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I have no idea what it is like to not be able to breathe. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be lifeless on the floor, gasping for air, wondering if I am going to survive. But, I know someone who has. Her story is one of inspiration, hope, and courage. Denise Taylor-Bacon, a 50-year-old woman from Milwaukee, WI, shared her story of survival with me. Her story is one of complete trust and surrender, and how the breath of God saved her life.
How We Met
Most of us have experienced various anxieties surrounding sickness, not being prepared for death, and possibly have had fears of dying alone. Social media platforms such as Facebook have been flooded with rising death counts, leaving us with grim realizations that at any given time, we may unexpectedly test positive for COVID-19 and die.
In an attempt to distract myself from all of the negative politics on my Facebook timelines, I posted a request for front line workers to share a photo of themselves. My hope was to just recognize and honor those who were putting their lives on the line everyday while some of us were sheltered at home.
Denise posted a photo of herself that day. I remember seeing her smile and how familiar she looked to me. I thought she was someone I had worked with over 20 years ago and remember thinking, “wow she is a correctional officer now!” But then I had a moment of fear for her. I felt concerned about her being around so many people. I just pushed the thought out of my mind.
2 days later, a new post from Denise showed up on my timeline with this picture:
My heart sank. In fact, my heart was broken. But then, I heard something whisper in my ear. “Be still and know that I am God.” My quiet thoughts had a conversation with that whisper. “Yes, just be still right now. Be quiet and it will be okay.” It was just a connection that God and I had at that moment and I knew I needed to pray for her and believe in Him. I wanted her to survive and though I was overwhelmed with sadness, I was also overcome with strength and faith.
I turned on a song on YouTube by Anthony Evans, “Silence.” I just meditated, all of my emotions an all, and found my center. Since I was at my computer, I created a photo for her and posted it on her Facebook wall:
My heart’s desire at that moment was to encourage her and let her know that she wasn’t alone. I felt a pool of hope stirring up inside of me. I knew she had a family but I wanted to be strong for her and the best way I knew how to do that was to believe.
She stayed on my mind for a while. And my mind wandered frequently. I still couldn’t remember where we had met. I found myself praying for a familiar stranger while at the same time, thinking she was someone I had known from years ago.
She doesn’t know this, but her getting sick gave me hope. See, I have been struggling with my relationship with God for a long time. But, one thing I have always believed and had faith in is that He places people in our paths for a reason. This is no different.
When Denise got sick, I searched for God in a way I had not been doing for almost a year. My response to some circumstances in my life distanced me from God. I hadn’t stopped praying and hadn’t lost all my faith, but I had somewhat turned my back on my life with Him.
I won’t be back for awhile
The last time I had heard anything about Denise, she had posted on Facebook that she would not be on Facebook for awhile. In my mind, she was heading to the ICU. All I could do was cry. I imagined her lying in her hospital bed alone with tubes down her throat, unable to breathe. I imagined her fighting for her life.
“God, please don’t let her die.”
Within a day or two, Denise had a video posted of her and a little girl who appeared to be her granddaughter. They were laughing and smiling, and all I could think was, “please don’t go. She needs you.”
I couldn’t stop replaying that video in my mind, so I sent Denise a message letting her know I was thinking of her. All we had been seeing in the news was how people in ICU were alone and I couldn’t bear the thought of her being there all alone.
I was feeling anxious and afraid, and my mind was flooded with Bible verses for anxiety. I had to meditate on my hopeful thoughts and remind myself of this over and over and over that God is in control. God said not to be afraid. I sat down that night and wrote a blog about how to overcome fear not just for everyone to read, but also because I needed God. And I knew she did too.
Faith, prayers, and surviving
“Thank you God, for keeping her alive. Thank you God! Yes, Lord! ”
The next day, she posted on Facebook how thankful she was for everyone’s prayers. Wow. I was so grateful she had made it. I felt such a connection with her and decided to ask her if she would allow me to interview her and tell her story.
And she agreed ………
Who is Denise?
Denise is a healthy 50-year-old woman. She is a correctional officer at Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility and lives on the South Side of Milwaukee WI. She is a mom, a daughter, a niece, a friend, a wife, and a grandmother. She believes in God. She has faith in God.
Denise is a happy, down to earth, kind soul. When we talked, it was as if we had known each other forever. She is personable, polite, and has such a positive outlook on life. There is just something about her that feels easy and comfortable. She is just one of those souls you meet and instantly know she’s amazing.
She lived in Beloit, WI for over 20 years and worked at Lear Seating Company until she had gotten laid off due to the shut down at General Motors. She said, ” and all that was a blessing. The highest education I had was high school. “
“After all of us lost our jobs in Janesville, the state paid for us to go to college. In order for us to continue to get unemployment, well, I had to take an assessment. Who knew my strongest area was criminal justice. I never was interested in that before. So, I went to school for Criminal Justice and I started filling out applications as soon as I was about to graduate. ”
She took the opportunity, got hired at the Milwaukee Sheriff’s Department, and moved to South Milwaukee where she has resided ever since. She is married, has grown children, and grandchildren.
After speaking with Denise, we discovered that although we lived in the same city for quite some time and had some acquaintances in common…….
…..we were perfect strangers.
“I thought I was having a heart attack”
I asked Denise how it was she knew she had COVID-19. She said, “ya know, it was Monday, I woke up and my chest was hurting. “I thought I was under stress because my car got hit under the parking structure. I was very angry about that. So they thought I was just under stress. ” Denise thought she was having a heart attack. She had requested to see the nurse at work and even though the nurse at work doesn’t see employees, she was able to go. She said she normally has low blood pressure and that it was “very high that day.” She chalked it up to stress.
She drank some water, relaxed for a little while and her blood pressure went down. She got sent home that day but she “had made a commitment to stay” and she refused to go home. Denise wanted to keep her commitment.
When she got home, she was still feeling a little chest pain. She continued to tell herself she was just feeling a bit stressed because of her car.
By Wednesday, her chest pain was so bad she believed she was having a heart attack. She told her husband the night before that if she still had chest pain when she woke up, she was going to go to urgent care. Denise laid down but “the pain was so bad, it woke [her] up three hours later.” She thought she was having a heart attack and was concerned since she had just turned 50. She didn’t know.
“I was asymptomatic”
She called urgent care and was told, “don’t come to the clinic.” She was instructed to go to the hospital area of South Shore. At first, Denise was confused so she asked why she had to go to the hospital. Since the coronavirus was such an epidemic, the clinic was taking precautions and ended up heading to the emergency room.
Her experience at the hospital was less than desirable and was somewhat scolded for not social distancing. Since Denise works at the prison, she is an essential worker and advised the attending nurse of that. She was confused by having to have her temperature taken, and also for having to be in the emergency room with a mask on. (The picture above, when I thought Denise had been admitted to the hospital, was really her waiting to be treated for her chest pains).
“I didn’t display any cold symptoms. I was asymptomatic” She had no temperature, no cold symptoms, and was feeling fine other than her severe chest pains. Initially, her nurse told her she was not going to be tested for the virus and Denise agreed she didn’t need testing.
Much to her dismay, the doctor ordered for her to be tested for the coronavirus. She didn’t see a need because she didn’t feel sick at all. The nurse asked if she had cold symptoms, a cough, diarrhea, and if her stomach hurt, all of which Denise answered no. The nurse also asked her if she had been around anyone and she said, “nope. I just go to work and home and that’s it.”
Because she was asymptomatic, the nurse sent her home and advised Denise she would have her test results the next day. Since she was an essential worker, she had to wait for the results, so the nurse advised her if she didn’t hear anything, to go ahead and go to work.
She had no idea what she was about to face.
Positive for COVID-19
At around noon on Thursday, South Milwaukee St. Francis Health Department called Denise and told her the news. She was positive for COVID-19.
She was advised that she couldn’t go to work and that everyone she had come in contact with had to be tested. The health department told her that it was odd because she presented as asymptomatic.
Denise went on to say that while she was in the hospital, the nurse advised her that in the event she tests positive, to do everything she could to keep herself breathing on her own, without a ventilator. The reason for this was because once people are on ventilators to assist with breathing, the chances of surviving are slim.
I asked Denise, “did you have to be put on a ventilator?” She said no. In fact, she never went to the hospital at all.
I was shocked. I thought she was in the ICU fighting for her life. I went back to my thoughts of the day I saw her pictures on Facebook. I was in disbelief. While I had thought the entire time she was in ICU on a ventilator, she was fighting just to breathe.
But, everything happens for a reason and I am convinced that after hearing the rest of her story, God had given me the instructions to pray for her. And He told me to pray for her strength, to fight, have faith, and don’t give up. And that is exactly what I did.
“Help me breathe!”
Denise said many times during our interview, “the first two days were critical.” She said, ” I couldn’t breathe. That night when I was at home, I had a hard time breathing.” While talking to her son who lives in Texas, he was trying to encourage her that everything will be okay. Denise said to him, “don’t feel bad. I feel okay.” And then …..
“All of a sudden, I felt this heavy weight on my chest. I was trying to breathe and I was having a hard time breathing. We were videoing and my son asked me what’s the matter. I said, I don’t know. I don’t know. I can’t breathe. He said to me, ‘hang up.’ I got up off the couch, and I fell to my knees. I started praying.”
Denise simulated how she was trying to catch her breath, and while she gasped for air, prayed to God, ” ‘Help me! help me! Help me breathe.’ I could not breathe. It was something heavy on my chest and it was taking my breath away.” In a moment of panic to catch her breath, her faith prompted her to pray.
Shortly after, she had a moment of calm and she remembered what the nurse told her. “This is what the lady was talking about.” She recalled the autogenic breathing she learned while testing for her corrections job. In an attempt to open her lungs, she began inhaling deep breaths and slowly releasing the air.
“I don’t want to die”
She kept praying to God, “help me, help me, Help me. I don’t wanna die right now. I don’t wanna die right here. I couldn’t even scream. I was just breathing. I did that about 5 or 6 times. And I just started pouring out crying.” With a smile, she said, “and I KNEW that I was just gonna die.”
I asked, “were you scared?”
She paused for a moment, trying to hold back her tears, and said, “I was really scared. Because I thought I was gonna die by myself. I couldn’t yell for my husband. I couldn’t even walk up the stairs. I tried and I couldn’t. I couldn’t. So, yeah, I got real scared. I just knew at that time, I wasn’t going to make it.”
She did need those prayers of strength. At the same time I was praying for her not to give up, she thought her life was over.
And while I was praying for her not to give up, she was praying, “please please please God. Please, don’t take me like this. At least give my husband…. at least give my family peace. And I had to stop crying because I couldn’t even breathe.”
“I was blowing my nose and I was taking deep breaths again because I COULD NOT BREATHE. So, I started taking deep breaths again. And I got up. I walked about 2 feet and I fell. And I couldn’t breathe again. And I tried to breathe again and when I was breathing in, I’m praying. Finally, I heard my phone buzzing. It was my son texting me asking me how I was doing. Baby, Mama’s not doing good. Pray for mama. I think I am going to have to call 9-1-1.”
Her son called her and said, “I love you” and told her not to talk. And hung up.
“I couldn’t have even called 9-1-1 if I wanted to because I couldn’t even talk. I was getting ready to call 9-1-1. My phone was in my hand and I dropped my phone. I could NOT BREATHE. I was praying at the same time, “God please don’t take me like this. I crawled to the stairs and when I had enough energy, I crawled up the stairs.”
“Please, God. Please breathe for me.”
“This is so weird. I made me some Theraflu and I made it real hot. For some reason I thought it would make me feel better having it go down my throat. And it did. I went to the spare bedroom. I laid down. I laid down and I prayed for what I want to say at least an hour.”
“I just didn’t want to die.”
I asked her, “what were you praying about?”
And in a calm, thoughtful, soft voice, she said, “that He would breathe for me. That He would breathe for me. I honestly was. I was asking Him, God please, please, please, open my airways and breathe for me. The next thing I knew, I was asleep.”
She slept for almost 3 days.
Complete surrender to God
Denise shared that not only could she not catch her breath, but she also was in excruciating pain. She said she gave up. Although she had friends calling her, people praying for her at church, and strangers like me praying for her, it wasn’t enough. Despite her friend’s pleas that she not give up, as she had overcome death several times before in her life, she couldn’t do it herself.
I asked her what it was that kept her fighting, and she said in a quiet moment, “my grandbaby and my kids. And my mom. When my mom had heard that I was positive, she was devastated. She had already buried one daughter and didn’t want to bury another one.” She continued by saying, “my daughter told me ‘mom, you’ve got to get better. Grandma keeps saying I cannot lose another daughter. We’re going to pray, we’re going to pray because Grandma cannot lose another child. I really feel if grandma loses another child, grandma is going to die herself.’ “
Healing and hope
After 2 days, Denise said she had overcome the worst and on day 3 she was breathing again. She had to take it easy and not overexert herself, but she was finally feeling better.
When I asked her, “how do you think this has changed you or what do you see as being different?” she responded by saying, ” ya know, there is just something in me. I want to encourage my community.” She made signs in her windows that with messages of hope: “be encouraged South Milwaukee, we will get through this. We are blessed. You are loved.” She continued by saying, “life is short. I never ever ever thought that I would experience this. Not me.”
She spoke about the impact the pandemic is impacting her community, especially the north side of Milwaukee. She said she has so much empathy right now and how blessed she is to still be here.
We discussed how this is hitting the African American population the hardest but said she couldn’t answer honestly why she thought that was. She said she really DIDN’T know because, in Milwaukee, a 22-year-old mother and her 9-month-old child both died of the coronavirus, but a 93-year-old woman survived. Denise, a 50-year-old black woman survived, but a 57-year-old man didn’t. She said it makes her angry and it makes her feel bad because she doesn’t view her life as any more important than anyone else’s. And she prayed for the 57 year old man the same prayer she prayer for herself, for God to breathe for him.
Denise is excited to get back to work. The inmates at MSDF have been praying for her. So, when she gets to walk into work and surprise them by showing she is alive, their prayers will be answered. And when prayers are answered, non-believers become believers.
There are some powerful things to take away from this testimony. Denise is a walking testimony of God’s promise that the suffering will end. All we have to do is surrender ourselves and let go of the control we think we have and let God lead. She is a walking testimony of faith, hope, courage, love, prayer, God’s glory, His mercy, and that He is in control.
As for me, well, God connected Denise and me for some reason. But I am not going to question it. I am just a storyteller. What I do know and understand, is that our God is good.
He is hope. And hope restores our souls.
What is the breath of God? It is life.
Before I go, I would like to leave you with this…… (I do not own rights to this music)