‘It can definitely just ruin you’: Yakima COVID patient regrets putting off vaccination

'I was healthy; I never expected it to get me the way it did'

YAKIMA, Wash. — Nathan Wingerter never expected to end up hospitalized with COVID-19. He was healthy, wore a face mask in public, used hand sanitizer frequently and avoided large gatherings — but he wasn’t vaccinated.

Wingerter had planned on getting the vaccine, but with an injury to his knee and other responsibilities, he put it off. He started experiencing symptoms of the virus at the end of August, just a day before he was scheduled to receive the Moderna vaccine.

“People let life get in the way and it’s silly because it doesn’t take long,” Wingerter said. “In retrospect, I should have done it months ago and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been in this situation.”

Wingerter said it started with a fever, cough and exhaustion and when he got tested, the results came back positive for the virus. Later, when he started to have trouble breathing, he went on Sept. 1 to the emergency room at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital. 

“I knew I only had COVID, but they ended up sending me home because I wasn’t, I guess, bad enough yet at that time and they didn’t have room,” Wingerter said.

Wingerter said it got even worse the next day and when he called ahead, the Yakima hospital was full. He ended up having to travel to the emergency room at KVH Hospital in Ellensburg, which sent him home with an oxygen tank to help him breathe.

After two to three days, Wingerter said it got to the point where he couldn’t rely on just home oxygen to help him breathe. That’s when he was admitted into the COVID unit at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital.

 “It just feels like suffocating because you can’t get the air into your lungs,” Wingerter said. “Every breath you take is like a fraction of what it should be.”

Wingerter spent eight days in the hospital, struggling to take each breath and uncertain of what the future may hold.

“I am a very positive person, so I didn’t ever think I was going to die,” Wingerter said. “But I know that I was a lot closer to it than I realized at the time.”

After his experience fighting COVID-19, Wingerter said it’s difficult to understand people who say the virus is fake or don’t believe in the efficacy of the vaccine.

“If they haven’t experienced it, they don’t know, but it’s definitely real,” Wingerter said. “It can definitely just ruin you.”

Wingerter said he’s also witnessed firsthand how trying to care for an overwhelming number of COVID-19 patients is affecting hospital staff.

“The staff’s crazy busy, they’re so short-handed,” Wingerter said. “They’ve all been amazing but they need so much help and there’s not enough of them to go around for all the patients.”

Wingerter was released from the hospital Tuesday evening, but still has a long road to recovery ahead of him. He said he still doesn’t know exactly how he’ll be affected in the long run.

“Because I had the COVID pneumonia so bad in my lungs, I was told that I’m going to have lung issues pretty much for the rest of my life,” Wingerter said.

Wingerter said he doesn’t know how bad those lung issues might be, but it could prevent him from going skiing, exercising or doing other activities that he loves.

“That’s a worrying thought, obviously, you know, now that my lungs are potentially damaged forever,” Wingerter said.

Wingerter said he plans to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible and encourages other people not to wait any longer to get vaccinated. He said no one wants to end up in the hospital struggling to breathe and fighting for their life.

“I never expected it to get me the way it did,” Wingerter said. “You don’t know if it’s going to just kill you or not and so you’re better off taking all the precautions, getting your vaccine and everything like that.”

The Yakima Health District has several mobile vaccination clinics scheduled this week, including:

  • Thursday, Sept. 16
      • 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Fiesta Foods, 1008 E. Nob Hill Blvd. in Yakima
      • 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Bearded Monkey Bike Shop, 1802 W. Nob Hill Blvd. in Yakima
      • 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Eisenhower High School, 611 S. 44th Ave. in Yakima
  • Saturday, Sept. 18
      • 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Yakima Pride Festival, 102 N. Naches Ave. in Yakima
  • Sunday, Sept. 19
      • 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Fiesta Foods, 1008 E. Nob Hill Blvd. in Yakima
      • 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Fiesta Foods, 2010 Yakima Valley Highway in Sunnyside

A list of additional vaccination sites can be found at yakimavaccines.org. 

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