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Bemus Point man recounts monthslong COVID battle

Photo by Katrina Fuller Bemus Point resident Skip Anderson spent two months in various hospitals fighting COVID-19.

Imagine waking up in the hospital, not knowing where you are or what has happened. You come to learn you have almost died and have been in the hospital for more than two months — but you can’t remember any of it.

Area resident Skip Anderson went through just that and lost two months of memories after COVID-19 caused his brain and body to shut down during Easter weekend in April. Anderson wouldn’t leave the hospital until June 27.

Anderson said the weekend started in a normal fashion — he was heading out to Wayne County to spend the Easter holiday with his brother’s family. He drove three hours to reach his destination — and has very little memory of anything else that occurred.

“I have no idea where I got it,” Anderson said in a recent interview. “The only thing I do know is I didn’t give it to anybody. And, during all the real deadly parts of my hospital stay, I was blissfully unaware. I have no memories whatsoever of my niece’s husband taking me to the emergency room or checking me in. I thought I was just fine. I drove the three hours to get out there, and then I said a few words to my brother’s wife, and the next thing I remember it was two months later in Erie, Pa.”

Anderson said his mind “just closed down.” When he reached the hospital, the medical personnel had to medically induce a coma to lessen the stress on his body. He was laid on his stomach to breathe, and he ended up needing a respirator. At one point, Anderson also needed a feeding tube and a tracheostomy.

“I also heard later after the fact that the first doctor that saw me told my niece’s husband, Joel, ‘Well, I wouldn’t expect too much — I don’t think he’s going to make it,'” Anderson said. “That’s a hell of a thing to tell somebody. Then he has to go home and tell the rest of the family that.”

Joel Freeman, the husband of Anderson’s niece, remembers Anderson driving out for Easter and arriving Saturday night. Freeman said the next day, Anderson woke up for the Easter Sunrise Service at church, but something seemed off. He went back to bed after he got home, and when his family went to wake him, he was still not feeling well. Since Anderson is diabetic, they wondered if his malaise was from low blood sugar. However, when he did not improve after eating something, they knew they had to take action.

“He walked to the car and we drove him to the Urgent Care,” Freeman said.

He said his blood oxygen level was in the 60th percentile, which was cause for an ambulance to come and take him to the nearest hospital in Newark.

“They immediately put him into a medically induced coma,” Freeman said.

Anderson would end up staying in various hospitals in Newark, Rochester, and Erie, Pa., from April 2021 until June 2021. Despite being told he had some conversations and interactions during that time, he said he has no memory of those two months. Anderson said he was told after the fact that despite his illness, he remained a jokester throughout the entire process.

“I didn’t achieve consciousness until shortly after they moved me to Erie,” he said. “There, I was able to look out a window, and I honestly thought I was looking out onto Maple Grove High School. I was so fuzzy and I thought ‘Wow, I’m home again.’ At that time I started texting my friend, Max Pickard. The only thing I texted to him was ‘Find me.’ Because I didn’t know where I was.”

Pickard shared his recollections of the events with The Post-Journal as well, bridging the gaps in Anderson’s memory. He and Anderson have been friends since middle school and graduated from Maple Grove High School together in 1974. Pickard is such a close friend of Anderson, family members reached out to him asking if he was Anderson’s health care proxy. That’s when Pickard got involved in the situation.

“The family had set up a text group,” Pickard said. “I would take the daily updates, edit them, and put them on Facebook. We have a class Facebook page, “Maple Grove Class of 1974,” and I posted there to keep our classmates abreast of his progress or lack thereof.”

At first, the updates were bleak at best. Pickard said everyone was expecting the next Facebook post to explain that Anderson had passed.

“But, fortunately, within a couple of days, the reports coming from the family … began to show some glimmers of hope,” Pickard said. “He was probably in a coma for a good six weeks.”

After the coma, Anderson was weaned off the ventilator and was later moved to a rehabilitation facility.

“He spent almost all of April and May in Rochester hospitals, and sometime in early June, they moved him to Select Specialties in Erie,” Pickard said. “He had no recollection of being in the hospitals in Rochester.”

Pickard remembered back to the few weeks before Easter, when he and Anderson went to breakfast a few times. Pickard said he had been vaccinated since March, and knew Anderson had gotten his first dose a few weeks before. They went to breakfast together in Falconer, and at that time, Pickard said he remembers Anderson complaining about shortness of breath. The day before Easter, Pickard said he went to pick Anderson up and head to Red’s Best in Sherman for another breakfast, noting that Anderson was winded when he reached the truck.

“It was like he had run the 100-yard dash,” Pickard recalled. “He couldn’t catch his breath, and he was coughing and hacking. I said, ‘Skip, have you seen a doctor?'”

He said they continued the journey, and Anderson coughed the whole way. He seemed to get better through breakfast and only coughed a little on the way home. Pickard then dropped him off at home, and Anderson got in his truck to drive to visit his brother’s family. No one could have known events would have unfolded as they did that fateful Easter weekend.

“At some point, he was diagnosed that not only did he have COVID, but he also had pneumonia,” Pickard said.

He said he believes that Anderson had gotten pneumonia back in February, and possibly caught COVID-19 after he’d received his first vaccine.

Anderson said Pickard, shortly after everything began, organized a group of his friends to come and rehab the house he was living in.

“I’ve been a bachelor for quite some time and lived alone,” Anderson said. “I didn’t care about what my house looked like — I’ve seen pictures — it was a mess. It was bad news.”

He said his sister, Gayle, was supposed to be moving in with him in June, but Pickard said there was no way she could with the house in the condition that it was in.

“Max organized a huge amount of my friends to lay hands on the stuff, clean out the place, straighten things out, paint, and everything,” Anderson said. “It was just amazing the work that they did just out of pure love. My nephew down in Maryland started a Go-Fund-Me page and sent it out. People I hardly knew contributed $20 bucks here, $40 bucks there. I didn’t know I had touched them — but they did know of me, and contributed. It was really very heart-touching.”

Anderson said he appreciated all the help he received from his friends, family, and community. He knows there were a lot of prayers flowing his way during this difficult time.

Pickard says there is still work to be done, but he is glad the home is habitable for both Anderson and his sister. Currently, they are focused on getting the new flooring in and finishing up some painting. While it is a work in progress, Pickard said everything is in the works.

“We have a plan in place as to how to make his life more manageable for him,” Pickard said. “Probably more fulfilling than they would have been otherwise.”

Help came from multiple areas for this project, including the High School Class of 1974, he said. “We have a very, very generous class,” Pickard added. “It wasn’t just me — I was just the conduit to make people aware of this situation and because of their generosity, give of themselves.”

These days, Anderson said his heath is considerably better than it was in April. He had to relearn how to walk but is now able to get around by himself with a rollator. He attributes this improvement to the rehabilitation facility he was last in, as well as a visiting nurse that worked with him.

Anderson, an avid theater performer, is hopeful that in time he will return to the stage when the pandemic is over. He has played roles in various performances and musicals in many local theaters, including Little Theater and The Reg Lenna. He has also performed smaller, two-person plays in various venues, such as Labyrinth Coffee Company.

“Who knows, maybe I’ll be back on stage eventually,” Anderson said. “Maybe we’ll all be back on stage.”

As for any advice Anderson could give members of the public — he had a few pertinent words to offer.

“Get vaccinated, I say — but it falls on deaf ears,” he said. “Try to look on the brighter sides of life. I’ve always tried to have a smile on my face, and it’s usually returned. Try to be nice and don’t be serious all the time. I do like to joke around, apparently even when I’m unconscious. I guess it must be at the heart of the being of my soul to make people laugh and feel good. Life is fleeting — so don’t be afraid to live.”

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