There are occasions when Shirley Hogan meets people who think the COVID-19 pandemic was a government hoax.
“My husband David and I went to a restaurant not long ago, and I said something to the waitress about the crowd, because it was really packed,” Hogan said. “The waitress said that since COVID has eased up they were back to full blast.”
The waitress then told Hogan she didn’t think COVID was real.
“I said, ‘let me tell you how real it is,’” recalled Hogan, who is 70 and a retired florist. “There are people now who scare me, they’re so nonchalant about it.”
Hogan has as much reason as anyone to want others to take COVID seriously. She was one of the first in Bryan County to test positive for the virus. And though her memories of what followed are in some places vague and others nonexistent, Hogan knows she was hospitalized July 15, 2020, lost consciousness at some point afterward and didn’t wake up until September was almost done.
Upon waking up, she Hogan learned she’d lost more than her memory. The toes on her fight foot had to be amputated. She lost her hair. She couldn’t walk, or bathe, or hold a pencil. And she was one of the lucky ones.
“I was asked in the hospital what I remembered of being sick, and I said, ‘nothing,’” Hogan said. “I was told that was probably a blessing. I was given less than a 20 percent chance of living.”
After she came to, Hogan was eventually sent from the hospital to Brooks Rehabilitation in Jacksonville, Fla., where she spent 19 days learning to redo things she once took for granted before being discharged in October. And there would still be a long road to go.
“I probably wasn’t walking again until January 2021,” she said.
But there was home rehab and support from her husband David, Sherry and her husband Terry, and Hogan’s grandchildren, Jakob and Carter. Neighbors such as Carolina Cannady, Cristy Sehr, Edward and Elaine Smith and Janet Collins, were there when she needed help. So was Hogan’s “church family,” at Olive Branch Baptist Church. There was a Facebook page started by Sherry Tapley to update people daily on Hogan’s condition.
“Sherry would post on Facebook what had come up and that we needed prayers for that day,” Hogan said, “and people prayed for that problem. And we saw God’s amazing miracles when we needed them most. So, I truly feel like I am a true living miracle.” Prayers were lifted, thousands of them, and Hogan got more than 400 cards while she was in the hospital. “I was told by the mail lady at the hospital that they’d never had so much mail,” Hogan said. “Not to say that like I’m boasting, but very humbly. That people took the time to say they were praying for me, it’s very humbling.”
Hogan came home Oct. 30, 2020, the day before Halloween. There was a parade of seemingly hundreds to welcome Hogan home. It was organized by Sehr, one of the family’s indispensable friends who “are like family.” “That little parade was such a surprise, it was just awesome,” Hogan said. “Just to see so many people came out just to drive by and show their support.
And I still feel that level of love and support. It’s amazing that so many people have been so caring.”
Now more than two years later, Hogan feels the impact of COVID in unexpected ways. She will have trouble breathing, or feel unsteady. She has long haul COVID, and finds support on Facebook from others in the same boat.
“Some days I’m great, some days my legs won’t work right or I’m really short of breath, some days I’m really shaky,” she said. “I still can’t smell, but some of my taste has come back. I don’t have a lot of endurance.”
And then Hogan paused.
“God’s been so good to me I don’t want it to sound like I’m complaining,” she said. “I’m certainly able to do so much that I couldn’t do before. That in itself is a miracle to me.”
And she got her hair back.
“It did have some curl in it,” she said. “I never had any curl before, but the back of it was a little bit curly. The curl only lasted for a couple of haircuts, though.”
Hogan is not certain whether her diabetes played into the severity of her COVID, but she now believes the virus is in some form here to stay for everyone.
That hasn’t ended her determination to live her life as fully as she can without taking risks. And so it is that on the one hand, Hogan is back to teaching Sunday school or eating out or taking in a movie, but on the other when she goes to the doctor she asks for the last appointment of the day so fewer people are about.
“It’s easier to do that than to take a chance,” she said. “I’m a very big respecter of it. I don’t want to be around it at all.”
Not since she woke up in September 2020, and was told something that has stuck with her since.
“The doctor said, ‘I’ve never had anyone as sick as you that lived,’” Hogan said “He told me I was the first.”