Doris and Josh Grindstaff

Doris Grindstaff pictured with her son, Josh Grindstaff.

BOONE — It’s been more than two weeks since Josh Grindstaff talked to his mother.

Two weeks since he told her that he loved her and that everything would be OK. Two weeks since she was put on a ventilator at Watauga Medical Center due to COVID-19.

“She was just kind of pulling at the CPAP mask that was on her face and she said, ‘I hope so,’” Grindstaff said. “That will probably haunt me forever.”

Grindstaff’s mom, Doris, was unvaccinated against COVID-19. Her and her family are from the Spruce Pine area, but because there were no hospital beds available there, she was given a bed at WMC in Boone.

Grindstaff said his mom, who retired in February, wasn’t anti-vaccine, but more so afraid of medicine in general. He said she had been that way her entire life and was even hesitant to take a Tylenol.

The week before she went on a ventilator, Grindstaff would talk to her everyday.

“She told me how sick she was and that she’d never been that sick in her life and that she wished that she would have gotten the vaccine,” Grindstaff said. “She just said, ‘If I had known it was this bad, I would have gone.’ She told me that two days in a row, the two days before she was put on a ventilator.”

Doris Grindstaff was 63 and her son said she had Raynaud’s, which causes certain parts of the body to feel numb and cold. She first got sick on Aug. 7.

Due to restrictions at the hospital, Grindstaff was only able to FaceTime with her. Sept. 2 was the first time he FaceTimed her while she was on the ventilator as the doctors told him that she would still be able to hear him. His whole family gathered at his place and all said their piece.

“It’s just terrible,” Grindstaff said. “You don’t know if she can hear you. You don’t know if you’ll ever get the chance to tell her everything you want to tell her. It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”

Not being there with her was one of the worst feelings for Grindstaff.

“It was just heartbreaking to be separated like that and to not be able to be there with her,” Grindstaff said. “I understand why the precautions are in place, but it is truly heartbreaking.”

Appalachian Regional Healthcare System and Watauga Medical Center currently have visitor restrictions in place. Grindstaff said staff at the hospital have been fantastic and gone above and beyond.

He said the head nurse calls her every day and lets him know about any changes.

“I couldn’t have asked for better care for my mother,” Grindstaff said.

His mom being sick has been hard on Grindstaff and his family. He said his son and mother had been really close and he’s been having a hard time. He said his mother had been like his wife’s mother for a long time and she has been crying off and on everyday.

“My father calls me crying at least twice a day,” Grindstaff said. “My brother and sister haven’t been able to go to work because they just can’t motivate themselves to. It’s been really hard on everyone. My mom was kind of the one that held everybody together. The rock. For her to be where she is, everybody’s just kind of adrift.”

Grindstaff is an electrician and travels extensively, so he is up at odd hours sometimes. For the past 10 years or more, he said his mother would text him at 6:30 in the morning and tell him that she loved him and to be safe.

Without that now, Grindstaff said it’s been hard.

“That was a constant no matter what else was going on in my life,” Grindstaff said.

It’s also heartbreaking for him to know how much she was looking forward to retiring and that now she may not be able to enjoy that again. She was a dietician at a hospital and if she had been there a little longer, she would have had to have gotten the vaccine.

“Maybe this all would have worked out differently and maybe it wouldn’t,” Grindstaff said.

Grindstaff knows that some people don’t trust the vaccine or don’t think COVID-19 is bad enough to get it. He himself was hesitant to get the vaccine at first due to some allergies, but ultimately did.

For those who don’t think COVID-19 is bad, he understands because there can be good odds for some.

“The survival rate or whatever sounds great until it’s one of your loved ones in the hospital on a ventilator,” Grindstaff said. “I don’t understand how we can’t just come together and take care of each other. It’s infuriating and baffling to me.”

The day he and his family last talked to his mother, doctors also told him that they might have to make hard choices soon. Grindstaff said the doctors did everything they could for her, which they can’t do forever.

“It’s something that I would carry with me the rest of my life,” Grindstaff said. “Everybody’s kind of just praying for a miracle. I mean, no one wants to make that decision.”

Doris Grindstaff had been on a ventilator for two weeks. She was fighting COVID-19 for one month.

At 2:59 a.m. on Sept. 8 — after this story was first published — Doris Grindstaff died from COVID-19 after a seven hour battle after being removed from the ventilator. Josh Grindstaff’s sister was able to be with her and Josh was able to FaceTime with her to say goodbye.

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