Lifeline: How one couple’s 55-year love story helped them beat COVID

Anita Crick kneels by her husband, Rodney, after measuring his blood oxygen levels on Feb. 22, 2021, in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Rodney recently returned home after a month of being hospitalized for COVID-19. Photo by Rachel Crick.

Rachel Crick

On Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, Anita Crick packed a bag and called an ambulance for her husband, Rodney. When the ambulance arrived, the couple embraced, unsure if or when they would see each other again.

It was a difficult decision, one they had meditated on for days. Rodney had been experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms for almost two weeks, and his condition was not improving. He suffered from body aches, dehydration and dangerously low oxygen levels.

Anita, also infected with COVID-19, had a milder case, but headaches and dizziness left her too sick to drive Rodney to the hospital herself.

The couple had been trying to avoid going to the hospital because they knew they would be separated and there was a good chance Rodney would never come out.

“I knew that was the last time probably I would ever see him,” Anita said.

Just three weeks earlier, the Cricks celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary.

Rodney and Anita Crick met in Greenville, Kentucky, in 1964. They had their first date at a basketball game on a snowy December night. The two married a little over a year later, on Dec. 23, 1965.

Following a brief period of living in Nashville, the couple relocated back to Greenville. Rodney worked as a bookkeeper at a local bank and Anita was a homemaker and stay-at-home mother to their son, who was born in 1967.

Over their many years of marriage, they survived the many ups and downs of life. The COVID-19 pandemic was something that concerned them from the beginning.

They followed all the advice of medical professionals, staying home when they could, wearing masks, and even washing their groceries at first. Rodney watched the daily press briefings held by Gov. Andy Beshear dutifully, recording the daily cases and deaths in a notebook.  

The Cricks began to think they could make it through the pandemic without getting sick. Then, Rodney’s cough began.

On Jan. 3, 2021, Rodney began to suspect he had contracted COVID. A positive test confirmed his diagnosis, and his condition began to worsen from there, which led to him being taken to the hospital in an ambulance, leaving his wife at home.

“I didn’t think I would survive it,” Rodney said. He described the feeling of leaving your home for the last time as “the most terrifying thing you can imagine.”

Once at the hospital, Rodney was admitted to the ICU, where he was diagnosed with COVID pneumonia in both lungs and put on oxygen. For the first couple days, his condition didn’t improve much.

“The nights were the worst,” he said. “I just kept telling myself to fight.”

He didn’t see Anita for 12 days. His phone was often out of reach or he was too weak to call, so she was kept updated by nurses and doctors only sporadically.

When she finally got to see him again, she was surprised by how much he had deteriorated. “It was wonderful to see him again, but I was in shock,” Anita said. “He had gotten so much sicker.”

After a grueling stint in the ICU, Rodney was finally moved into a normal hospital room and began to show signs of improvement. He was discharged to a rehabilitation hospital, where he spent another two weeks trying to regain his strength and everyday functions. And of course, Anita, who had mostly recovered from her symptoms, visited him every day. 

After 34 days, Rodney finally came home from the hospital.

However, the couple faced a lot of obstacles. Rodney was initially confined to a wheelchair, and he was on oxygen at all times.

“COVID took away my ability to walk and to even breathe,” he said.

The 50-foot oxygen line connected to a machine in his bedroom, trailing behind him everywhere as learned how to walk again. Physical therapists showed him exercises to rebuild his strength, but he was completely dependent on Anita at first. 

Anita helped him prepare his breathing treatments, cooked all his meals, took him for walks, helped him with his therapy exercises and even got up to tend to him in the night.

While Rodney’s condition has improved in the months since he came home from the hospital, there’s a downside; the oxygen might be there to stay. His most recent scans show significantly damaged lung tissue, meaning he may have to wear oxygen for the rest of his life.

Though the couple knows Rodney will be dealing with the after-effects of COVID for a long time, they also express gratitude and a new outlook on life.

“It made us realize that life is short,” Anita said. “And another day is never guaranteed.”

Rodney also professes a renewed appreciation for his marriage and his wife, and said he couldn’t have recovered as well as he has without Anita by his side.

“If anything, I think it’s made our marriage stronger,” said Rodney, who called them “a team.”

As the couple enters their “twilight years,” Anita said she wants to spend her last days with her husband, whether that gives them fifteen more years together or just one day.   

“It’s just been a good marriage and we’re there for each other,” said Anita.