ST. LOUIS COUNTY — Chris Ott doesn’t remember many of the days he spent tethered to a ventilator at Mercy Hospital South as he fought the grip of COVID-19 while in a medically induced coma.
But for his family, each of the 55 days he spent at Mercy seemed to never end — until he was finally discharged Monday.
“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” said Ott’s 23-year-old daughter, Jennifer. “Mom and I cried almost every day since we dropped him off.”
The 58-year-old Ott, who owns the St. Louis-based Area Wide Inc., began suffering flu-like symptoms in late March. He didn’t initially seem to have the symptoms most often associated with COVID-19, like shortness of breath or coughing, so a doctor sent him home to Affton with Tamiflu, his family said. But then his symptoms worsened.
“All of a sudden he was really sick and so we went (and) bought a pulse oximeter, which shows how much oxygen is in your blood,” said Ott’s wife, Debby, who works at Mercy as an anesthesiologist. “His was really low. Like, ‘Uh oh, this is a problem.’ I told him, ‘OK, honey, we need to go to the emergency room,’ and I could tell he was pretty sick because he didn’t fight. Normally he would have fought.”
Ott was admitted to the intensive care unit on March 25. His illness was one of the earlier cases of COVID-19 in the St. Louis area, and for many days it looked as though it might take his life. He suffered a fever for about a month while he was hooked up to the ventilator, which worried doctors, his wife said. Doctors gave her updates on his condition every day.
Being a medical professional herself has its advantages and drawbacks when you have a loved one in intensive care, Debby Ott said.
“I can definitely understand what the doctors are saying, but having enough knowledge to know what they’re saying means you know there are complications and risks that are out there,” she said. “It was a very dark and scary time.”
Not long after they brought Ott to the hospital, his wife and daughter also fell ill. They were presumed positive with COVID-19 but they were never ill enough to go to the hospital. But the symptoms were brutal for several days, they said.
“You could almost feel it eating your chest and lungs,” Jennifer Ott said. “The shortness of breath was real. Mom had to sleep sitting up a couple nights. I had some headaches. We both lost our sense of taste and smell, and Mom’s came back after a week or two, but mine has just started to come back seven weeks after my symptoms stopped.”
Chris Ott finally began to mend over the last couple of weeks and he was gradually brought out of his medically induced coma. His muscles are weak from all of the time spent in a hospital bed. He still has plenty of recovery time before him.
One of the first things he asked about after he became conscious was his refrigeration business, his daughter said. But Chris Ott’s son and brother-in-law have stepped up to keep things running, even through the shutdown of restaurants and bars that are his clients.
Jennifer Ott said her father’s illness was “eye-opening” to acquaintances who “might not have been taking (the virus) seriously from the beginning.”
“If it helps other people take it seriously, I’m glad, though I wish my Dad didn’t have to be the example,” she said. “It’s frustrating to see people be nonchalant about it, that it’s not a big deal and it won’t affect them.”
Debby Ott picked up her husband from the hospital Monday in the couple’s prized red Ford Mustang convertible.
Dozens of friends and family gathered in the parking lot of Cor Jesu Academy near the family’s home to throw Chris Ott a mini-parade. The Otts are a large clan — Chris Ott is the youngest of nine siblings — and he’s kept friends from grade school and college. The mostly masked crowd was jubilant and some brought vuvuzelas to blow, cowbells to clang or pots and pans to bang on. A few brought signs that read things like “Welcome home, Chris!” and “Kicked COVID’s ass!”
As he sat in the passenger seat of the Mustang, Ott expressed surprise at all the attention, but was “elated” to be going home. He’s looking forward to a return to normalcy, he said.