BOONE — It had been more than two weeks since Josh Grindstaff talked to his mother. Two weeks since he told her that he loved her and that everything would be OK. Two weeks since she was put on a ventilator at Watauga Medical Center due to COVID-19.
“She was just kind of pulling at the CPAP mask that was on her face and she said, ‘I hope so,’” Grindstaff said. “That will probably haunt me forever.”
Grindstaff’s mom, Doris, was unvaccinated against COVID-19. She and her family are from the Spruce Pine area, but because there were no hospital beds available at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital, she was given a bed at WMC in Boone.
Grindstaff said his mom, who retired in February, wasn’t anti-vaccine, but more so afraid of medicine in general. He said she had been that way her entire life and was even hesitant to take a acetaminophen pain reliever.
The week before she went on a ventilator, Grindstaff would talk to her every day.
“She told me how sick she was and that she’d never been that sick in her life, and that she wished that she would have gotten the vaccine,” Grindstaff said. “She just said, ‘If I had known it was this bad, I would have gone.’ She told me that two days in a row, the two days before she was put on a ventilator.”
Josh explained that his mother had Raynaud’s disease, which causes certain parts of the body to feel numb and cold. She first became ill on August 7.
Due to restrictions at the hospital, Grindstaff was only able to FaceTime with her. September 2 was the first time he FaceTimed her while she was on the ventilator as the doctors told him that she would still be able to hear him. His whole family gathered at his place and all said their peace.
“It’s just terrible,” Grindstaff said. “You don’t know if she can hear you. You don’t know if you’ll ever get the chance to tell her everything you want to tell her. It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”
Not being there with her was one of the worst feelings for Grindstaff.
“It was just heartbreaking to be separated like that and to not be able to be there with her,” Grindstaff said. “I understand why the precautions are in place, but it is truly heartbreaking.”
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and Watauga Medical Center currently have visitor restrictions in place. Grindstaff said staff at the hospital was fantastic and went above and beyond, adding that the head nurse called him every day and let him know about any changes.
“I couldn’t have asked for better care for my mother,” Grindstaff said.
His mom’s illness has been hard on Grindstaff and his family. He said his son and mother had been really close and he’s been having a hard time, adding that his mother had been like his wife’s mother for a long time and she has been crying off and on daily.
“My father calls me crying at least twice a day,” Grindstaff said. “My brother and sister haven’t been able to go to work because they just can’t motivate themselves to. It’s been really hard on everyone. My mom was kind of the one that held everybody together. The rock.”
Grindstaff is an electrician and travels extensively, so he is sometimes up at odd hours. For the past 10 years or more, he said his mother would text him at 6:30 in the morning and tell him that she loved him and to be safe.
Without that now, Grindstaff said it’s been hard.
“That was a constant, no matter what else was going on in my life,” Grindstaff said.
According to Josh, it’s also heartbreaking for him to know how much she was looking forward to retiring. She was a dietician at a hospital, and if she had been there a little longer she would have had to have gotten the vaccine.
“Maybe this all would have worked out differently and maybe it wouldn’t,” Grindstaff said.
Grindstaff knows that some people don’t trust the vaccine or don’t think COVID-19 is bad enough to get it. He himself was hesitant to get the vaccine at first due to some allergies, but ultimately did so.
For those who don’t think COVID-19 is bad, he understands because there can be good odds for some.
“The survival rate or whatever sounds great until it’s one of your loved ones in the hospital on a ventilator,” Grindstaff said. “I don’t understand how we can’t just come together and take care of each other. It’s infuriating and baffling to me.”
The day he and his family last talked to his mother, doctors also told him that they soon may have to make hard choices. Grindstaff said the doctors did everything they could for her.
“It’s something that I would carry with me the rest of my life,” Grindstaff said.
Doris Grindstaff was on a ventilator for two weeks and fought COVID-19 for one month. At 2:59 a.m. on Sept. 8, Grindstaff passed away from COVID-19 following a seven-hour battle after being removed from the ventilator. Josh Grindstaff’s sister was able to be with her, and Josh was able to FaceTime with her to say goodbye.