Lecount Holmes during and after COVID (Courtesy photos)

By Mylika Scatliffe
Special to the AFRO

When Lecount Holmes rode his bike past Laurel Hospital last spring, he supposed it was a good thing that Gov. Hogan had designated the hospital as a COVID treatment facility. What he didn’t think about was being a patient there a mere nine months later. He’s a practicing Buddhist who hasn’t eaten pork in 40 years, rarely eats red meat, and at 71 years of age he swims, rides bikes, practices yoga, and does weight training 5-6 days per week. “My mindset was, I’m in excellent shape, careful, and this virus won’t touch me,” he said.  Until it did.

He went to the emergency room on December 11 with COVID symptoms, suspecting he had contracted it from his wife. They confirmed a positive diagnosis and sent him home. Three days later, he’d be back after an alert contact tracer named Erica called an ambulance for him because she didn’t like the way he sounded on the phone.  Never would he have pictured himself breathless, vomiting and in tears, with barely enough strength to drag himself from the bathtub to answer the phone and have the conversation with the Contact Tracer, which probably saved his life. 

Holmes didn’t initially consider himself an inspiration to others, particularly seniors. Or think much about appreciating the sacrifices and challenges health care workers and first responders, other than in the general sense like we all have since the beginning of the pandemic. His 14-day stay in Laurel Hospital really opened his eyes and made him take a close up look at what those charged with caring for COVID patients endure every day. He went from the epitome of fitness to losing 15 pounds without trying, having pneumonia, skyrocketing BP of 170/105, loose bowels, being on oxygen; needing plasma and assistance to the bathroom, and an aortic aneurysm that caused excruciating pain. Shivering in a hospital room cold enough to show his breath, wearing sweatpants and a ski cap under layers of blankets, he wondered if he would see his last days in that freezing cold hospital room.  Determination and a will to live caused him to press forward. He made an audio diary to document his experience, and just could not say enough about those who helped him in all ways, big or small.

“This illness and being a Buddhist has taught me to have more patience with myself and others,” Holmes recalled. There were some negative experiences -nurses that lacked bedside manner, a revolving door of questionable roommates, including the one who told him to change America; after a spirited discussion of racial issues (well as spirited as you can be on oxygen with no energy). But he chooses to remember the care taken by two male nurses to make sure he had everything he needed, the nurse who helped him get moved to a room with a roommate with whom he ended up bonding, and the two ladies that delivered his food and checked his oxygen.  “I made sure to send a personal thank you note to all the staff at Laurel Hospital who took care of me,” he fervently recalled.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Holmes found out that if you have the right one, the village never goes away.  Through his tears, he recalled how many people reached out to him from around the country. How his fellow Buddhists called to chant for and with him; friends and relatives he’d not heard from in years (he suspected some thought he was going to die) called to check on him, even his ex-wife and friends from the old neighborhood (4th & Emerson). He spoke with members of the Christian community, and took their attempts at religious conversion in the spirit in which they were intended.

Maybe he didn’t consider himself an inspiration to seniors before, but he does now. We hear so much about COVID and how bad it is for seniors and/or those with underlying conditions, but Lecount wants everyone to know that being older, having high blood pressure (or diabetes or obesity or whatever the disease or condition) and getting COVID doesn’t have to mean certain death. Today he’s back at home, off the supplemental oxygen and gradually working his way back to his previous level of fitness. Right now he’s up to  five push-ups a day, walks around the park, yoga and using the resistance bands hung on the bathroom door. His doctor told him that if he had not been in such good health with such strong lungs from swimming, biking and yoga, he likely would not have survived. “I want this to be an inspiration to other seniors, particularly in our community. I believe even small steps to improving diet and moving your body can be nothing but positive,” he said. “I’m 71 years old; I took a nap on the other side but I chose not to go to sleep.”