by Marc and Julie Anderson
LAWRENCE — It’s not about him.
At least that’s how John Rathbun, a member of Corpus Christi Parish in Lawrence, reflects upon his recent medical ordeal.
His saga started in late June.
After attending his grandson’s first Communion, John lay down for a nap. Several hours later, he was still in bed.
When his wife Kathy called their son’s house, she learned he, too, was in bed.
Within a few days, John, Kathy and their son all tested positive for COVID, but John’s condition deteriorated rapidly.
“I was really tired at first, and then the cough set in, and then my oxygen started to drop,” John said. “I actually went to the hospital. I went to the emergency room, and they treated me, and my oxygen went back up, and they sent me home.”
Three days later, though, John’s oxygenation levels fell below 70%. Kathy drove him to Lawrence Memorial Hospital. John was whisked away in a wheelchair. Staff said they’d call her when they had more news.
Later, John learned someone had called Kathy and told her he’d require a ventilator.
“I lost it,” she said. “I hung up the phone, and I fell apart.”
As a first grade teacher at Corpus Christi Grade School, Kathy said her summers usually meant she has a lot of time to herself. This summer was different.
“[John’s] supposed to be gone when I’m home in the summer,” she said, “but he’s been home the whole time because he’s working from home.”
And it’s been an adjustment.
But then, she got the call from the hospital.
“I said, ‘God, I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean it. I want him home,’” she said.
Four hours after John arrived at the hospital, pulmonologist Dr. Mitchell Tener told him he’d probably be there a while but would not require a ventilator. Tener’s assessment later proved accurate. Thirty-five days later, John returned home.
Both John and Kathy credit John’s recovery to two major factors — prayer and the excellent medical care he received. If there’s one message he’d like to spread this holiday season, it’s one of gratitude.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about all the people who cared for me.”
And he means that.
In fact, John kept track of every single person he interacted with during his hospital stay, which lasted from July 8 to Aug. 9.
Keeping track of people’s names is not something people typically do, but when asked about it, John said simply, “I’m an old salesman, and I always want to keep track of people’s names.”
John’s list of nurses includes 66 names. Then, there’s the three pulmonologists as well as physical and occupational therapists, making a total of more than 70 individuals who tended to him.
“They didn’t just keep track of my blood pressure and take my temperature. It was all the little, small kindnesses they did,” he said. “I can look at the list and tell you something about each one of them and something they did for me.”
For example, Tiffany heard him coughing uncontrollably one night.
“I couldn’t stop,” he recalled. “She came in my room, and it was about 10 o’clock at night. She said, ‘John, I can’t give you any more cough medicine. I can’t give you any more pills for the cough. You’ve had enough. You’re at your limit. I have these little candies, and I’m two months pregnant. I use the candies to fight through morning sickness. Maybe they’ll help you.”
Tiffany left the room, leaving him a few candies.
“I put one in my mouth, and something happened. It soothed my throat,” he said.
The next morning, Tiffany noted that John hadn’t coughed much after that.
“She handed me the tin of candies, and said, ‘I can get some more later. You keep these.’”
Then there was LaShon.
One day, she instructed him to put his feet up in a recliner and hand her his cellphone, saying she’d return in an hour.
“She came back in an hour, gave me my phone, and then she pulls out this lotion. She pulls the socks off my feet, and she begins to rub my feet with this lotion. . . . It made me feel relaxed — and what a kind thing to do!” he said.
The acts of kindness, John said, kept piling up. And while he said thank you often, a suggestion of his former pastor Father Mick Mulvany prompted him to do more.
“[Father Mick] said, ‘You should let people know how great your experience was and how wonderful the people treated you,’” said John. “‘They’d like to know that.’”
So, on Oct. 6, John wrote a letter to the hospital, thanking the staff for the excellent care he received during his lengthy hospital stay, enclosing the list of every single doctor, nurse and therapist who treated him.
It should come as no surprise that one of John’s favorite Scripture passages is about the leper who returned to Jesus and thanked the Lord for his healing.
Now, even though he’s been interviewed at least three times by different media outlets, John continues to direct the discussion to praise of his medical team.
“I don’t want it to be about me,” he said. “I say this all the time — just jokingly — that I’m the numbskull that got sick and landed on their doorstep and lived to tell about it.
“And now I get to share their story.”