Dryden pastor returns to preaching after months’ long battle with COVID-19


DRYDEN — The Dryden Wesleyan Church was handed a difficult journey in September when their Pastor, Chris TerBush, was diagnosed with COVID-19. After struggling at home, being hospitalized, and being life flighted to Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan Hospital, Pastor Chris is finally home and continuing to heal. He was able to return to his passion of preaching in March.

In September, Pastor Chris and family were all diagnosed with COVID. Pastor Chris and his wife Jeanette sought out help when they realized they were not improving.

“All four of our kids managed through with very mild symptoms. My wife and I got the sickest. After 10 days at home and several trips to attempt to get treatment, both of us were turned away because of protocol. We were too young and too healthy. If I sit and think about the ‘what ifs’ I can quickly become bitter but I just don’t allow myself to think about it. I do wonder how many deaths could have been prevented if protocol was changed and the monoclonal antibodies were made available to all,” Pastor Chris explained.

“I never thought I would get sick. I looked at the odds of getting actually really sick, needing to be hospitalized and just knew that I would certainly not end up there. I never really get sick. But this COVID grasped me and did a number on my body,” he continued.

Pastor Chris TerBush, pictured with wife Jeanette, was hospitalized for COVID in September and then transferred to the University of Michigan where he battled the virus until being discharged in late December.

After a trip to the ER by ambulance, Pastor Chris was admitted to the hospital.

“I went to McLaren Lapeer Hospital by ambulance in the middle of the night. I had woken up with a fever again and was drenched in sweat. This time something felt different. I took my SPO2 (oxygen saturation level) and it was in the 60s. That’s when I knew I was in trouble,” he recalled.

Despite receiving the care he needed, Pastor Chris was still not improving.

“I spent the next 10 or so days in Lapeer on a steady decline. COVID was wreaking havoc on my lungs. It was on a Sunday that the necessity to put me on the ventilator came. They did it exactly at 10 a.m., the same time that service was to begin at The Dryden Wesleyan Church,” Pastor Chris recounted.

The doctors at McLaren Lapeer knew Pastor Chris needed more intensive care than they could provide. The search for a hospital with the capabilities began.

“The doctors at Lapeer spent three hours straight on the phone trying to get me transferred out. I guess they knew that I was pretty sick and I needed higher care than they could provide. But no one was accepting transfers. So all hope was lost,” he said.

While it appeared Pastor Chris would not have a place in a hospital more capable of caring for cases such as his, the doctors persisted.

“Later on that afternoon the doctor came into my room, talking on the phone. He was describing my health and my family. Then, my wife hears the doctor on the line say, ‘We want him. We will take him. I will send out a Life Flight crew to get him.’

“It was U of M. My name came across the desk of Dr. Napolitano, who was one of the few at U of M who could make the call to bring me in. I heard that they didn’t have a bed but she said she would find one for me. How amazing is that? Out of all the requests to come across her desk that day, she saw my name and brought me in. It was truly a God thing. There is nothing else to describe how I was fortunate enough to be transferred,” he said.

Pastor Chris spent the next four weeks fighting for his life.

“I can tell you I was really sick. I do not think I would have made it if I hadn’t been transferred. I had blood clots in my arms, my legs, and my lungs. On top of COVID, I developed pneumonia in my lungs. I spent the next four weeks on a ventilator. My lungs were so bad that they didn’t want my body doing anything that would use oxygen and that even meant no feeding tube for awhile. I was paralyzed for a week to help with that.”

Remembering the hospital stay, Pastor Chris said his wife was his constant support.

“During my entire hospital stay, my wife never left my side. She was always there. We were greatly blessed that my insurance paid for a hotel for her. We were also greatly blessed that we have older kids who could stay home with each other. Jeanette had to go through the difficult days; day after day of doctors saying it’s touch and go; he is stable; he has roughly a 50/50 chance in making it through this.

“During this time I slept. And over the course of my hospital stay I lost between 55-60 pounds. I don’t remember much of anything for a very long time because of all the medications I was on. They say it causes an amnesia effect so everything I am sharing is mostly what was told to me,” Pastor Chris explained.

A moment that stands out for Pastor Chris was when he realized how different he looked.

“One of my earliest memories of waking up was looking down at my body and wondering what had happened to me. I was skin and bones. My entire body hurt every time I tried to move it. When I say ‘try’ I mean it, because I couldn’t lift my arms or my legs. I had lost almost every ounce of muscle.”

Recovering from COVID and its impacts on his body, was more than just a physical process.

“The beginning had very dark days for me. I went into the hospital as a very strong and healthy man. When I awoke I was something very different. Everyone would come into the room smiling and saying, ‘You are doing so well.’ I would think what are you talking about? I feel and look like death. The withdrawals and anxiety came as they weaned me off of all the meds.”

Pastor says that God was his source of strength when he felt so weak.

“I would lie in bed, not able to move and just tremble. I was all alone, and it was night, and I couldn’t move and I couldn’t talk. Those were some extremely challenging times. I can remember having the sense to cry out to God. I just said the name of Jesus over and over again and then I would wake up. Somehow I was able to sleep. It was God looking out for me.

“While I was sleeping on the vent, Jeanette said that I would respond to her when she was there. I would smile or squeeze her hand or sometimes cry so I knew what was going on to some extent. I just cannot remember it.”

In addition to pneumonia, blood clots and weight loss, Pastor Chris’ vocal cords were damaged.

“Somehow, during the weeks on the ventilator my vocal cords got paralyzed. It still is to this day. So I couldn’t talk and I couldn’t swallow. Apparently, vocal cords are integral in the swallowing process. I also forgot how to swallow so for the longest time I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink,” he explained.

“I remember the first little bit of flavor. Over time I was given ice chips to eat and it was wonderful, but they have no flavor. Kayla Lindamood, who also went through a similar experience, but she was far worse than I was, told Jeanette about ice chips and apple juice. I asked my nurse and she was kind enough to allow it. It was a euphoric experience to taste something. I savored it as long as I could,” he shared.

“The recovery process was very long. I think I was awake in the hospital bed for nearly two months. I had to work on regaining strength. It was extremely challenging and painful, but I was motivated. They thought I would have to go to an inpatient rehab facility to regain my strength before I could go home. This would mean at least another week away from my family and home. Every chance I got I was doing my exercises in bed trying to get stronger as fast as I could.”

While Pastor Chris wanted to be discharged for Christmas, his recovery process was not cooperating.

“We had a goal to get home before Christmas, but my lungs were not healing. I would constantly get pneumothorax (air around the lung) in my lungs. I had chest tubes to drain out the air in my chest cavity. It was a complete hassle to drag those around wherever I went.

“With Christmas just around the corner and no end in sight, I was starting to lose hope of getting out of there. Then, things started to happen pretty quickly. On December 20 we were discharged and we got to go home for Christmas,” he continued.

Out of the hospital was the goal, but it was not the end for his recovery.

“At home, it was a challenge. I was on both heart medicines and blood pressure medicines. COVID messes with your heart as well. I had to be careful what I did at home so I didn’t pass out.

“I have been doing physical therapy for several months now. This week is actually the six month mark from when I first went into the hospital. At my last check up, Dr. Napolitano said that I am making an amazing recovery. She said, ‘For someone who was as sick as you were, because you were really sick Mr. TerBush, to make the kind of recovery you are making is remarkable.’ My body is snapping back faster than anyone she has seen. I am gaining muscles and getting more and more active. My lungs have healed up tremendously. I am over 100% lung function and capacity for someone my size in almost every category. I have some scarring on my lungs and some pneumatoseals (circular dead spots from COVID) but they are small and very few. God is healing my body in miraculous ways. God may not spare you from the fiery trials but he sees you through them. I am living proof of that.”

Pastor Chris says that he has learned a lot from his experience with COVID.

“Life is never a guarantee. We are not promised tomorrow. We are not even promised our next breath. I never would have thought I would get sick like this and to be so close to death. It has brought home for me to not waste anything or any time we get here on this earth. In many things and many ways I was living on autopilot, just going from day to day, task to task, and not really savoring life. I want to make it a point to say the important things and do the necessary things to make and get the most out of life that I can.”

“Also I know how great my God is. How much he has done for me. And through this terrible experience I know his love and his care for me like I never have before. This has grown my faith,” he expressed.

Pastor Chris says he is overwhelmed to be back to the church so quickly.

“It’s amazing. Honestly, I didn’t know if I was going to see this. My doctor told me it would be a year before I returned to normal. I hate that idea so I am working to beat it as fast as possible. I get to play baseball with the kids in the backyard. I get to clean out the garage.”

Many might think cleaning the garage sounds like a miserable chore, but Pastor Chris knows how lucky he is to be able to complete that chore.

“My perspective towards life and tasks have changed. I am beyond grateful to be here,” he said.

“I love sharing God’s word from the pulpit. So for me to be able to preach again was extremely emotional. I wasn’t sure my voice was ever going to come back so the possibility of not being able to do that again was very real. I am not an overly emotional person but seeing all my family—they came out to support me—and my church members was very emotional for me. I am beyond excited and blessed to be able to do what I love to do.”

In December, the Dryden Wesleyan Church hosted a Reindeer Dash with proceeds going to the TerBush family.

“I remember when the Reindeer Dash was going on. I hoped to be able to be home for it, but I wasn’t ready yet. It was extremely emotional seeing people who had come out to it, even though there was so much snow. I guess my seven-year-old was very excited about it. He actually ran a lot of it in his winter boots. I got to see lots of pictures and videos that were shared with me.” Pastor explained.

Pastor Chris also shared his gratitude for all the medical professionals who cared for him.

“I got to see the emotional toll this has taken on medical staff. I was sort of a celebrity. A lot of the nurses and doctors wanted to come and see me and wish me well because so many hours were given to take care of me and I made it through when so many did not. Through it all every nurse, or aide, or doctor was so very kind to me and treated me so well. I am so thankful for them. While I was in the hospital, I self-extubated—I pulled out the ventilator tube—and the nurses were right there in an instant getting me back on the vent and saving my life. They were great and deserve as much praise and accolades as possible.”

If anyone has gone through or is going through a similar situation, Pastor Chris would be glad to talk and offer his support. He can be contacted at the Dryden Wesleyan Church at 810-796-3972.