Editor’s note: This is the first part of a three-part story. Jason Reel was on a ventilator from COVID-19. He has recovered and is back to work for the City of Willard. His story is one of fear, hope and faith.
For Jason Reel, it started as a severe migraine a few days before Oct. 2. As a police officer/EMT/firefighter for the City of Willard, Reel would work through pain as he served his community. He was not the one who needed help. He was the one helping.
“I was teaching classes in Sandusky at the police academy,” he recalled. “I got a migraine that lasted three days. It was the worst migraine I have ever had in my life.”
Reel said he normally did not suffer from migraine headaches. It was about 6 p.m. on Oct. 2 as he was working at the fire station on Fort Ball Road.
“I was just not feeling good,” he said. “I was cold. I went and checked my temperature. It was 103.7 (degrees).”
As an EMT, Reel knew that high of a temperature was dangerous. It was also a sign of COVID-19. He went to the emergency room.
“The ER staff was wonderful like every other time,” Reel said. “They put me in a room and did a rapid test on me since I’m essential personnel. They said I had COVID.”
Reel said he had a chest x-ray while in the emergency room. He was told he was in quarantine as a result of what doctors saw.
It was not a surprise. With everything being shared about COVID, Reel said he knew it was a definite possibility. Migraine and fever were symptoms. It meant going home.
“I was quarantined,” he pointed out. “They said just go home, take vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc. Relax.”
Doctors also told Reel to take 12 days off. For anyone who knows him, sitting idle is not something Reel can do.
“I’m always on the run,” he pointed out. “So, I went home.”
On Oct. 7, Reel said he was having severe difficulty breathing. He contacted the doctor and was told to get out to the emergency room. Now.
“They did another chest x-ray,” he explained. “The doctor says, you need to get to Toledo. They had a hard time finding a room.”
Reel said he was transported to Toledo by ambulance to St. Vincent’s Hospital, which has a COVID wing ICU-unit. This is a totally foreign experience for him riding on a cot inside an ambulance.
“It took about an hour and 20 minutes,” Reel noted. “A million things are going through my mind because of that.
“Was I scared?” he pointed out. “Yes. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know how bad the x-ray was. She basically said you need to get to advanced care.”
He remembers the ambulance ride to Toledo. At this point, Reel was not in control of the situation. Instead, he was a patient depending on others to help him.
“I remember the ride up,” he said with a chuckle. “This was the bumpiest ride of my life. I was not feeling well. I was having difficulty breathing. They had me on oxygen.
“I get to St. V’s,” Reel explained. “They wheel me in. They started talking to me.”
His breathing is between 60 and 80 times a minute. Normal is 18 to 20 times a minute. The over breathing was taking a toll on Reel, and he was put on oxygen at the hospital.
“The next day I was breathing so hard, I wasn’t getting good total volume in my lungs,” Reel said. “They told me up there they had to intubate me. It scared me because you don’t hear good outcomes with someone on a ventilator, and that ran though my mind.”
Reel explained for someone who is on a ventilator, they may have a tracheotomy after a few days. The ball in the intubation tube in the throat gets corrosive. As a first responder, he knows what can happen more than non-medical patients.
“That was in the back of my mind,” he recalled. “But, I was just scared. I couldn’t talk.”
Family had to be notified. It was time to make some tough phone calls amid some confusion.
Those who were treating Reel were dressed in the special clothing for the COVID-19 ward. They also wore special helmets so they cannot catch the COVID.
As a police officer and firefighter, Reel is used to running into unknown situations to help people. This time, it was different.
“It was really scary,” he said. “This has been a life-changing experience.”
The second part of the series will deal with Reel’s treatment and recovery from COVID-19.