Craving human contact, a COVID-19 survivor story

Human touch can be taken for granted. A handshake when greeting a friend, the accidental brush of two hands together, a gentle kiss on the lips. For some, COVID-19 has prevented even the slightest of touches. For others, through cleanliness practices, touch has been lessened but not eradicated. 

Eva Dingwall has always been aware of how much contact means to her. For her, hugging her daughter, shaking hands with her pastor, and kissing her husband is as natural as breathing. In June, as she sat with her feet in a rushing stream as the sun baked over her, Eva had never considered what it would be like to live without human contact. In July, she was wondering if she would ever experience it again. 

In March 2020, COVID-19  arrived in the United States and it seemed the world came to a halt.  Jobs, friends and family members were lost.  For Eva, she was one of the lucky few to remain relatively untouched. Eva is an Administrative Associate at Tech and Greg Dingwall, Eva’s husband, is a band director in Livingston. The couple quietly finished the school year online and spent their summer together. 

Through the summer, Eva and her family enjoyed church youth groups and summer band camps. During one of the camps, Eva’s daughter Sarah encountered a student who wasn’t feeling well but quickly explained away all the symptoms. On July 31st, Eva’s husband Greg made the decision to test for COVID-19. That same day, Eva went to work and then to a prayer meeting.

 “During this season of life, it’s been very important to us to be at prayer and to fight the good fight of faith,” she said. 

At the church, everyone wore masks, social-distanced, and avoided contact. Everyone but Eva’s grandson who managed to sneak in a hug for his grandmother.  On August 1st everything changed. While running errands, her body started shaking, racking her with stomach cramps. As her body was pouring sweat, she urgently called her daughter and asked for help. 

Eva quickly made it her daughter’s house. When her body finally relented its attack, she felt relief until she looked down. The smell of iron hit her nose instantly and all she could see was blood. In the moment, it was easy to assume something she ate.

Making her way home, she insisted everyone keep their distance. Exhausted, she knew she needed rest. As her conditions worsened, a trip to a local urgent care was in order, and on Sunday Aug.  2nd, Eva and her husband entered quarantine. She wondered how this would impact her day to day. She asked herself, “This thing is basically just the flu, right?” 

The next day the results of COVID-19 test came back positive, and on the following day her taste was fading and her fever dreams began. This is when the struggle for breath began. 

Knowing this was more than just the flu, Greg quickly packed a bag, helped Eva into his big blue Ford truck and rushed her to the ER. Patiently waiting in line, she couldn’t avoid worrying for those around her. 

“I would say to the people around me, please I have COVID do not come near me,” she said.

After hours of cold needles, X-rays, and temperature checks, she was finally taken to the COVID ward. 

“I was miserable but they did everything they could to try to make me comfortable.” she said

Eva Dingwall has worked for Tech since November 1999. She recently spent time in the hospital with coronavirus.

As the night wore on, nurses passed by in a blur. Eventually one nurse asked another if Eva even needed a monitor, doubting that she was truly as sick as she claimed. This question was standard practice but it still caught her off guard. The shock washed over Eva has she heard the speculation in the nurse’s voice. She couldn’t help but wonder, how sick was she really?  

Toward the end of another day, it hit her how lonely she was. Since she entered the hospital, she hadn’t seen anyone’s entire face or even had skin to skin contact.  In those dark hours, her only comfort was the cold, latex hand of a nurse. A sign that someone else was there, she was not alone. 

“That touch was critical for me. God built us to need one another’s touch. Not just the heat, but contact with one another.” she said.  

Those signs of comfort were what she held onto. During the day she had two nurses. The nights were much harder. As she laid on her scratchy sheets, she slowly waited for the night to pass. She stared at the clock that wasn’t moving as her body attacked her with cramps, sweating, and rising temperatures. 

As the days passed, her symptoms worsened. Her lungs filled with blood. Sitting up in bed brought waves of dizziness, and visions of stars and black rings. Drinking  Ensure helped with the nourishment and IV’s battled dehydration, however by the next day Eva was slipping even further into the clutches of the coronavirus. 

As she laid in her cold, white room she was struggling to do any of the breathing exercises. The doctors were encouraging her to use a breathing apparatus machine and to get her number on the machine up to 2,500. Eva could barely hit 250. The doctors tried everything they could to help her realize the reality of her situation. In that moment, Eva broke. With tears streaming down her face, struggling to breath, she looked at the doctor and uttered words she never wanted to say out loud, “I’m scared.” Suddenly she felt the comforting touch of a cold latex hand on her shoulder. She turned and asked the doctor, “Am I dying?”  

One week into her time in the hospital, Eva was taken into the ICU as her lungs filled slowly with fluid. Her memory of the ICU is cloudy and in snippets. The hospital staff did everything in their power to keep her off of a ventilator. To keep her temperature down, she was constantly covered in wet cloths. At some point, her family was finally able to Facetime her. The calls, texts, and photos Eva received helped to keep her going. 

After hearing from the doctors how serious Eva’s condition was, Greg sent out an all call to everyone they knew, begging for prayers. Her husband was terrified. Their church family, who lovingly call her “Momma Eva,” were terrified. Texts, calls  and prayers started pouring in almost instantly. Every night, lying in her bed, Eva would fiercely quote scripture. In those dark, lonely moments, everything felt surreal and disconnected and yet she felt fully surrounded in a blanket of love, scripture, and prayer. 

After many days of trials and tribulations, her healing  began.  Little by little her conditions improved. She regained her sense of taste. The dizziness had begun to clear, and on Saturday Aug. 16th, Eva left the ICU. 

Now, in September, she is still not fully recovered. There are still days she wakes up breathless and fatigued. On her best days, she describes feeling “95% herself.” Despite still fighting a battle to a complete recovery, she is just happy to enjoy something as common as human touch.