The Daily Astorian, Oregon
‘I thought I would never get it, and boy was I wrong’
Gigi Thompson doesn’t remember the August night when she knocked on her neighbor’s front door, desperate for help. She doesn’t remember getting in the neighbor’s truck to go to the hospital, or saying goodbye to her husband and asking him to watch over their pets.
She doesn’t remember being transferred from Providence Seaside Hospital to St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland the next day, or getting the scars on her neck.
What she does remember, from moments in and out of consciousness, is the feeling of the oxygen mask tight on her face and her sense of suffocation.
She remembers a nightmare that seemed so real, where she died and cold hands pulled her into the darkness of a mortuary drawer as she kicked at them and begged God for more time. She doesn’t think she’ll ever forget that.
Thompson spent 122 days in the hospital after contracting COVID-19.
Her neighbor drove her to Providence Seaside on Aug. 15, and she was quickly transferred to St. Vincent, where she stayed until early November. She then spent another month back in Seaside, getting less-intensive treatment and physical therapy.
Thompson has pieced together what happened through conversations with doctors, family and friends.
Her neighbor filled her in about the night she was admitted. Her daughter told her she had approved the emergency tracheotomy that cut into her neck, leaving scars but saving her life. After she woke from a monthlong coma, a doctor told her she had nearly died twice.
There’s a lot to be grateful for, Thompson said. She can walk a little bit and can dress herself. And she has hope that her health will improve with time.
“That experience with COVID, that actually changed my life for the better,” Thompson said. “I have a better outlook on certain things, and I always try to keep a positive attitude.”
Thompson, who is 72 years old, was discharged from Providence Seaside on Dec. 15 after several months of treatment for the virus. She exited the hospital in “Rocky” themed attire, wearing boxing gloves, an American flag and a nasal cannula.
The hospital staff lined up and clapped, some teary-eyed, as they said goodbye to the long-haul COVID patient.
Two days later, Thompson sat at home after her nurse left for the evening. Her cat, “Amara,” which will have her 22nd birthday in March, sat on Thompson’s lap as she told her story over the phone.
“She just won’t leave me alone. She has to sleep on me and keep touching me to make sure I’m still there,” Thompson said.
Being back home has been an adjustment. When she first arrived, her husband, her son and a neighbor had to carry her wheelchair up the stairs to the front door. They’re looking for first-floor apartments, but finding few options.
She can’t make dinner anymore, and for now has resigned to observing and critiquing her husband’s work in the kitchen.
“I’m doing OK. It’s time-consuming, that’s what healing is,” Thompson said. Her statements were sometimes punctuated by brief coughing fits.
Thompson’s daughter, Carol Dickeson, said she is amazed her mom got through her battle with COVID.
“She had one foot in the grave there, and that scared us,” Dickeson said.
She talked to the hospital daily for updates on her mom, calling from her home in Colorado.
“Just the thought of losing her? Oh man, that was — it really, really scared me,” Dickeson said. “She’s a feisty woman. She’s very, very feisty and she’s a fighter. She won’t let nothing keep her down.”
Thompson worked in the fishing industry her whole life, from shrimp picking in Gold Beach to Pacific Seafood in Warrenton, and up to Alaska for a time. She retired in her 50s after an on-the-job shoulder injury while hauling 35-pound crab buckets.
Dickeson described her mom as selfless, and said she always had a place at her table for neighborhood kids. She said her fried chicken recipe was so good that her siblings would ask her to make extra just so they could share it at school.
“With my mom, she’s always …” Dickeson said, before getting emotional. “There’s not enough time to say enough good about my mom. She always — always — is looking to help other people.”
A struggle to get vaccinated
Prior to her hospitalization, Dickeson and her siblings had struggled to convince their mom to get vaccinated.
“Now that she’s had this COVID, and went face to face with that. She’s taking it seriously now,” Dickeson said. “So I’m glad she went through this to realize that it’s not funny or anything, and I’m glad that she survived it. I’m happy that my mom’s still with us, and we get to put up with her wittiness.”
Now Thompson can assure them that she received two vaccine doses during her stay at Seaside, having changed her mind after dealing with the virus firsthand. She plans on getting the booster as soon as she is eligible.
“I thought I would never get it, and boy was I wrong. It smacked me down like nothing. And I’m glad I got those two shots,” Thompson said.
Thompson is a mother of eight, including two stepchildren and an adopted daughter. She described the support of her family and her faith as her strengths.
“With my strength in the Lord, and my kids and my husband, we all got together. And so many people — people I didn’t even know — were texting my phone and saying, ‘God bless you Gigi. We’re so happy you made it. You’ve been through the wringer.’ And I said, ‘I have literally been at hell’s door and came back,'” she said.
She thanked the hospital staff for their work and said that she’s glad to be alive.
“There’s still things that I want to do, and things I want to see. I’ve been a fish filleter for over 40 years. I did a little bit of logging for three years, and raised my children before all that. Life has been alright, you know, it’s like a roller coaster,” she said. “I’m here and I’m so grateful that I am here, and I want to thank everybody for everything that they have done.”