical way, but I have a second chance. I go to church now, and I just feel like I’m here for a reason.”
After being admitted to Henderson Hospital in early April 2020, Foster’s condition rapidly worsened. Because of his medical training, he realized at one point that he was about to be intubated — a procedure in which a breathing tube is placed in a patient’s windpipe and attached to a ventilator to assist with breathing. After that, he remembers little about his time in the ICU.
During the months on the ventilator, his weight dropped by more than 100 pounds, from 260 to 151, with “a lot of muscle wastage,” he said.
As he began his recovery, he was transferred to Dignity Health Rehabilitation Hospital, where he stayed for three months.
“I had to learn how to walk, talk, go to the bathroom, do math, do English,” he said, praising the staff at both hospitals. “I had to relearn everything.”
He also had to battle loneliness. Pandemic restrictions prohibited visitors during most of his stay at the rehabilitation facility. He watched TV, listened to the radio and read newspapers and magazines to feel less isolated, he said.
“In a hospital surrounded by people, in a community surrounded by millions, it was still very, very lonely,” he said.
Las Vegas news media reported Foster’s release from the rehabilitation hospital in August 2020, a sign of hope for a community struggling with the devastating virus.
To be closer to family, he moved to Fallon in Northern Nevada, where one of his sons works as a Nevada highway patrolman. His other son is in the Air Force and going into the U.S. Space Force.
‘The days are brighter’
In Fallon, Foster continued to recover mentally, physically and spiritually.
“To me, church is a whole brand new thing,” he said. “And it’s not that I had to go, it’s because I wanted to go, and I get to see people now and understand people better.”
After his long bout of COVID, he savors life more. “The days are brighter. The nights are brighter,” he said.
“I don’t want to die but I’m not afraid of it. I know it’s coming again, but I don’t want to miss out. Too many things to see, too many things to still do.”
Foster said after some initial uncertainty, he got vaccinated and a booster shot, which he believes, along with prior infection, have protected him from reinfection when he has been exposed to COVID-19 while working part-time paramedic jobs. However, he strongly believes that people should have the right to make up their own minds about vaccination.
He tries to focus on what’s good in the world. “I’ve been around too much bad as a paramedic and through this experience,” he said. “I like to see people having fun, smiling, doing good things for each other.”
His lingering symptoms have improved with time, he said. He continues to have issues with balance, and sometimes has trouble recalling things from his childhood.
“Funny thing is, I can remember everything I need to do as a paramedic,” he said.
Early in the new year, he will be returning to full-time work as a paramedic in Fallon, and also will be teaching future paramedics at Western Nevada College in Carson City.
“I don’t have a true answer why God wants me here,” he said. “But I think it is to teach, to lead by example.”