It’s been two years since Gerard Baus was desperately ill with COVID-19. While he’s doing well and is back to work as assistant director of Protective Services at Einstein Healthcare Network, he’s not fully recovered.
Sleep often brings haunting flashbacks of the eight days he spent on a ventilator. He continues to have random spells of shortness of breath. “Brain fog” lingers, requiring him to rely on sticky notes and written lists as memory aids.
But the experience has also left Baus with the unexpected gifts of serenity and spontaneity.
Baus is a father of three who’s worked at Einstein, now a part of Jefferson Health, for 18 years. He lives in Collingswood, NJ, where he grew up, and is a well-liked fixture of the community, judging by the crowd of friends, neighbors and city officials who gathered outside his home to greet him the day he came home from the hospital.
Baus and his team of security officers regularly interacted with COVID patients at the hospital. On Saturday, March 28, 2020, he awoke with a severe headache. “I never get headaches,” he says. “I knew right away I had COVID. By Monday night, I couldn’t breathe. I knew I was in a lot of trouble.” He was admitted to Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia in dire condition.
Baus’ major concern wasn’t that he would die, he says, but that his wife, Erin, would contract the virus, and die too. What would happen to their daughter and two sons? He spent hours on his cell phone in the hospital having emotional discussions with his brothers about raising the children. (Erin never became ill.) Then, struggling for every breath, Baus was put on the ventilator, and spent the next eight days in an induced coma.
The experience haunts him to this day. “When I was recovering, it was pretty much every night. I’d go to sleep and it would be like I was back on the ventilator. I thought I was being held captive and was constantly trying to break free,” he says. “It was traumatizing.” He still has frequent nightmares about it.
During the two months he recovered at home, Baus says he also realized his focus and memory weren’t the same. “It never got better,” he says. “One of the things I’ve been known for is my capacity to juggle multiple things at a time. I was a good multi-tasker. I’d check things off mentally every day.”
Now, he says, “the brain fog is always there” and he relies on workaround strategies he’s developed.
Baus makes sure to put his wallet, keys and cell phone in the same place every time, rather than “randomly putting something down where typically I’d have to remember where I put it,” he says. He writes down his daily checklist, instead of relying on a mental inventory, and uses sticky notes as reminders.
“It’s not a crippling thing,” Baus says. “It’s not like I can’t function, People who know me might notice, but other people have no idea. I just think I’ve been able to adapt.”
COVID also transformed Baus’ life in profound and positive ways, too.
When Baus was bracing to be put on the ventilator and realized he might not survive, he began searching his soul for resolution. “When I was about to go on the ventilator, and there’s a legitimate chance I’m not coming off this thing, that’s the time you start to reflect on your life,” says Baus, who was 48 at the time.
Had he been a decent person? Had he always been kind? Had he taken risks or traveled a safe and cautious path? Had he been there for his family or had he been too absorbed in work?
“When I looked back, I didn’t have a lot to be regretful for or wish I had done something different,” Baus says. “I was so happy to go on the ventilator knowing, if it doesn’t turn out, I did things the best that I could. That was a very peaceful thing.”
And perhaps that serenity has allowed Baus to, well, let go.
In the past, when Baus’ wife suggested they pick up and go somewhere – to the shore, to visit a local brewery, to stroll a charming town – Baus would decline. “I was more of a planner,” he says. “And I’d say, let’s do it next week.”
Not any more.
“Now I’m the complete opposite,” Baus says. “When she says, let’s go – I say, let me get my keys. And we’re off.”