An Ohio man who came to the Washington, D.C., area to work as a nurse treating COVID-19 patients has been on a ventilator for almost a week after falling ill from the new coronavirus himself, his fiancée says.
Michael Rhodes left Columbus in April to help care for patients in D.C. after his small business, a company that works with commercial kitchens on fire prevention, slowed down amid restaurant closures under stay-at-home orders.
Rhodes, 46, is also a part-time nurse but wasn't guaranteed hours at his hospital in Ohio, his fiancée Amber Wachenschwanz, who also works as a nurse, told NBC News. Forgoing pay from his small business and without sure work in the hospital, Rhodes knew he had to provide for his family while also helping fight the pandemic, Wachenschwanz told the network.
"He knew these hard-hit areas of the pandemic needed help and he could help," she said.
So Rhodes headed to the D.C. area, where there have been more than 3,000 deaths and 68,000 cases in the region, according to the Washington Post.
Rhodes worked on a non-coronavirus floor at a hospital in Prince George's County in Maryland, then took on hours at a makeshift hospital for COVID-19 patients, Wachenschwanz told NBC News.
"Working long hours on the COVID unit. Only a certain allowance of PPE. He was forced to wear a N95 for more shifts than he should and a gown for longer than safe. But taking care of these sick people, mostly elderly nursing home people needing constant turning and support, Michael gave full effort working long shifts sweating through the layers of PPE and totally exhausted and dehydrated at the end of the day," Wachenschwanz explained on Facebook.
One day, though, Rhodes began experiencing back pain.
"He went to a chiropractor because he thought it was maybe just from working long shifts," Wachenschwanz told NBC News.
However, Rhodes woke up one night with a fever and eventually headed to the emergency room when he realized the extent of his symptoms, Wachenschwanz wrote on Facebook.
Last week, after his symptoms had not improved, Rhodes was put on a ventilator. "The (doctor) said Michael has done everything they’ve asked but his body is done fighting," Wachenschwanz wrote in a Facebook post.
Wachenschwanz said Rhodes continues to fight, but faces some complications as he has pulled out his breathing tube a few times. "Our fighter, stubborn guy can’t seem to leave that damn breathing tube," she wrote on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Wachenschwanz said Rhodes was improving: "He’s fully awake and grumpy. If you can imagine, he’s been through hell. Tubes, tests, fighting to breathe and heal and then missing home terribly."
The mother of three said explaining Rhodes' illness to her children has been challenging.
"Their first thing to me was asking, 'Is Michael going to die?'" Wachenschwanz told WCMH-TV. "I had to explain to them he’s very sick and the doctors are working very hard to get him better."
Her twins, from a previous relationship, are 9 years old and understand the situation, she told the TV station. But her 2-year-old son, whom she had with Rhodes, just wants to see his father.
"He thinks about his dad all the time. He wants him home and so do I," Wachenschwanz told WCMH-TV in Columbus. "It's not easy right now."
To help the family, one of Rhodes' friends started a GoFundMe, that has since raised $26,000 for the expected medical bills.
"Please keep praying! Let’s hope for a better day. Thank you for your support," Wachenschwanz wrote on Facebook.
Follow USA TODAY's Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller