OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – “I just remember I was paralyzed,” Charlotte Kreizenbeck said. “I didn’t know where I was, and I remember a nurse telling me, ‘You’ve been very, very ill.'”
She was alone in a hospital bed, unable to move, and had no idea why she was there. About a month prior is when Charlotte’s battle with COVID-19 began. She spent 46 days in the ICU.
“I started having some breathing problems, and I really didn’t think I had COVID-19, because I didn’t feel really bad, but I just had trouble breathing, and it was a day in October when all the electricity was out in town. There was a storm,” Charlotte said.
It was a precursor of an even bigger storm to come. A late October ice storm knocked out power to much of Oklahoma, including Charlotte’s doctor’s office. She found a clinic in a neighboring town that was powered by a generator. Healthcare professionals checked Charlotte’s oxygen level and told her to immediately get to a hospital, and it was there that Charlotte tested positive for COVID-19.
“After that, the only thing I remember is a helicopter ride,” Charlotte said.
Charlotte’s health was fading fast and she was airlifted to Oklahoma City. Doctors told her family it did not look good.
“When I heard the word ventilator, my heart sank, because I knew a ventilator was not good,” Charlotte’s daughter, Terri Kreizenbeck-Barger, said. “I knew being on a ventilator, the odds were not in her favor.”
While sedated, Charlotte suffered strokes that paralyzed her left side and impaired her vision and her short-term memory.
“I was trying to comprehend what was going on. I didn’t know time frame. I didn’t realize what had happened to me. I was paralyzed on my left side and completely bedfast. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t get up,” Charlotte said. “A nurse told me that I’d had COVID-19 and had been in the hospital for quite a while.”
Because of safety protocols in place at the hospital, her family could not see her in person, but her husband Chris would not leave. He slept in the hospital parking lot.
“We’ve been together too long,” Chris Kreizenbeck said. “We grew up together, raised each other, then raised kids.”
Chris was in constant contact with the hospital staff taking care of his Charlotte, especially one in particular.
“I called her the death nurse, but she was a good gal. She got me in there to see her,” Chris said.
Tears are not comfortable for Chris – a rugged fellow with a coy nature that Charlotte sees right through.
“You stayed in there with me,” she said. “Brushing my hair the whole time and talking to me. He asked me, ‘Charlotte, can you hear me? If you can hear me squeeze my hand,’ and I did.”
But still, there was a long way to go in Charlotte’s journey.
“It was rough on them,” she said. “It was very hard on the family.”
And the medication that doctors had to give to Charlotte was hard on her.
“In my lungs there was some scarring, and they had to let the scarring and the lungs heal. They’d given me a medication that made my feet literally die, but it saved my life,” Charlotte said. “My feet turned black and if they touched together they clicked like wood. And I had to get stronger to get through an amputation surgery.”
The drug was a vasopressor. It constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure. It is used to treat low blood pressure in critically ill patients like Charlotte, whose blood pressure had dipped dangerously low. COVID-19 did not take her life – it took her feet. Doctors had to amputate them.
“It has impacted our life as far as how we have a daily routine now, but in the future when I get prosthetics and learn to walk, it’ll just be a memory.”
Not only did Charlotte beat COVID-19, she is making sure they never meet again. Shortly after our first interview with her, she received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Charlotte’s feet may be gone, but her reasons to live are not.
“I just accepted it and moved forward. I didn’t know if it didn’t sink in or if it sunk and I was ok with it or I realized how severe my health had gotten at one point,” she said. “I was just thrilled to know that one day in the future, I would hold my grandkids, I’d see my children again and that I had survived COVID-19.”