Bruce and Becky Thompson begin a daily walk on Thursday, March 26, ten days removed after Bruce, a Georgia state senator, nearly lost his life from COVID-19. FAITH THOMPSON/Special
BARTOW COUNTY — On Monday, March 16 Georgia Senator Bruce Thompson almost died from COVID-19 at Northside Hospital Cherokee in Canton.
Thompson, a member of First Baptist Woodstock, had not felt well in leaving the State Capitol in Atlanta the previous Thursday. Making the decision to self-quarantine, he rested Friday and Saturday. When things didn’t improve that Monday his wife, Becky, called their primary care physician who, in turn, urged her to get Thompson to the hospital immediately.
“Within ten minutes of getting there, I was upstairs at the ER with a team working on me,” Thompson told The Index. “There was a flurry of things happening that I don’t recall.”
Over the course of eight hours CT scans and X-rays revealed that Thompson’s chest “was a mess.”
“They told me later I was experiencing acute respiratory failure. No oxygen was getting to any part of my body. I was getting zero oxygen.”
Two Georgia Baptist state legislators diagnosed with COVID-19
Thompson and Representative Matthew Gambill, a deacon at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Cartersville, are so far the only Georgia Baptist state legislators who have tested positive for COVID-19. Due to the nature of their position and connection to the public it’s impossible to dismiss they contracted it during their work at the state capitol. However, both attended a celebration March 1 for the retiring music minister at a large Church of God in Cartersville that has since been recognized as a source for the local outbreak.
Both Thompson and Gambill told The Index they are recovering at home and adhering to the recommendations for self-quarantine.
Somewhere around March 6 Gambill began experiencing flulike symptoms and went to his doctor, who diagnosed it as a virus and prescribed some medications. By March 12 he realized there was something more to his diagnosis and, like Thompson, decided to self-quarantine. A test for COVID-19 the following Monday – when Thompson was fighting for his life in the hospital – required ten days before presenting a positive diagnosis for the novel coronavirus.
Gambill’s experience was far from the level of Thompson’s. “I just felt tired and all I wanted to do was sit,” he said. “I didn’t want to do a lot of extra movement, which is strange because I like to run and am constantly on the go. I had shortness of breath, too. It was noticeable, but not something that I thought meant a trip to the hospital.”
No longer considered contagious, Gambill, 39, said the strangest thing about his experience has been a continued loss of taste and smell. “It’s a residual effect that the doctor told me will clear up,” he said.
Changes years earlier contributed to recovery
Thompson said that at its worst, he felt like he was drowning. Doctors knew the issue was with his lungs, so they began treatments for bronchitis and pneumonia. At one point he had a running rotation in his arms that required three IVs, one in each arm with a third waiting in the wings.
However, by that night he had stabilized and his condition began to improve dramatically. A stubborn fever of 102-103 didn’t subside until Thursday, but his oxygen levels increased to the point that he was moved out of ICU and into a regular isolation room. By Saturday morning, March 21, he could walk 4,000 feet. That afternoon doctors said there was no point in keeping him at the hospital, so he was sent home with antibiotics.
Thompson, 55, cites God’s blessing with his recovery, but also a trip to the doctor more than three years prior.
“When I turned 52 I was advised to lose weight,” he said. “So, I cut out bread and eating past 8 p.m. I started drinking a lot of water and although I hate to run, began running a mile to a mile-and-a-half a day.”
From Oct. 12, 2016 to Feb. 9, 2017 Thompson lost 53 pounds. That meant keeping discipline at every football tailgate, during Thanksgiving, Christmas snacking, New Year’s Eve, and the Super Bowl party.
He continued a level of distancing for a few days upon returning home, taking his dinner alongside his wife and two children, albeit ten feet away. That weekend he focused on resting while being able to stand without getting lightheaded. “It was part of the prescriptions given by the doctors for me to work on expanding my lungs to an acceptable range,” he said.
On Tuesday March 24, he walked up a flight of stairs from his basement. The next day brought a very important milestone as he and Becky took a milelong walk through their neighborhood.
Willing to be real
Thompson heaps credit on the medical workers at Northside Cherokee and its CEO, Billy Hayes.
“I’m watching the doctors and nurses and the intensity on their faces is clear,” he said. “While thanking them, I also began having conversations with them, asking them what life was like for them at home.”
That concern built a bridge with several workers.
“God opened the floodgates and they were willing to share. Three allowed me the personal privilege of praying with them.
“They’re dealing with all kinds of things and yet have to have their game on in an environment where information is coming at them all the time. I’m thankful for the kind words people have passed along to me on social media, phone calls, and texts, but I’d ask they turn that attention to these caregivers and medical personnel who, in many cases, are hanging by a thread.”
Thompson added that in this time, Christians can step up as perhaps they haven’t before.
“As believers we’re ambassadors,” he stated. “It’s about being aware and when an opportunity presents itself, just be real with people.
“We don’t have to be Jesus, but just let Him work through us.”