Ging Gilliam wasn’t used to being the one in the hospital bed.

For 33 years, Gilliam was a nursing administrator at Walton Regional Medical Center and Clearview Regional Medical Center, but in April she lay in a hospital bed at Piedmont Walton about to receive the news that she was the latest case of COVID-19 in Walton County.

“I just cried,” Gilliam said. “I just had this feeling when I left to go back to the hospital that I had it.”

Just doors down from Ging, her husband, Chuck, was already on a ventilator fighting the same viral infection that has killed nearly 346,000 people and led to 5.5 million cases worldwide.

“I didn’t even know my wife was in the hospital,” Chuck said. “I woke up in rehab and they told me, ‘Your wife just got out of the hospital for the same thing.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Ging and Chuck met in 1974, they wound up marrying in 1977. Since that time the couple has been nearly inseparable.

That all changed on March 28 when Chuck was admitted to Piedmont Walton after having symptoms for several days, including difficulty breathing and loss of appetite. Due to the hospital’s COVID-19 no-visitor policy, Ging was unable to visit her husband.

After his admission, Chuck tested positive for COVID-19 as his condition worsened leading to intubation and a stay in the intensive care unit.

“I knew before I took him that he was probably positive,” Ging said. “It was hard to accept.”

A little over a week later, Ging herself started to feel ill. She’d been experiencing a bad cough and loss of appetite and had a feeling it might be COVID-19 since her husband had just tested positive. She was admitted to Piedmont Walton on April 6 and soon received the news she was also positive for COVID-19.

At the time Ging was admitted, Piedmont Walton didn’t have a free ICU bed. However, she insisted on staying at the same hospital as her husband. Soon a bed opened up, leaving both Ging and her husband both intubated in the same ICU ward.

“My biggest worry was what was going to happen to our daughter,” Ging said. “We were not sure what was going to happen to either of us while in the hospital. That was the thing that bothered me the most.”

Ging recovered fairly quickly, spending six days intubated and eight days in the ICU before being released on April 20.

Chuck, however, was intubated for 17 days and spent nearly a month in the ICU.

Before Ging was discharged, the staff brought her by to see Chuck. By then Chuck had come off the ventilator, but wasn’t completely aware of what was going on.

Chuck was discharged from the hospital on April 23 and spent some time at Eastside Medical Center’s rehab facility before returning home. Chuck still has some small lingering issues, like running out of breath easily, but overall he’s doing well. His biggest complaint was the amount of weight lost while in the hospital.

“Anyone that wants to lose weight, tell them they need to do it other than getting the virus,” he said. “Seriously, I weighed about 225 pounds before I went into the hospital and when they transferred me from Piedmont to Eastside I weighed 172 pounds. Two twenty-five to 172 is a lot of weight. I’m still weak. Still having a little trouble catching my breath, but I’m just lucky to be alive.”

Through it all, Ging was extremely impressed with the way Piedmont Walton treated and cared for she and her husband. It helps she has a personal connection with many of the people working at the hospital and the people who cared for both her and her husband.

“I’ve only been retired about two years. So, I pretty much knew everybody there,” Ging said. “I worked with the ICU nurses and they all know me. I told them ‘I’m in your care’ and that I didn’t know where else to go. Its why I felt so comfortable going there. I knew if something happened, they were going to take care of me and my husband.

“It’s a small hospital and they don’t get enough recognition. Between the two of us, they took great care of us.”

Brett Fowler is the sports editor of The Walton Tribune. He is a 2016 graduate of the University of North Georgia and a 2010 graduate of Monroe Area High School. Brett has been covering Walton County sports since 2011.

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