Joey Wall home after 362 days in hospital
By Ernest Herndon
BROOKHAVEN — Before he contracted COVID-19 and spent 362 days in the hospital — much of that time on a ventilator — Joey Wall was a ball of fire.
He worked as a rural mail carrier out of the Liberty Post Office, thought nothing of doing vigorous outdoor work in the summer heat, and as a longtime member of the Amite County Historical Society probably knew as much about county history as anyone alive.
“He had no previous medical condition,” said his wife, Lou Ann, a nurse at King’s Daughters Medical Center in Brookhaven who is now caring for Joey at home. “He didn’t take any medication.
“He hardly ever got sick, and if he did get sick, he would still work.
“Joey never smoked. He always had good lungs. He could swim three laps in the pool on one breath.”
Then came COVID
All that began to change on Saturday night, Aug. 29, 2020, when Joey developed a mild cough and felt run down. A few days later, Lou Ann and daughters Lindey and Laney felt poorly also.
They all got tested for COVID and were positive.
“By Friday we were all so sick, I couldn’t take care of him, he couldn’t take care of me,” Lou Ann said.
On Saturday, Sept. 5, Joey said he needed to go to the hospital, so Lou Ann took him to the King’s Daughters emergency room. She couldn’t stay because of her own COVID, but she heard that when he entered triage, he collapsed because of low oxygen in his blood.
Lou Ann and daughters eventually recovered from COVID, but Joey progressed to intensive care, and on Sept. 9 he was placed on a ventilator.
When Lou Ann’s quarantine ended she was able to visit.
Time to move
The doctors put Joey on Remdesivir, steroids along with sedation and paralytic medications. But on Sept. 18 a nurse practitioner called, saying Joey needed more care than King’s Daughters could provide.
The problem was, “there were no beds anywhere” with higher level care, Lou Ann said.
A few days later the nurse practitioner called again and said, “We’ve got to get him out of here. He’s not going to make it.”
On Sept. 23 Joey was airlifted to Baptist Medical Center in Jackson, where he stayed until Nov. 13. He came off the ventilator in early November and was moved to Belhaven Select Specialty on the fifth floor.
Lou Ann and the girls rotated visiting until COVID cases picked up and visitation ended.
“He was doing pretty good till they stopped visitation,” Lou Ann said.
With no family around, Joey suffered periodic panic attacks. He was given a tracheotomy and placed on a trach tube. A bed sore progressed to dire stages.
On Thanksgiving he was able to Facetime Lou Ann the words, “Get me out of here.”
On Nov. 30 he underwent a colostomy, and on Dec. 7 was transferred to Franklin County Hospital.
As a postal employee Joey is covered by Blue Cross, which paid all COVID-related costs until he quit testing positive. Then the bills mounted up.
“Owe? Oh, gosh, I have no idea,” Lou Ann said of their medical debt.
Joey got on disability in March, but otherwise there has been no government help.
“The government’s not doing anything for people like Joey,” Lou Ann said. “There’s no assistance out there.”
The medical establishment doesn’t always do what it should, either, she said.
“I have had to stand up to doctors and say, ‘Why aren’t you doing this? Why aren’t you doing that?’”
No visitors allowed
In Franklin County, Joey got off the vent for a week but went back on it Jan. 5.
“I couldn’t visit him there, either,” Lou Ann said. “I had to stand on a ladder to see him.”
She had a nurse put an iPad by his bed so they could talk.
“They had no visitors. I think that’s a big reason why people are dying,” Lou Ann said. “There’s nobody there to hold their hand and tell them it’s going to be OK except for strangers.”
Since she and her daughters had had COVID and been vaccinated, such prohibitions seem unreasonable to her.
Meanwhile, being on a vent, Joey had trouble communicating even the most basic needs to nurses: chapstick for his dry mouth, a change in room temperature.
On Jan. 8 his breathing worsened and he experienced an apparent abdominal bleed so went by ambulance to Baptist, where he waited three days in the emergency room before he could get a room.
Into a coma
Next, his blood sugar dropped dangerously and he went into a coma, in which he remained until late March. Then his chest collapsed, requiring a tube placed into his lung.
His heart rate periodically skyrocketed, requiring medical personnel to shock his heart — a procedure that took place seven or eight times during his hospitalization.
But in April he came off the vent, which was replaced with a trach collar, allowing oxygen to flow into his trachea.
On April 21 he had improved enought to go to Post Acute Medical Specialty Hospital in Hammond, La.. There a doctor told Lou Ann that Joey had pulmonary fibrosis and would be on a ventilator the rest of his life.
“So we changed pulmonologists,” she said.
The new one was more reassuring.
“He said, ‘I don’t think he’s going to be vent-dependent for life, and we’re going to do everything we can to get him off.”
They did, enabling Joey to move to Touro Infirmary in New Orleans for rehab on June 23.
“The next day they took him to the gym and stood him,” Lou Ann said.
By then Joey could eat solid food.
Joey continued to suffer setbacks, including a case of C. diff, an intestinal infection, and a spell of hyperventilating that landed him in ICU.
And then there was Hurricane Ida.
Lou Ann was working three consecutive 12-hour days a week at King’s Daughters and spending the rest of her time at Touro with Joey, sleeping on a hard sofa. When Ida hit, the power went out, but generators promptly kicked in.
“Their hospital was very prepared and very organized,” Lou Ann said.
Since the window of his room looked out on another wall, she never got a good look at the weather.
Joey was scheduled to be released Aug. 31, but Ida delayed that until Sept. 2.
Home sweet home
Joey and Lou Ann live on Highway 550 in Brookhaven near the hospital where she works. A church group converted their garage into a spacious bed room and living area. There Joey lies in a hospital bed with a pulse-ox machine — which Lou Ann had to borrow from a friend — continuously running.
Lou Ann couldn’t find a home health agency to sign Joey on because of his extensive needs. She’s on leave from her job and takes care of him with help from their daughters. She hopes to arrange a flexible schedule at King’s Daughters so she can return to work.
“We have to do everything for him, pretty much,” she said.
That includes turning him, bathing him, helping him sit up, helping him eat, transferring him to a wheelchair with a lift — though he can’t go far because of his oxygen tube.
Their daughters have set up a gofundme page, and neighbors signed Joey onto a meal delivery service.
Lou Ann said she had a “melt-down” the week after he came home. The refrigerator and dryer went out, and Ida caused extensive damage to Joey’s ancestral home in Gillsburg, where they would like to return.
But both she and Joey remain upbeat despite the odds.
“I’ve always been a pretty strong person,” said Lou Ann, who’s been married to Joey for 36 years. “I want him to get better. I asked him when he was (real) sick, ‘Are you ready to see Jesus or do you want to get better?’ He said he wanted to get better — and he still does.
“He’s getting a lot stronger,” Lou Ann said. “It’s just that with his lungs so damaged he gets worn out.”
Support from all over
During a visit Joey seems to sleep at times but frequently opens his eyes and sometimes tries to speak. The trach collar makes his words inaudible, so he gestures to Lou Ann to unfastened it and place a small plastic cap over the tube, which amplifies his words.
But he can’t talk for long without running out of air, and Lou Ann removes the cap and replaces the collar.
“I know he wouldn’t have made it without God, and I know God’s hand was in everything,” she said.
The couple are members of Gillsburg Baptist Church, which has helped out with financial and moral support. Lou Ann also gets encouragement on Facebook, where she consistently posts updates on Joey’s condition.
“There were so many people praying,” she said. “I didn’t even know he had so many friends. Churches sent us checks. They took up love offerings.”
She was in a grocery store when a woman asked her if she was Joey Wall’s wife. The woman said she was from Florida and people throughout that state were praying for Joey.
“We did mission work in Romania. The churches there are praying for him,” Lou Ann said.
“That’s one thing that keeps me going. It’s like community support.”