January 14, 2022

Almost 2 years since pastor Mark Wallace contracted COVID-19, he still thinks about the Kaiser Permanente nurses and doctors who saved his life.

Pastor Mark Wallace remembers thinking that “it will never happen to me” as he shut down in-person services at his Dinuba, California, church when the COVID-19 pandemic first began in March 2020.

Wallace could not predict that a month later he would be in a medically induced coma, on a ventilator, and fighting for his life.

That experience and the care he received at the Kaiser Permanente Fresno Medical Center had such a profound effect on him that he commemorated it through writing his book, I’m Not Done, which published in 2021.

‘I couldn’t speak or move’

Wallace was admitted on April 9, 2020, with COVID-19 pneumonia at the Fresno Medical Center. In critical condition, he was intubated right away, staying on the ventilator for 14 days.

At one point, his liver, kidneys, and lungs were all affected, and Bikram Sharma, MD, called Wallace’s wife to notify her that her husband may not make it.

“You have to be honest and prepare the family against the unknown,” said Dr. Sharma, who works in the medical center’s Critical Care Unit. “We still don’t know how patients will do when they are placed on the ventilator. Even now, statistically 60 to 70% of people don’t make it. At the start of the pandemic, that percentage was even higher.”

But Wallace’s health turned around. Ten days after Wallace was intubated, he woke up with his wrists and feet restrained, which was done so that he didn’t accidentally pull at his ventilator or other tubes attached to him. At first, he said he was scared.

“I couldn’t speak or move,” Wallace recalled. “A nurse came into the room, and it was almost like she could read my mind. She answered every question in my head: Where am I? Why am I here like this? She brought a blanket and assured me that I’d be okay and I wasn’t alone.”

A few days later, still on the ventilator, Wallace said Dr. Sharma came into his room and said, “Are you ready to come off this thing?”

“It was just such a special moment,” Wallace said.

Smelling the roses

Wallace wrote about Dr. Sharma and the rest of his care team in his book, which was published by Next Level Global Impact in June 2020.

“They’re all heroes to me,” Wallace wrote. “I honor each and every one of them.”

Wallace said the entire team was wonderful. But certain people stood out to him, including nurse Colleen Tillery, who was there when Wallace was extubated and who would relay messages from his wife and other family members.

“I remember Colleen taking me by the hand in her gloves. She would rub my arm and say it was gonna be OK,” Wallace said. “She just had a way of nursing that was so full of care and compassion.”

As Wallace returned to his normal life, he often remembered what ICU nurse Lynette Bird told him as she coached him through breathing exercises to help him recover.

“She kept saying, ‘Smell the roses. Blow out the candles.’ And I kept telling her, ‘I have no sense of smell,’” Wallace said. “And she said to me, ‘Well, pretend with me. You got to breathe deep. Smell the roses. Blow the candles.’”

Now in recovery, Wallace said he’s taking more time to smell the roses and enjoy life than ever before.

For more stories like this, please visit the Caring Moments website.

This story originally appeared in Mykp.kp.org