When the coronavirus invaded the area last spring, Rhonda Culbertson worked hard to keep patients and staff at Lutheran Hospital safe.
About eight months later, she became a patient after testing positive for COVID-19.
“I was quite ill, and I was very surprised about it,” the 63-year-old nurse said during a late January interview.
Culbertson had no preexisting conditions. In November, she had chills and a fever and later experienced breathing problems. For two weeks, she was on a ventilator in the COVID-19 intensive care unit, which had been converted from a coronary intensive care unit but treats only COVID patients, she said.
“I experienced a lot of what our patients are going through,” said Culbertson, a day-shift supervisor in Lutheran's Coronary Intensive Care Unit.
Lutheran Hospital, she said, limited visitation and stringently monitored patients' and workers' symptoms and temperatures.
When the pandemic hit, she was concerned about her husband, Barry, who is diabetic. He's been tested several times but hasn't contracted the virus.
When she became sick, the two isolated from each other in their home.
With the illness behind her, Culbertson takes time to appreciate what she has.
She hasn't had recurring symptoms like some patients have had. “I feel very blessed I am feeling as well as I do,” she said.
When she's working, most days are extremely busy, though she says the hospital has enough staff to keep up with demand.
When she's off, she tries to rest and relax.
She takes walks.
She spends time with her family and friends. “I don't take it for granted anymore,” she said.
She realizes her health “is not a given” and she can't control everything.
“A God who loves us is in control of the things I can't control,” she said.
Culbertson has worked at Lutheran Hospital 40 years, including 10 years in the coronary ICU.
In 1992, she helped the hospital move its patients from its previous Fairfield Avenue location just south of downtown to the current campus on West Jefferson Boulevard near Interstate 69.
Culbertson became interested in health care when she read to nursing home patients.
She had the coronavirus vaccine early this year.
She said she waited to have it because she was ill with the virus.
She encourages everyone to be vaccinated.
“The benefits far outweigh the risk,” she said.
Having survived COVID-19, Culbertson is thankful for her co-workers. Along with caring for her, they helped others caught in COVID-19's grip.
“They came to work day after day,” Culbertson said. “They had to have a lot of courage to do that.”