On June 30 this year, Noah “NB” Bailey drove to Martin County with his brother, James, to check out Cloud 9 Café. He said he wasn’t feeling the best, but he didn’t think much of it since he figured it was just a sinus infection.
“We went over there, and I wasn’t driving the best in the world and even James noticed and asked me about why I had swerved,” Bailey said. “Looking back, I shouldn’t have been behind the wheel, but I just thought I felt bad.”
The two went inside and sat down at a table to order.
“I looked at James and said, ‘I feel so bad,’ and I collapsed,” Bailey remembers.
He was taken to Highlands ARH and immediately checked for COVID-19, which came back positive, so everyone else was put out of the room and he stayed the night there, but he was released the next day.
“I don’t know why they released me,” Bailey said. “I wasn’t even able to walk on my own, but after they made sure I didn’t have any blood clots, they gave me some medicine and sent me on my way.”
At home, Bailey was still feeling terrible, telling his wife he believed he needed to be in the hospital and the two decided to take him to Pikeville Medical Center.
“We got to Pikeville, and she pulled in on the emergency side of the hospital,” Bailey remembers. “They came out and she tells them what’s going on with me and they put me in a wheelchair. I just assumed my wife was right behind me, but it would be 29 days before I laid eyes on her, again, or anybody I knew, for that matter.”
Bailey was immediately put in intensive care and the doctor told him they had him on the heaviest oxygen they make at 100%.
“I was afraid to go to sleep,” Bailey said. “I laid in the hospital bed three nights in a row, afraid to go to sleep because every time I started to doze off, a nurse would yell over the speaker, ‘Noah, take deep breaths,’ so I just tried to not fall asleep.”
He asked his doctor what the next step would be since his oxygen levels were dropping every time he fell asleep, but he was already maxed out on oxygen.
“He told me, ‘It looks like I’m going to have to put you on a vent,’ and I told him to just let me die,” Bailey remembered. “He asked, ‘Are you serious?’ and I didn’t want my wife and kids to have to wonder if they did the right thing or not. He told me I’d have to sign a paper refusing the treatment and I signed it. That was the hardest time ever signing my name in my life.”
In the days that followed, he said he begged to the Lord to let him see his wife and kids one more time, even if that meant he would die the next day after going home. He didn’t know if he was alive or dead for 11 days, he told the Independent.
“I was so bad a nurse came in and they had a curtain pulled around me and I asked the nurse, ‘Am I dead?’” Bailey said. “She said, ‘No, Noah, and we’re doing everything in our power to help you.’ I remember thinking that if I am dead, this sure don’t look like Hell, but it sure didn’t look like Heaven, either.”
At some point, a nurse came in and turned his oxygen down to 90%, and later the same evening she was able to turn it down more to 80%, telling him he wasn’t requiring as much. After roughly two weeks, he was moved out of ICU and onto the COVID floor, though he was still in critical condition, he said.
Bailey described the COVID floor as isolating, though he could still hear the pleas of other sick patients down the hall from him.
“It says in the Bible that if a person is in Hell, they’d be begging, but it wouldn’t do no good,” Bailey said. “I could hear people in the hallway saying, ‘Oh God, please help me,’ and I was doing the same thing, but not as loud.”
His health’s improvement was slow, but it did come.
“They got me down to 40% on heavy oxygen, and a nurse came in, like an angel and so sweet, and said, ‘Noah, I’m going to try to wean you down to regular oxygen, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t work. It sometimes takes two to three weeks for people to get off this,’” Bailey said. “She gets me on the other oxygen, and it looks to me like the oxygen was ticking down like clockwork, ticking down by the second. It got to 85 and she switched me back.”
He asked her how many days she worked until she was off, and she told him four days and he asked if she would come back everyday and try that, again.
The next day she came in, as she promised, and switched the oxygen, again. They waited for a moment to see how his body would take the change.
“She grabbed me and hugged me and said, ‘Your lungs accepted it and you’re running at 96%,’” Bailey said. “I started crying like a baby.”
The nurse called the doctor, who came in later that day.
“He had a big smile on his face, and he said, ‘I heard some wonderful news about you, that you got off of that oxygen on the second try!’” Bailey remembered.
After he had been in the hospital approximately three weeks, a nurse came into his room and told him she was going to swab him for COVID and that if he came back negative he could be put on the medical floor and call his wife and tell her she could come see him at 6:30 that evening. It, thankfully, was negative, and he called his wife as he had been instructed.
“My wife walked through the door like an angel,” Bailey remembers. “That was the best therapy in the world.”
Bailey explained to the Independent that on top of the intense illness, the isolation that comes with it is crippling.
“I was in a room by myself, and especially when I was in ICU, they were monitoring everything, so they only had to come in the room to take blood,” Bailey said. “It always pleased me when they said they needed to take blood because that meant they were coming into the room. That’s a bad feeling.”
After a month in the hospital, Bailey was released from the hospital and taken to Prestonsburg Health Care Center for rehabilitation.
“When I got there, I couldn’t stand up by myself,” Bailey said. “They asked me if I could stand up for them, and I couldn’t raise up in the bed, so they helped set me on the side of the bed. Then they asked if I could stand on my feet, but I couldn’t do it, so they stood me up and I couldn’t hold up my own weight and went down. They got me a wheelchair and we started working with small leg and arm weights. A week later they had me walking down the hall with a walker. Four days after that I was walking without assistance. I wouldn’t trade what I got there for nothing.”
Bailey was set to be released from the nursing home on a Saturday, but on the Friday before they started swabbing everyone for COVID.
“A nurse came in and told me they had found COVID in the nursing home, so she double-masked me and bagged up all my stuff,” Bailey said. “She told me, ‘I don’t want you to be quarantined here for two more weeks when you’re supposed to get out tomorrow.’”
She took him to an isolated area and called his wife. When she arrived, the nurse took him out to the car, leaving the oxygen on him and going back into the building to finish his paperwork, bringing it out to the car for them to sign and he was on his way home.
“On the 14th day of August, I got to see my house, and I didn’t think I’d ever see it, again,” Bailey told the Independent. “It’s hard to handle, thinking about never seeing your wife, again. Never seeing your kids, your grandkids, or your friends, again, but I got to the point that’s what I thought.”
Bailey said he went through every emotion.
“I prayed to the Lord. I cried. I begged. I gave up. I stressed out and just about completely flipped out from the isolation,” Bailey said. “If anyone tells you COVID ain’t real, they don’t know nothing about COVID. I went right to the edge of death. I don’t ever try to tell a story like I had the worst of something, but you couldn’t get worse than what I was and still be alive and have a story to tell.”
While Bailey is still recovering at home, wearing oxygen at night and sometimes still struggling to catch his breath, he said the saddest part was the news he received just a few days ago.
“When I went down, James hollered for help and two guys came and helped, one holding my right arm and the other holding my left,” Bailey said. “Both took COVID and I just found out one of them died. I can’t say they definitely caught it from me, but I can’t not say it, either. That tore me up really bad.”
He said he did go back to Cloud 9 recently to thank them for their help and for checking on him while he was in the hospital.
“The woman in there working looked at me and said, ‘You’re the one,’ and I said, ‘Yep, I’m the one,’” Bailey said. “She said it scared her so bad she almost died, but I had to go back and tell them thanks. They were so sweet and helped me and my brother so much. And that was the best steak I ever ate in my life.”
His wife also had COVID at the same time he was in the hospital and her taste has still not returned.
Though he’s unsure where he caught the virus, and even with receiving both doses of the vaccine as soon as he could get them earlier this year, Bailey said he believes he was exposed to COVID-19 while on a trip to Pigeon Forge.
“My wife and I stayed couped up for one and a half years and she had never been there, so we went and stayed two nights down there,” Bailey said.
They socially distanced when out in public, with Bailey’s best guess being the hotel they stayed in as the place where he caught the virus.
To talk to him today, you can still tell he’s sick, sounding congested like someone with bronchitis or pneumonia, but Bailey said the nightmares have been intense, with signs of some PTSD following his illness and hospital stay with COVID.
“I dreamed one night someone unplugged my oxygen,” Bailey said. “In another dream, I was in an asylum of sorts, but it was the COVID floor. I have slept better this last little bit, but I’m still afraid to sleep without oxygen.”
He said he’s a firm believer in wearing the mask, noting he doesn’t know if it helps, but he also doesn’t know that it doesn’t help. He also said he will take the booster vaccine as soon as he’s eligible.
“I’d do anything to not have it, again,” Bailey said. “I wouldn’t take $1 billion to relive July, even if I knew the outcome would be the same, with the suffering and the nightmares, not seeing my family, the isolation – all of it – I wouldn’t relive it for no amount of money.”
He said that people who had mild cases of the virus should feel blessed, but they don’t know anything about COVID.
“I know at least 10 people who have died with it,” Bailey said. “It’s not anyone’s business if you take the shot or not. I also took the flu shot and that’s nobody’s business, either. Do what you want to do, but talk to someone who knows about COVID. Talk to Vivian [Conley]. She lost her husband. Talk to me. You’ve not had it. I may have heard of one or two people dying with the shot, but thousands have died from COVID.”