Normally Morgan Witte drives trucks and wrangles horses in the Cariboo, but these days he is recuperating from a severe case of COVID-19 and struggles even to lift up a coffee cup.
“I almost didn’t make ‘er,” the 48-year-old said Tuesday, Nov. 23. “I don’t have a lot of strength in my arms and legs yet.”
Morgan arrived home on Nov. 15, after spending three weeks in the hospital.
For much of his stay he was intubated and on a ventilator, requiring what his wife Cindy described as ‘lots of monitors and math’ to keep him alive.
“They almost lost him a couple of times,” Cindy said, wiping away some tears.
Morgan did not get the COVID-19 vaccine and hopes by sharing his story others might be inspired to get vaccinated.
“It almost killed me not getting the shot,” he said. “I hope people will learn from me.”
On Oct. 17, Morgan started feeling sick.
When he could not taste or smell anything he decided to get a COVID test, which came back positive on Oct. 21.
By Oct. 23, Cindy was becoming very worried.
Morgan’s temperature had hovered around 105 degrees Fahrenheit for two days. Tylenol would give it a temporary break for a couple of hours, but then his temperature would shoot right back up.
“He was steadily getting worse,” Cindy said. “His breathing was rapid and shallow, he was lightheaded and his skin was hot to touch.”
Finally at about 3 a.m. she called 8-1-1.
When she relayed his symptoms, she was told to take Morgan to the hospital as soon as possible.
Morgan, however, was being ‘stubborn’ and figured he could beat it at home, but by about 8:30 a.m. Cindy got very mad at him.
“If he couldn’t breathe and he passed out I knew I wasn’t going to be able to lift him by myself,” she said.
Finally she convinced him to let her take him to Cariboo Memorial Hospital (CMH) in Williams Lake, about an hour’s drive from their home near Spokin Lake.
As they arrived in town Morgan was getting delirious and going in and out of consciousness.
When Cindy drove up to the emergency entrance a nurse met them outside.
“I had called ahead because he had COVID to let them know we were coming,” Cindy said. “By the time I dropped him off and had parked the van, Morgan was already admitted into the ICU.”
Looking back Cindy said she does not think that Morgan would have lived that day had she not brought him to the hospital.
Thirty-six hours after being admitted to CMH, Morgan was transferred to Royal Inland Hospital (RIH) in Kamloops by ambulance.
Cindy said a bed came open at the RIH when another patient died from COVID-19.
She stayed behind with the four children, including their 8-year-old daughter who also had the virus.
Twice a day Cindy called to talk to the nurses at RIH for an update on Morgan.
“They would give me the whole day’s rundown. They were phenomenal,” she said of the nurses.
While Morgan does not remember a lot of what happened while he was in the hospital, he was quick to praise the medical team that cared for him.
“They did a heck of a job, they really did,” he said. “I’m no easy case. I was trying to fight ‘em and rip stuff out.”
Throughout the ordeal, Cindy was fielding so many phone calls from people checking in that she began posting updates on her Facebook that got more detailed as the days unfolded because she responded to questions.
People thanked her for the information, and some told her Morgan’s story had inspired people they knew to get vaccinated.
Cindy is certain she and her two stepdaughters had COVID two weeks prior to Morgan contracting it.
“We all had the same symptoms – stuffy head, very tired and a sore throat. My two stepdaughters had bad, bad coughs,” she said.
Cindy and her two stepdaughters were fully vaccinated, but Morgan had been holding out.
“I didn’t know what to trust, so I thought, ‘well I’d made it this far, so I’d just keep going,” he said. “I was only going to work or being at home and thought my chances of getting COVID were almost none.”
Now he said he saw that the vaccine worked on his family.
“I watched how they just had flu-like symptoms. I am converted now.”
The Wittes have been together for 13 years and Cindy said before getting COVID-19 Morgan’s health was good.
“He was just overweight – a big guy – but mostly muscle. He’s lost all the muscle – it’s going to be a long road to recovery.”
And, until this experience, Morgan had never been hospitalized.
“I was born in a truck seat actually, on the way to the hospital,” he said.
For the most part Cindy resorted to her sense of humour, learning firsthand that ‘laughter is the best medicine.’
“I had one break down when he was sent to Kamloops and intubated. I didn’t even see it coming. I got home and sat down my 17-year-old stepdaughter and just broke and was scream crying into a blanket trying to be quiet because the other kids were sleeping and she just held me.”
She also said many people in Williams Lake and beyond reached out to support the family.
“I had people from 25 years ago, people I don’t know, but Morgan knows contact me. His old employers, friends of his from his horse wrangling days at Crystal Waters Ranch, people from the States sent us money. Cousins of cousins and friends sent us money, food and gift cards. Even my old boss from 13 years ago — just everybody has been amazing.”