Mary Greninger spent nearly 10 years as a respiratory therapist at Magee General Hospital. She never dreamed that someday she would trade places with her patients. She never dreamed she would rely on a ventilator to breathe. She never dreamed she would have to learn to walk again, be forced to slow down and rely on others, or feel the love and support of her community in the way that she has.
After months of treating COVID-19 patients, Mary was used to the PPE. She was surprised one August day when her oxygen levels were low. She felt fine and went home to cut her yard. The next day, Mary tested positive for COVID-19. What started as a moderate illness soon progressed into something much more serious. With a high fever and intense coughing attacks, Mary was admitted to a hospital in Jackson. The illness was rough on Mary’s body and certainly not easy to overcome, but she soon found herself recovering, slowly but surely.
Mary was eventually discharged; however, when she returned home, she was horrified to realize that she was not strong enough to walk. Having seen many COVID-19 patients recover before, Mary knew that muscle weakness was common for patients who had long hospital stays. This was more than that. Doctors could not confidently explain Mary’s symptoms - intense headaches, tremors, swelling, memory issues, and horrible back pain. Whether these issues were side effects of COVID-19 or something more, Mary needed help.
After a few weeks of home health therapy, Mary was admitted to Magee General’s swing bed program. She felt hopeful that the team of local therapists there would support her and help her progress. June Thames, PTA & DOR; Madison Colley, OT; Ashton Smith, DPT; and Chris Hancock, OT were ready to help Mary make some strides in the right direction. At that point, Mary could not sit up, stand, or open a bottle of water. The therapy team gave Mary goals, exercises to do when they were not there, and constant encouragement. They kept explaining new ideas for treatment to keep Mary informed; they kept her laughing to give Mary hope.
An exciting and momentous occasion for Mary and the team was about a month after therapy began. After much hard work and careful consideration, the team decided that Mary was strong enough to take a shower. Being able to have a proper shower made Mary feel hopeful, thankful, and motivated to heal even more. When her resolve wavered, her therapy team stepped in to help. Ashton would put her in a wheelchair for quick breaks outside - to breathe fresh air and to have a moment outside the walls of the hospital.
June taught Mary to walk again, measuring each step, watching each movement. What started with sitting up moved to taking steps with the walker.
“June was wonderful. She was a lot of strength for me,” Mary said.
Mary’s whole life has changed. She went from caregiver to a full-time receiver of care. She has a surprisingly upbeat attitude about the physical changes affecting her body. While some of her symptoms seem similar in nature to multiple sclerosis, Mary’s only official diagnosis is Post-COVID-19 Syndrome. Currently, Mary is receiving outpatient therapy services from Magee General Hospital two days a week. She wants to walk without a walker soon and eventually get back to work if at all possible. During Mary’s battle with COVID-19 complications, she dedicated her life to Christ. She was baptized with her best friend, Phyllis, and her daughter, Sarah, in attendance. She feels incredibly blessed to have another chance at giving back to others - her community who supported her, her church, and her patients.
“I truly do not think I would be in the improved shape I’m in if it weren’t for this team,” said Mary.
We would like to thank the therapy team at Magee General Hospital for their outstanding work each day, and, specifically, in the case of Mary Greninger. We thank you for doing your job in the midst of a pandemic, for working to find solutions to problems when you did not have answers to questions. We thank you for the love, attention, and care you show each and every patient. We would also like to thank the incredible staff at Magee General Hospital for their dedication to their wonderful community and the comfort, peace, healing, and joy they bring to the people of Magee.