By David Ridgway
It was a Friday, with just over a week until Christmas, when I realized I wasn’t feeling well. My wife, Rose, and I were planning to host a Christmas party for her side of the family that evening. Not wanting to expose anyone to COVID, she suggested I get tested at a nearby place that offered free testing. I received negative results about forty minutes later, so I assumed I just had a cold or the flu. I stayed up in our bedroom that night so as not to expose anyone to whatever it was. (It turned out it was COVID, and six people got it. Thankfully none were seriously ill, and they all recovered).
Saturday I lay in bed all day coughing. Sunday I stayed home from church, and I never miss church. I own my own pest control business, and on Monday I had an important job to do that I felt couldn’t wait. I tried leaving the house, but I couldn’t walk ten or fifteen feet without gasping for air. Totally exhausted, I had to go back home. Rose immediately took me to the hospital, MercyOne West in West Des Moines, a suburb of Des Moines, Iowa. There I tested positive for COVID. I was told that I was dehydrated and my blood pressure had tanked. They gave me an IV and got my blood pressure back up in an acceptable range and early Tuesday morning sent me home, telling me to rest.
I kept getting worse. By Wednesday I was having difficulty breathing, so Rose took me back to the hospital and they admitted me. I was thinking, “I’m in the hospital. They will take care of me, and I will get better.”
Instead I went downhill fast. I was having trouble breathing even though they kept increasing my oxygen. I was up to 75 liters, but my blood stream was absorbing less and less. I was starting to lose consciousness, unaware of what was going on around me. Since Rose had also tested positive for COVID, she couldn’t visit me.
By Christmas I was in bad shape. My mother came to see me. At that point I was 99 percent sure I was going to die. In my mind I could see a passageway up in the corner, and I knew that was death’s door. I kept drifting closer and closer to that passageway. I knew that if I reached that passageway, I would be dead. I would pass from this life to the next.
I thought, “I can’t control this; I can’t stop this. I’m in my 50s and I still have a lot I want to do. I have a lot of responsibilities – my home, business, family, and church ministry. This is really happening.”
It was scary even though I know I’m saved and going to heaven. It reminded me of that song Mark Lowry sings, “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven (But Nobody Wants to Die)”.
On Christmas the doctor called my wife and tried to prepare her. He said, “Dave has the worst kind of COVID. He has pneumonia and a respiratory infection with it. He has a rough road in front of him and probably won’t survive.” They decided to transfer me to the main hospital downtown in the middle of the night.
Even though the next morning was a Sunday, our church, Journey Church of the Open Bible in Urbandale, wasn’t holding service in order to give staff time off with their families for the holidays. Rose had been keeping our pastor, Darrick Young, apprised of my condition and he would alert the prayer team and other leaders. After receiving the alarming news of my condition Pastor Darrick called down to the hospital to see if he could visit me. Without hesitation they told him, “Yes, you should probably come.”
I remember hearing his voice and was aware he was praying for me, but I don’t remember much about the visit. He later told me that I was somewhat responsive and agreed with him in prayer.
When people in the church got word of my condition, several of them dropped what they were doing and gathered at the church to pray. Pastor Darrick called Rose at home, put her on speaker phone, and prayed with her. When she mentioned that my daughter Natalie, a nurse who happens to work at Mercy, was with me at the time, Darrick called Natalie’s phone. She put me on speaker, and I could hear people praying for me. I don’t remember it but was later told that I kept saying, “Hallelujah.” At that meeting they also organized a 24-hour prayer chain. I’m still amazed that people stopped what they were doing during a holiday and gathered to pray for me.
God blessed me with Dr. Wilcox, who I’ve been told is the best doctor for treating COVID. But the news he gave Rose Monday morning was not good. He said, “Dave is in a downward spiral. If we don’t get him on a ventilator in fifteen minutes, he has zero chance of survival. His organs will shut down.”
Rose said, “We have five kids. Can I have them call him before you do that?”
He answered, “Sure, have them call right away. I’ll have the nurse put it on speaker phone.”
I vaguely remember hearing their voices. I now realize they were telling me goodbye.
After that, they sedated me, paralyzed me, and put me on the ventilator. As horrible as my experience had been to that point, this is when the real nightmares began. I wouldn’t wish the experience on anyone. You’re in a drug-induced coma, but your mind is still active. I was given the most powerful mind-altering hallucinogens. It was horrible.
As soon as I heard the doctor say, “Let’s start it up,” geometric figures appeared all around me, moving and shifting shapes. It made me nauseous. Then creatures started to appear out of nowhere: rats and animals and horrible things, so many things I can’t describe. Thankfully my mind has erased a lot of it. It reminded me of the time in the Bible when Jesus was fasting for forty days and then Satan took Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world.
It felt as if the Lord took me up and showed me the nations of the world and how evil, full of sin, and lost man is. I saw any and every kind of sin there is: lying, stealing, rape, murder, incest, and genocide. I saw all the evil and it was throughout every country in every nation of the world, even down to the animal kingdom. (You know how animals murder and prey on each other.) The evil had invaded even the earth itself. I saw mountains sinking down into the ocean because they were corrupt. I remembered that when Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed even the ground.
I saw a common thread, and it was greed. People will do so much evil for money. They will kill for money, propagate pornography, gamble, steal, and lie. I thought of the verse that says, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10, NLT).
When they put you on the ventilator, they place you in a prone position on your stomach for sixteen hours and then flip you onto your back for the other eight. It’s kind of a big deal when they flip you. It takes six to eight people. I had IVs, a blood pressure cuff, oxygen sensor, catheter, and all kinds of tubes and wires, and they had to make sure nothing got pulled or pinched or kinked. They don’t even want a wrinkle in the sheet because they don’t want to create pressure points that would cause bed sores.
My daughter Natalie would pop in from time to time before or after her shift to see how I was doing although I wasn’t aware of it. One morning she happened to come in while they were flipping me. She has seen the flipping process a hundred times before; she’s even helped with it. But when she saw them doing it to me, a limp, practically lifeless corpse, she couldn’t watch. She had to leave the room.
Pastor Darrick organized a gathering at my house Thursday evening for people to come to pray. Rose was at the house with our two younger kids who still live at home. Dozens of people from at least four churches joined together in corporate prayer at the house. I just saw the video of it this week. When I think of all the people praying for me, I’m overwhelmed.
That was Thursday night. Amazingly, the next morning, Friday, the doctor called Rose and said, “I think we’re going to take him off the ventilator because he’s making overall improvement.” (Originally they had told her I would be on the ventilator for seven to fourteen days; this was day five.) After they pulled me off the ventilator, I regained consciousness. It was still kind of scary because I wasn’t out of the woods yet, but I was getting close to the edge!
On New Year’s Day, ten days after I was admitted to the hospital, Rose was able to come visit me. When they told me she was coming, I could not remember what she looked like. Then when she came in, she was wearing a gown, hair covering, and face mask so all I could see was her eyes. I still couldn’t think what she looked like! But when she spoke, it all came back.
During those dark days, when nurses would come in to take my vitals, I would reach for them because I was so lonely. I didn’t want to die alone. The nurses would hold my hand for a couple minutes and then have to leave, and I wouldn’t see them for hours. Time just seemed to come to a stop. Even after I got off the ventilator, drugs were still affecting my mind. If I closed my eyes the horrible hallucinations would come back, so I tried to keep myself awake for two days. If I even blinked, the hallucinations were right there. Eventually I started having hallucinations that, although strange, were not as bad.
Finally on day three after coming off the ventilator, the hallucinations were fading. I was feeling better, so they moved me to my own COVID room. A nurse asked me if I wanted an ice chip, and having not eaten or drunk for two weeks, it sounded so great. I had lost thirty pounds, mostly muscle. I was so weak. When I was under, I would dream of cold drinks and lemonade. And then when the nurse asked if I wanted a whole cup of water, I was overjoyed. It tasted like living water!
After giving me the water, the nurse leaned over and said, “David, I just have to tell you, you are the only person I’ve seen that was unvaccinated, that sick, and on the ventilator that long and lived.” (A lot of people don’t come off the ventilator; it’s considered a last-ditch effort.)
The doctor concurred with the nurse, saying, “You are a very, very rare case.”
He was shocked I survived. I think a lot of the doctors were surprised. I was surprised. They moved me to a regular room, and that’s when I realized, “I’m not going to die.”
Even though I was as weak as a kitten, I now had hope. I was able to eat some pudding, which I love! The next day they started bringing me three meals a day. These became the highlight of my day. I’ve already put on twenty of the thirty pounds I lost.
When I first got to my own room, I was so weak I couldn’t even sit up. I couldn’t even push the button to move my hospital bed, turn on the TV, or call the nurse. When they tried to help me sit up, all my oxygen alarms went off. By the next day they helped me to stand, and I walked across the room with a walker, even though I soon returned to bed, exhausted. The next day I walked down the hall. The doctor was telling me I would probably get out of the hospital by the weekend.
Reflecting on Dave’s experience, Darrick Young, his pastor, said, “The turnaround in Dave’s body from near death to life was nothing short of miraculous. Dave, Rose, and their entire family have been quick to give glory to God for Dave’s healing, and they have expressed incredible gratitude to those who stood with them in prayer. God healed Dave, but he touched our whole church.”Pastor Darrick Young
On Thursday morning, he said, “Would you like to get out of here today?”
I assured him that I would love that! I did not want to spend another night in the hospital. The beds are not comfortable. I still had all the wires and tubes, and they would come around the clock and take blood six to eight times a day.
By 8:00 that night I was home, having spent eighteen days in the hospital. I was on oxygen at first, but after a week slowly weaned myself off. I rested and got stronger the second week. By the third week when Sunday came, I said, “I’m going to church.”
That was my first outing. And the next day I went back to work and ended up working several hours. I keep getting stronger and stronger. I thank God I’m alive. My brother-in-law calls me nearly every day and the first thing he says is, “Praise God, Dave; you’re alive.”
I couldn’t get over the fact that all those people were praying for me. There were probably thousands, even beyond Iowa. There really is power in prayer. God heard their prayers and answered them. I’ve had prayers that weren’t answered the way I thought they would be, but this strengthened my faith, knowing God hears our prayers. He might not answer the way we wish, but His ways are better than ours.
God must have something for me to do; He’s not done with me yet. At first I thought that I needed to do something great for God. But when I started back teaching Royal Rangers (an activity-based, small-group ministry for boys) again, I saw a dad of two of the boys who goes to a different church. He had not heard about my ordeal, so I told him about it, wondering aloud what God had for me to do. He was shocked and amazed by my story and later sent me an email.
Part of it said:
I have experienced God helping me connect with my family better at Rangers that carries over to a better connection during the week. You have been doing Rangers for so long it may seem routine or even a little repetitive. But let me assure you that God is working through you having an impact on us . . . . You will never know how thankful I am for those two hours on Sunday when I get to come hang out with you guys and my kids. . . . You may not see it, but the impact is profound.
The vision I had while on the ventilator showed me how lost this world is, how much work we Christians have to do. I know as we get closer to the return of the Lord that sin will abound, but we can do something about it if we remain faithful to what He has called us to do.
About the Author
David Ridgway is the owner of Midwest Pest Management. He and his wife, Rose, began attending Journey Church of the Open Bible in Urbandale, Iowa, soon after it began ten years ago. Dave serves as a Journey partner, elder, and volunteer in various areas. He has been a Royal Rangers leader for 23 years and serves on the district staff. He has served as the Outpost Coordinator for Outpost 101 since it was formed at Journey Church nine years ago.