CUTCHOGUE, NY — In late March, Debbie Horton of Cutchogue was facing the unknown when her husband Rick was admitted to the hospital with the new coronavirus.
The hardest part, Horton told Patch, was the complete loss of control. “I can’t hold his hand,” she said at the time. “I can’t go in and see his face.” The worry, the fear of the unknown, were constant, she said: “I don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring.”
But she painted a bright rainbow on her front windows — “The greater the storm, the brighter the rainbow,” she said — and continued to pray.
On Wednesday, those prayers came true as Debbie and her family waited excitedly by the front entrance of Peconic Bay Medical Center where a “clap out” was held for Rick, a joyful moment when medical and hospital staff lined up and clapped while he was wheeled past them.
Rick is only the second of ventilated patients at the hospital to be released and going directly home, his wife said.
And not only was there a celebratory turnout for the “clap out,” but the community showed up in force to welcome Rick home with a drive by parade of vehicles at the couple’s Cutchogue home.
Describing his experience with coronavirus, Rick said he felt “hopelessly weak and exhausted.” But, he added, he was very confident with the nurses and doctors that were helping him and knowing that Debbie was at home questioning everything.
“It made him feel safe,” she said.
And on Wednesday, the couple’s hearts were full as they saw firsthand how many had been rallying behind them and praying for Rick’s recovery.
“We were totally overwhelmed not only by the people at the hospital and the amazing clap out, but when we got home, we were amazed by how many people were in the driveway and on the road. And then, at 3 p.m., there was a parade, with so many people, balloons, signs and fire trucks,” Debbie said.
Debbie and her husband were also happy to be able to show their appreciation for all the staff at PBMC, they said.
“And then coming home to a parade of family and friends, with the Cutchogue Fire Department vehicles’ horns and sirens blaring amongst the more than 100 cars — it was like a dream to us both,” she said.
For Rick, there was nothing sweeter than returning back from the front lines of his fierce battle for survival.
“It feels great to be home,” Rick said Wednesday evening, adding that all he wanted was to take a long, hot shower and enjoy a nice dinner.
But even at the hospital, Rick said, the food was first rate: Chef Chris, he said, was “extraordinary,” especially on Easter, when he prepared his favorite kielbasa and horseradish breakfast.
The couple’s daughter Patricia Horton shared her joy on Facebook: “My heart is filled knowing my dad is finally home safe and sound after four weeks fighting COVID at PBMC. He received a clap out, as he’s the second patient to be released from this facility after being on a ventilator. We surprised our parents with a drive by parade with family and friends at home. A big ‘thank you’ to PBMC doctors, nurses and staff for saving my dad’s life.”
For Debbie, the rainbow in the window was a harbinger of hope: “What started out as a nightmare ended with a happily ever after,” she said.
When he was first hospitalized, Horton thanked all who had sent comments and texts of support and made phone calls of “encouragement, love, compassion and helpfulness. I couldn’t get through this isolation and feeling of being in the movie Groundhog’s Day without you.”
Her husband, she said, was treated with the antiviral medication Plaquenil, or hydroxychloroquine, as well as other trials and protocols.
Speaking to Patch while Rick was hospitalized, Horton praised the nurses who had been a constant source of information and support. “I’m so blessed that he is being isolated there,” she said. When her husband was too weak to talk or text, the nurses, Horton said, keep her updated constantly.
When she was still in mandatory quarantine herself, Horton said not only her children and grandchildren, but friends and a loving community came together to help.
“My daughter-in-law made amazing dinners and family and friends dropped off food,” she said, including the cookie dough that she’d wanted. “I started freezing things because I felt bad that my husband wasn’t enjoying it. I decided to save the chicken soup for Rick.”