Thrive by IU Health

June 02, 2021

Firefighter felt like death was in the room

Firefighter felt like death was in the room

Jim Redd is not one to give up easily, but even this previously healthy guy was no match for COVID. It took heroic measures by University Hospital staff and the grace of God to save him.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Jim Redd still remembers waking up in the hospital in mid-December with a sense of impending doom. He didn’t know what day it was, and he didn’t care.

“I felt like I was in a cave. I didn’t want to see anybody or talk to anybody. I felt like ‘it’ was in the room.”

“It” was death. He felt it swirling around him, and he’s honest when he talks about it a month later.

“I felt like it was time. It was horrible. I felt like the guy was in the room and I was ready.”

Lucky for the 58-year-old Lafayette firefighter, the fog lifted in the coming days, and he realized he wasn’t ready after all. He began to fight like hell.

“What I found out later was that one of my sisters put a post on Facebook that said I was sick and needed prayers. If you know me, I don’t put anything personal on Facebook,” he said. “But hundreds of people responded and prayed.”

That post and those prayers happened the same day he was ready to let go in that hospital room.

“The next day was the first time I talked to my wife,” Redd said, since being transported to IU Health University Hospital by ambulance Dec. 8.

“And I felt like he (death) was gone, he wasn’t in the room anymore. I started to care a little bit more. I started to get a little bit of hope.”

TOO HEALTHY FOR COVID?

A full-time firefighter for 22 years and a volunteer firefighter before that, the 6-foot-tall Redd always took pride in his health, staying in excellent shape. He had his own gym at home, where he put himself through a rigorous fitness routine several times a week. He didn’t smoke, didn’t have any underlying health conditions.

So, he never thought COVID-19 would happen to him. Or, if the virus did manage to attach itself to him, he’d kick it to the curb.

Lori and Redd smile for a photo

But after falling ill with the virus in late November, he couldn’t shake it. When his symptoms worsened, his wife, Lori, took him to IU Health Arnett Hospital, which recommended he be transferred to University Hospital, where more ICU beds were available.

Redd remembers riding down to Indianapolis in an ambulance Dec. 8 and talking to the EMTs, one of whom was a retired firefighter. After that, he said, he doesn’t remember much of anything until waking up in that “cave” about a week later.

It was a few days after that when he learned that he had gone into cardiac arrest and how a nurse brought him back with CPR.

“I coded on the tenth of December and was on a ventilator about three days,” he said.

He got to meet that nurse later to thank her and share a few tears. She told him how she practically willed him to survive. “I needed you to live.”

First responder to first responder, she said she wanted him to recover so he could go out and save more people.

The fact that she remembered so much about him from that night has stuck with him.

“I know that’s not the first time she’s done CPR. But there are those people you connect with for some reason. It’s neat when you can make that connection with another human being,” he said.

HOME FREE

Redd was discharged from the hospital on New Year’s Day. All he wanted to do was get home. His wife insisted they make one slight detour. He was irritable, he admitted. But then he saw them – his band of brothers, his firefighter friends, who gave him an escort home.

“I got to see all those guys,” he said. “I didn’t really want them to see me, but it was good. They’ve been amazing, helping with groceries, firewood, whatever I need.”

Redd lost 35 pounds while he was hospitalized, but worse than that was the muscle atrophy that set in. Still, he pushed himself through therapy to regain his strength; he resisted doctors’ recommendation for a feeding tube, insisting that he could eat on his own. With his care team’s support and patience, he did just that.

He may not be physically ready to run into any burning buildings yet, but he longs for the day when he can return to work. And he has nothing but good things to say about the doctors, nurses and therapists who saw him through the worst weeks of his life.

“There are people who check the boxes, and then you have people who overachieve and who will do extra for the same pay and do the right thing when no one’s looking,” he said.

“Those are the people that University Hospital has working for them. They were amazing. I knew when they were taking care of me I didn’t have to worry about anything.”

Stubborn guy that he is, Redd said he suspects he acted like a jerk at times in the hospital, but those who helped him recover respected his role as a first responder and his fight for independence.

“I think in general the respect I have for anybody who is selfless in their career choice, those are my kind of people,” Redd said. “They’re going to do anything for anyone regardless of what you look like, who you pray to or what your bank account looks like. Those are my people.”

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