Steve Soeffker of rural Biscay was released from Abbott Northwestern Hospital in mid-May after recovering from COVID-19, but since then it hasn’t been all smooth sailing.
“About a week after I was discharged, on Memorial Day evening, I had some leg cramps and my legs were real tight,” said Soeffker, 69. “I had blood clots in both lower legs and that was COVID related.”
Soeffker, a retired McLeod County sheriff’s deputy, is among thousands reporting ongoing complications following recovery from COVID-19. Research suggests the disease impacts numerous systems in the body, and patients have reported ongoing muscle pain, brain fog, breathlessness and more. For Soeffker, ongoing issues brought him back to the hospital, and he spent another week at Glencoe Regional Health.
“The oxygen levels are another concern,” he said. “When I went to the Glencoe ER, my oxygen had dropped into the 60s. Reports indicate brain damage can occur if the O2 levels drop below 70. Now my levels are back in the upper 90s.”
While in the hospital, Soeffker was discovered to have an irregular heartbeat. The symptom was an oddity, as he was suffering no shortage of breath or chest pains.
“It’s going to be an ongoing issue the way it sounds,” he said. “I talked to a cardiologist. We’re going to meet end of July, and maybe put me under to stop the heart and restart it.”
He’s also concerned about damage to kidney function. Upon arrival to Abbot, his major organs were shutting down.
“I was in dialysis three or four times before the kidney would work. Happily, the kidneys are functioning as they were before COVID,” Soeffker said.
Because his original hospital stay had him on a ventilator for 15 days, he had a tube down his throat for that long.
“I am having issues with my voice, almost like a gravel voice that may or may not clear up,” he said. “They gave me a time frame of four to six months (to clear up).”
He’s also on the lookout for loss of smell, extended pain, high fever and a loss of mobility.
THE LOWEST POINT
Soeffker’s memory of April 2 is fuzzy. That’s the day his symptoms first presented in dramatic fashion. His wife, Linda, found him laying on the ground gasping for air and called an ambulance. After that, he walked into the kitchen but doesn’t remember doing so. He does have memories of telling the ambulance crew he’d walk outside so they could load him onto the stretcher. Soeffker stands at 6 feet, 5 inches and imagines it would have been a challenge to get him through the narrow front door. He made it outside but doesn’t remember having done so.
He also doesn’t remember the ambulance ride, or even speaking to a doctor with whom he had a conversation. Ultimately he ended up at Abbott Northwestern Hospital after he was taken to Glencoe Regional Health. Though he can’t recall his lowest points, he knows Linda does. She received a call from a doctor working on her husband at Abbott Northwestern.
“He called her and asked if (I) wanted to be worked on and saved, or let go,” Soeffker said. “She made the right decision.”
His gap in memory extends for several days after.
“I remember nothing until I saw the calendar that said April 23,” Soeffker said. “I basically lost 21 days in there somewhere. And I had no Easter dinner. I missed out on the ham.”
REFLECTIONS ON COVID
Since his release from Abbott Northwestern, Soeffker has had a lot of time to reflect. One of his major takeaways during his recovery time has been how much has yet to be learned about COVID-19. Doctors frequently sat down to talk to him while he was in the hospital, asking about his symptoms, dreams, and wondering if he had hallucinations.
“(The lead doctor) would spend his whole dinner hour talking to me, trying to get information,” he said. “(He) said I had come in with the worst condition they had seen, recovered the quickest and left in the best condition they’d seen. But why me?”
Nearly 70, Soeffker supposes he should have had a hard time getting enough strength to leave the hospital after 43 days. But he knows people younger who are having a harder time.
Ultimately, he thinks, the best thing for anyone to do is to follow the advice of medical professionals while they learn all they can.
“There’s too much politics involved,” Soeffker said. “There are too many unanswered questions with COVID.”
The debate over masks, too, seems to have become political.
“People don’t want to wear masks,” he said. “I wear a mask. The doctors don’t think I’ll be susceptible to get it again, but they don’t know for sure. They are learning on a daily basis.”
He encourages everyone to follow health guidelines.
“It might not be the coolest thing around to wear a mask, but when your spouse has to answer the phone call asking, ‘Should we pull the plug?’ ... Well, that’s a phone call they could get,” he said. “Wearing a mask is something that could prevent that phone call. It’s a cheap precaution.”
As for himself, Soeffker hopes to have his strength back by August or September, if the rule of three days for recovery for every day in the hospital holds true.
“The summer is pretty much gone by September,” he lamented.
He can walk around the lawn, but it’s a much quieter life than he’s used to.
“People can come over and visit,” Soeffker said. “But people are afraid to spend time around me. That’s sad for me. I’ve always been a people person, a public person. ... I was in law enforcement for 25 years, and I did volunteer driving. I can’t do any of that.”