‘When you’re in there, you’re pretty isolated’: Region A.H.E.A.D. member recounts time in COVID-19 unit at JCMC

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A member of the initiative to help regional small businesses and frontline healthcare workers, recounts the seven days he spent in the COVID-19 unit at the Johnson City Medical Center.

Former general manager of Cumulus Radio in the Tri-Cities Don Raines, told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that he was hospitalized on Dec. 10, but is still utilizing portable oxygen and undergoing physical therapy due to the devastation his body underwent.

“When you’re in there, you’re pretty isolated. And so, that makes it a little worse in the fact you’re just so sick, but if you if you make it out of the COVID unit, then you know you can start making progress,” Raines said. “They’re starting to wean me off the oxygen. I can get out a little bit now but, you know, so it’s going to go in the right direction. But I just like to impress on people: this is a horrible disease, you know, and I was in fairly decent shape when I got it and it still is really, really, you know, been very tough. So, you know, got to get people to understand it’s real.”

Though his experience in the COVID-19 unit ultimately had a positive outcome, he said it was still a struggle. Rains said he is undergoing physical therapy to get him back to health.

“That’s going to probably go on for several more weeks, and they actually come to the house and so I recommend it, especially because you’re so you know you’re so fatigued all the time. You have zero strength, your muscles have  atrophied, there’s a lot of really bad things that this does it to you. But you’ve got the PT, I mean, it’s getting me back. I know if I was trying to do it all on my own there’s no way. I highly recommend it but you’ve got to do what these people are telling you to do. You know, you can’t walk five steps and say I’m tired, you have to, you know, like if it’s a gym – you got to push yourself to get on through it – so, I highly recommend, you know, doing the PT. Listen to what they tell you, and you can eat and do all the right things. And you can come out on the especially, you know, when you get to a certain point, it exponentially starts getting better, faster so hopefully you know I’ll be, still not driving yet but hopefully I’ll be able to get out and start, you know, doing some of those things here in the next couple of weeks,” he explained.

Raines also urges community members to continue to follow coronavirus guidelines to avoid ending up in the COVID-19 unit.

He recalled the seven days he spent in the hospital to News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

“When I got there, they put me in a room that, first of all, was kind of sealed off, it had negative pressure fans taking the air out but the big thing is, they monitor you. They’ve got everything about you monitored, but they monitor from outside. And, of course, you push the button, they’ll come in, and all this stuff but but basically you’re in there for hours with nobody around unless they need to come in and give you something. And that’s by design I think they just don’t want to expose their health workers to any more than they have to. So, plus some of the medicine that keeps you – like steroids it keeps you awake at night – so at three o’clock in the morning you’re sitting there thinking ‘is the rest of the world still out there,’ it’s kind of it’s, it’s kind of a scary thing because you kind of know what can happen, and they’re really honestly the docs were very straight up about how this thing can or can’t go so you’ve kind of got that stress thing going too but the day we’re really super worried about you know if you needed anything they were there, answered all your questions, but the nights were long, seven days in the COVID unit, I don’t recommend it to anybody,” he explained.

Along with following CDC COVID-19 guidance, Raines said that community members should get vaccinated as soon as it becomes available to them, in order to achieve herd immunity.

“Go get the vaccine. Don’t be afraid of it. I mean, you know, if everybody gets vaccinated, we can open our economy back up. We can go out and eat at a restaurant – how great would that be,” Raines said. “There’s so many things and just getting to the herd immunity level would do for us. And the way to do it is we got the tools, get vaccinated but stay on the mask. Keep doing those kind of things that we know will work because that will keep us still keep people alive until we can get vaccines into people.”

‘Region A.H.E.A.D., I think, is trying to play a bigger role as it possibly can in this’

Part of urging the region to follow COVID-19 guidelines and getting vaccinated when possible, Raines is also a member of the Region A.H.E.A.D. initiative, aimed at working to provide local pandemic relief and support from front-line healthcare workers, and now, COVID-19 vaccine information.

“We raised a lot of money for small businesses, and we went to the masking, you know mask up, and social distance and we’ve been pushed in that as an organization, and now it’s of course – get people vaccinated. So, there’s a lot of people involved in, reason I had a lot of great business leaders in stuff, it’s been making that work so I think it will keep the focus on it, and it looks like, you know, everybody else is starting to chime in on it too, we just get the vaccine rolling but we’ve been pretty good, pretty good shape I think so,” Raines said.

He said for the past few months, due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, hospitalization, and recovery, he has not been as involved in the Region A.H.E.A.D. initiative as he has wanted to be.

“In the last couple months I’ve been, I’ve been mostly a cheerleader obviously because I’ve been laid up,” he said. “They got all the chambers involved in this, all kinds of local leaders involved in. So, this is Region A.H.E.A.D. is probably the best example of regionalism, which we’ve been talking a lot about, and what better project to put your, you know to get yourself started in a word. So, Region AHEAD, I think, is trying to play a bigger role as it possibly can in this.”

Raines is well-known locally for raising funds for the Niswonger Children’s Hospital, and he told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that Region A.H.E.A.D. was the next logical step.

“I’ve been involved in this community for decades and it’s been very good to me and I’ll always try to give back, but you get people like you get these business people will call you, is like, this is what we need to do,” he said. “Trying to do what’s good for the community, Region A.H.E.A.D. has sort of moved itself into that position. And I don’t know what the next projects going to be but hopefully we can keep this thing going because I really feel like it or make it in this particular situation for making a lot of difference and trying to help you.”

To Raines, the initiative represents all the progress the Tri-Cities region can make when local leaders and organizations band together.

“Region A.H.E.A.D., you know, there’s a lot of different directions I think it can go. Right now, I think we’re totally doing the right thing being focused on getting this pandemic behind us. But there’s so many ways we can go in Region A.H.E.A.D.,” Raines explained. “When you’ve got a corporation of people from Southwest Virginia, Northeast Tennessee, people who didn’t used to talk to each other. And I was on a zoom call last time with the Region A.H.E.A.D. and this just the fact that there’s so many diverse people and it goes all the way up in southwest Virginia all the chamber people involved – those are the people that can help change our region, and groups like Region A.H.E.A.D. are just trying to pull us all together and get us to talk in one voice so and I think I think we’re doing that more and more, this this was a great opportunity for us to kind of kick that out and get started. So I really feel like if Region A.H.E.A.D. can keep expanding, who knows what the next project could be for us, you know, so I think there will always be need, there will always be something that are regional, as a regional approach that we can use as we know all pull together.”

But in the end, Raines said he only hopes the initiative can help better the Tri-Cities region, and get past this pandemic. Region A.H.E.A.D. expanding, might be one of the best options, he explained.

“I think it’s endless what you can do as far as projects and stuff going forward, and I do think, you know, anything we can do that can bring us together, because we’re so divisive right now, you know, the country’s been so divisive I think you got to look at your community and you’ve got to take care of your community. And that’s kind of where the focus is that we take care of our community,” he said.

Community, and everyone in the community, is important to Raines.

“We do need to be taking care of everybody you know, make sure everybody –  it’s a big tent, we need to make sure everybody’s in it. And all the people – we’ve got Southwest Virginia, Northeast Tennessee, tremendous leadership and resources here, great university great hospital system,” he said. “So, we’ve got all these things. We just need to make sure we’re pulling it all together and making sure everybody’s included in it we’re moving forward and trying to do all the things we can to make our community even better.”

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