'Touching the Feet of Death': Tim Stewart's Story

by Kelsey DeClue | Jan 17, 2022

Tim Stewart and his fiancé, Melissa
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Tim Stewart and his fiancé, Melissa

Tim Stewart isn’t one to exaggerate. Even as he describes his life as a father of five and devoted fiancé, maintaining a full-time job with Caterpillar Inc., and two side jobs – one as a Class A CDL truck driver and the other, a mowing business with his son – as well as four acres of land near Hope, Ind., Stewart is refreshingly matter-of-fact.

“I’ve just always been a very active person. I’m constantly working and going. I’ve always worked hard.”

So when the 53-year-old says he had a brush with death he never expected, nor will soon forget due to COVID-19, he isn’t playing around. 

“I felt like I touched the feet of death,” Stewart said, pausing thoughtfully to grasp his words. “I’m serious. It’s hard to describe. It’s just a feeling, and you don’t know what it’s like until it happens to you… it’s like I could feel the Grim Reaper sitting at the end of my bed, so close I could reach out and touch… death.”

Two years into the nation’s complicated battle with coronavirus, Stewart is fortunate to be on perhaps the only definitively positive side of the pandemic – survival. He never questioned the reality of the virus. In fact, his fiancé, Melissa, who is vaccinated, contracted the virus in 2021 and was able to isolate and recover at home. December of 2021 brought something different for Stewart. While working in the family’s barn with his son one day not long after Christmas, Stewart felt more fatigued than usual. What started mildly, ran a rollercoaster course of unpredictable, unrelenting headaches, nausea and fevers, unaffected by medication. For several days, he experienced a total loss of appetite and the inability to stay awake before the tough Stewart could take no more, and went to the Emergency Department.

“I told Melissa, we have to do something,” he said. “I’ve never felt so bad in my life. Just this awful sense of dread.” After days of suffering at home, when Stewart arrived at the Emergency Department, he was so weak he had to be carried from the car. He was immediately placed on fluids, and a course of symptom management and treatment began.

As the virus rages on, one would be hard-pressed to find someone unaffected or without experience related to the pandemic. Stewart, like many people, has a complicated, intimate view. Melissa had encouraged Tim to receive the vaccine and he has friends and loved ones with a wide range of feelings, opinions and insights. Sure, he knows people, both vaccinated and not, who have contracted the virus with only mild symptoms. However, it’s a risk, and one he’s no longer willing to take. 
“I was very against the vaccine,” he said. “Yes, I was one of those; I was really skeptical. You hear and read all this stuff, and the media aspect is just killing this thing. Sure, even now, the doubt creeps in from time to time, but that doesn’t change it. I’m still going to get that vaccine at the first moment I can.”

Previously a staunch critic of the COVID-19 vaccine, Stewart now anxiously awaits his opportunity to receive it. When asked, he relays a very clear vision of what he would tell someone skeptical of getting the vaccine: 

“I know this isn’t possible, but I’d say, 'Go visit a COVID unit,'” he said. “Go see what some of these people have to go through. It’s terrible. I felt like I was getting the life sucked out of me, and I wasn’t even the worst of them. I know there were others on my (hospital) unit, some younger than me and maybe even in better shape. Of course others who weren’t. And they didn’t make it.
“Go see what these nurses and doctors and technicians have to go through, day in and day out, caring for patients. If you could only see. You just don’t know until it happens to you.”

Second only to the unwavering care and support from his fiancé, Melissa, who was “by my side the whole way,” Stewart credits his hospital care team with his successful recovery.

“Every single person I encountered was so caring and they talked everything through. It was fantastic. I asked a lot of questions and each person took the time to talk through things with me. I could tell they genuinely believed in what they were saying. They weren’t just pushing something. The genuinely cared and they knew what was best.”

Stewart’s road to recovery from his late December infection continues. 

“Today is the first day I feel more like myself,” he said, via phone from his home, having been released from Columbus Regional Health after a three-day hospital stay.  “I walked our property today. It felt normal. I got a little winded toward the end, but for the first few days after my release, I was getting these tremors. Unless I was laying or sitting perfectly still, if I got up, I’d shake really bad.

“I was really worried, and I suppose to an extent, I still am. But I have a feeling I’m going to come out of this OK. I just consider myself one of the lucky ones.”

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