Been flyin’ solo for so long. Nobody’s singin’ a harmony up there
Just me and my shadow
No bass, no guitar, no tambourine
And I found you like a melody.
You were singing in the same key as me.
– Old Dominion’s “One Man Band”
They looked through the window at him as he lay in his hospital bed.
He was in a coma. On a ventilator. Mostly alone. Isolated. His family was not allowed to see him. There were hospital workers who said they were afraid to go into that room with him, afraid of the air around him or the surfaces he touched.
The intensive care unit nurses, protected by plastic face masks and thin cloth gowns, had to bathe him, suction his mouth, roll him over.
He was known throughout St. Joseph Hospital in Orange as “Patient One,” the first coronavirus case in St. Joseph’s intensive care unit.
He entered St. Joseph on March 17 with pneumonia and a fever. Two days later, he had a positive test for COVID-19 and a bed in the ICU.
His name is Darrin Godin, 44, of Westminster. He has a wife, Katie, and two little boys, Josh and Noah. He was in a coma for nine days before coming home April 1.
He doesn’t know what happened in the ICU. “I’m the worst source for your story,” he said.
He only knows that there were “angels,” as he called them, who helped him when he needed them most.
Angels in what looked like spacesuits.
Darrin Godin went to Western High in Anaheim and had an accounting class with a younger Pioneer named Tiger Woods.
“The accounting teacher was the golf coach,” Darrin said.
Darrin eventually became a youth pastor at Cottonwood Church in Los Alamitos. He remembers hosting a fundraising raffle, for which he drew the winning ticket. The winner was a girl named Katie Rorem, a scholarship pole vaulter from Huntington Beach whose father was Darrin’s dentist.
Katie doesn’t remember what she won in the raffle, other than a husband.
They were married Aug. 18, 2007. Katie became a registered nurse, and Darrin worked in health care administration, most recently for City of Hope, Orange County.
When he got sick, Darrin scared everyone so much because he didn’t fit the profile. He wasn’t old. He hadn’t traveled recently. He didn’t have co-morbidity, another medical condition that would make him vulnerable. He was young and fit and seriously ill.
He didn’t know anyone who was sick. He couldn’t think of anywhere he had been where there was much of a crowd.
“They kept asking me, ‘Are you sure you don’t smoke?’” Darrin said. He never has.
When the nurses looked at Darrin, they saw themselves.
“He could be me,” said ICU nurse Charity Boyd. “How isolated he was. How lonely. How sad.”
Darrin started to feel sick on March 12. He swigged some NyQuil. The next morning, he felt dizzy, but he went to work. By March 14, he had a fever.
“Do you think it could be coronavirus?” Katie remembers asking him as a joke. They both laughed it off.
Over the next few days, Darrin developed a dry cough. He kept getting worse. He found a computer app called “Express Care” and entered his symptoms.
By March 17, he decided to go find a drive-through coronavirus testing facility. While he was in the car, a representative from Express Care called him back.
He was on the 22 Freeway. He pulled off into a gas station parking lot. He was advised to get to an Emergency Room immediately.
Darrin said he thought a mistake had been made. He just needed a test.
No, he was told, drive straight to the hospital.
Bad to worse
Charity Boyd was Darrin’s first nurse at St. Joseph.
“I looked like a spaceman,” she said, describing all her protective gear.
She couldn’t believe her eyes. Darrin was too young and healthy to be so sick.
“I was in a little bit of shock,” she said.
She could tell he was struggling. He has little memory of his time in the hospital. He focused, he said, on a small wooden cross hanging on the wall.
“I looked in his eyes and saw fear,” she said. “I felt so helpless.”
She watched him lose his breath just walking to the bathroom.
Nothing was going right. As it turns out, his wife Katie also tested positive for the coronavirus. She never developed the severe symptoms he had, never had to be hospitalized. And she’s fine now. But while she was sick, she tried to use that to get into the hospital to see her husband.
If she was already infected, then she could see him, right?
He stayed alone.
“They wouldn’t let anybody in to see him,” Katie said through her tears.
On the second day, when Boyd was feeling like she hadn’t done much to help him or ease his fear, Darrin caught her by surprise.
“He said, ‘Thank you so much for taking care of me,’” she said.
On March 21, Darrin called Katie.
“I’m trying really hard,” he said.
“He was emotional and that was the hardest part,” Katie said.
After talking to his wife, Darrin called a longtime friend to say goodbye. He thought he was dying.
At 4 p.m. he had a coughing fit, was put under sedation and was placed on a ventilator.
Angels go to work
Tyler Walker was Godin’s respiratory therapist.
“It was heartbreaking,” he said. “He hadn’t had any visitors. He was our first patient. We didn’t know what to expect.”
The pressure was on the staff.
“You don’t want to have a bad outcome with your first patient,” Tyler said. “It was all too real.”
Sydney Daebritz was Godin’s nurse for the first three nights he was under sedation. He has no memory of her.
“I care for the human,” she said. “Not the disease. I wasn’t afraid. I was protected by PPE and prayer.”
She remembers introducing herself and talking to Darrin like he was alert. He wasn’t. She talked to Katie and found out about his boys.
“Your family says hello, and they love you,” she repeated to him.
She found out he liked country music.
So she chose current county hits from Spotify. She picked songs by Old Dominion, including their hit “One Man Band.”
“I don’t wanna be a one man band,
“I don’t wanna be a rollin’ stone alone”
Late at night, she gave Darrin back rubs, caressed his head and held his hand.
Then, she prayed.
“God, this is your beloved son, Darrin,” she remembers saying. “He is so precious in your sight. God, there is so much fear in the world. Please heal him now.”
Walker was in the room with Daebritz.
“She is one of the most caring people in the world,” he said. “One of the sweetest people you will ever meet.”
KoriAnn Johnston, another nurse, said the worst moment came when Godin had a seizure.
“We don’t know what’s causing it,” she said. “He’s just jerking. We were all pretty scared. I was really concerned.”
There was discussion about transferring Godin to hospitals in Los Angeles if his complications worsened.
“I didn’t want him to go,” Katie said. “I wanted him to win the battle there.”
And he did.
Alarms in the night
If you ask Darrin and Katie Godin how he beat coronavirus, they both shrug. There wasn’t a drug treatment (although he had many) that appeared to work.
“Proning?” Katie said, unsure.
Proning is common among coronavirus patients. While he was in a coma, nurses flipped Darrin from lying on his back to lying on his stomach. He’d stay prone for 14 hours, then he was flipped again.
“I was told it allows air to get deeper into the lungs,” Darrin said.
Nurses had to move his head from side to side every hour.
Twice, the ventilator filled up with mucous. The horrible alarm went off.
“His secretions were so thick, his airway was blocked,” Walker said. “It was like jelly. Thick, nasty stuff. They (the nurses) are in there battling this disease that is beyond scary.”
What the Godins can say for sure is that the care he received, especially from the nurses, is what helped him pull through.
By March 27, his lungs got stronger. He needed less and less pumped oxygen to survive.
“That’s when I said, ‘He’s going to come back,’” Katie said.
He was taken off the ventilator on March 29.
On March 30, his memory started to return. He remembers seeing baked goods from Porto’s being stacked up outside his room. The nurses appeared to be celebrating.
“Why is it so important?” Darrin remembers wondering.
He tried to call Katie, but he dropped the phone on his forehead.
He tried to eat, but Charity Boyd had to help him with his fork. Then he looked at Boyd and said, “I’d like to brush my teeth, but I can’t.”
She brushed his teeth for him.
“We’ll get through this,” she said.
On April 1, the staff lined up outside Darrin Godin’s room.
“I was crying the whole time,” KoriAnn Johnston said. “This is someone who gets to go home to his family. His kids get to see their dad.”
As Johnston watched him go, another thought popped into her head.
“We did this,” she thought proudly.
Darrin wanted to thank so many people. There were more people than that. Friends making dinners for the Godin family. Churches starting prayer groups on his behalf.
And then he teared up when he thought of the nurses.
“I always felt the presence of God when they were in my room,” he said.
As he gets closer to his 45th birthday – he said he hopes to celebrate with a big steak on May 2 – Darrin Godin spends a lot of time on social media writing about how thankful he is. A friend established “Darrin’s Support Group” on Facebook.
“I have this overwhelming feeling of indebtedness,” he said. “It feels like there was an army of people fighting for me.”
He was never alone.