His COVID-19 story: How Charlie is Mr. Charming

Feb. 15, 2021
CharlieCHambers looks to the blue sky and aspen trees as he tells his COVID-19 story.
Charlie Chambers, of Divide, Colorado, enjoys blue sky and aspen trees after surviving COVID-19 with help from caregivers at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central. Photo: Chuck Bigger.

Charlie Chambers has many talents but one love. Her name is Peggy.

Charlie and Peggy met the old-fashioned way, not on a dating site or through a matchmaker, but by the harmony of chance.

Charlie was cleaning up behind the bar at 2 a.m. after a bartending shift at a Cripple Creek casino when he first heard Peggy’s voice.

“Can I get a cup of tea?’’ she asked.

They talked for 30 minutes or so, then parted ways. Peggy was headed back to California the next morning.

“Well, nice talking to you,’’ Charlie said. “Who knows, maybe we’ll run into each other again someday.’’

Charlie Chambers and his wife, Peggy, stand outside a 'she shed' he built for her. Peppy is the lead character in his COVID-19 story.
Charlie Chambers and his wife, Peggy, stand outside a ‘she shed’ he built for her. In Charlie’s COVID-19 story, Peggy is his leading lady. Photo: Chuck Bigger.

A year later, Charlie happened to be at a restaurant he’d never been to before in Colorado Springs when he saw her again. “What are you doing here?’’ he asked.

Peggy said she was moving to Colorado to be closer to her sister. Turns out, she grew a lot closer to Charlie. The couple married a year later, on Dec. 22, 2000. On their 20th wedding anniversary, Charlie and Peggy were not able to have a proper celebration — far from it.

His COVID-19 story began with a case of brain fog

A week or so earlier, both Peggy and Charlie, a professional photographer who led the Teller County Film Commission, started feeling crappy. They got tested; Peggy was positive for COVID-19 and Charlie was negative. Then, a few days later, he started coughing and his body ached as if he’d been in a fistfight, and he was weak and exhausted. He couldn’t focus; he had a serious case of brain fog.

“I wasn’t able to function much. I just felt bad,’’ Charlie said.

A couple of days later, on Dec. 16, 2020, paramedics drove an ambulance to the front door of Charlie and Peggy’s home, where they are caretakers of 200 acres in Divide, Colorado. Paramedics suited up in protective gear and then took Charlie down the mountain to UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs. Peggy couldn’t come; visitors were not allowed.

Charlie Chambers and his wife, Peggy, dance outside their Divide, Colorado, home. When Charlie tells his COVID-19 story, its about his desire to once again dance with his wife under the Harvest Moon.
Charlie Chambers and his wife, Peggy, dance outside their Divide, Colorado, home. Photo: Chuck Bigger.

Charlie had a severe case of COVID-19. Six caregivers gathered around him. In no time, a cannula carried oxygen to his body and he was on his way to have a CT scan so doctors could see how bad the infection was in his lungs. Charlie also had an EKG to look at his heart. He got an IV, which carried a cocktail of medications from clear plastic bags hung on metal poles.

“It wasn’t long after that the doctor came in and said, ‘We’re going to keep you in here for a while and then we’re going to move you to another room because COVID is in your lungs pretty good,’ ‘’ Charlie said.

A road to COVID-19 recovery

Charlie was taken to a medical floor designated for care of COVID-19 patients.

“They got me in the room OK, then another three nurses came in and said ‘We’re here to take care of you.’ So they got the blood work done and all sorts of other things. They got me going on a couple more IVs,’’ he said.

Dr. Robert Baron, a hospitalist who cares for inpatients, came in and told Charlie he was receiving a steroid, along with anti-viral and anti-bacterial drugs.

“I had three or four different solutions going into my IV, then there were some oral medications I had to take, some Vitamin D and other things. They got all that going and he laid it out real good. He said ‘You’re really sick. We’ve got to stay on top of this’ and he said, ‘don’t expect to sleep a lot at first.’ ‘’

Nurses were at his bedside, checking vitals, taking blood and documenting Charlie’s numbers on a computer.

“It was incredible how intensive and kind the people were – all of them, the doctors and the nurses. They were so wonderful about everything, and I found it stunning because I knew they had been through a lot,’’ he said. “They were putting in long shifts, if not double shifts, and they were just working a lot. And you could hear in the hall that there was a lot going on.’’

Despite the care, Charlie’s condition declined. He couldn’t seem to get enough oxygen. His cough worsened. He was so weak he couldn’t get to the bathroom on his own.

Charlie Chambers and his wife, Peggy, in living room of their home, talking about Charlies COVID-19 story.
Charlie Chambers and his wife, Peggy, in the living room of their home. Charlie’s COVID-19 story includes more than a week at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central battling the virus. Photo: Chuck Bigger.

“They put the oxygen level up almost to nine or 10 liters and they had to put this big machine in the room, for their own safety,’’ he said. The machine carries any potentially contaminated air out of the building. The day shift doctor communicated with the night shift physician, Dr. Nicolas Stoyanovich.

“It was a joint effort in how to deal with my COVID,’’ he said.

His appetite was still grand

Though exhausted, Charlie had a big appetite. He ate three meals a day and dessert, then had to scale back on the cookies because his blood sugar spiked. Doctors told Charlie that steroids can boost hunger in patients. Eventually, his blood sugar numbers declined.

Four days into his stay at Memorial, Charlie began to feel stronger. Doctors were able to drop his oxygen down to three liters. Charlie could stand up and walk to the bathroom, though a nurse never left his side.

Well enough to tell a few stories

Able to breathe more easily, Charlie and the nurses began to have more conversations. Charlie told them that last summer, he built a ‘she shed’ for Peggy. Immediately, the nurses were captivated. What woman doesn’t enjoy the thought of a ‘she shed’?

Then Charlie told them he landscaped around the shed, planting flowers and thick grass. Then, he planted a vegetable garden but with all the critters big and small in Teller County, Charlie decided to build two 26-foot-long greenhouses. After that, he built a gazebo.

“One of the things we do, we play music and dance to Harvest Moon on the lawn, just me and Peggy, no one else around. And I want to be able this summer to get back and dance with my wife again,’’ Charlie told a nurse, who promptly left the room to tell her fellow nurses about Charlie dancing with Peggy.

A few nurses went back to hear more from Charlie. One of them had a request for Charlie: “Can you talk to my husband?’’

Laughter filled his hospital room.

Developing a special bond

Charlie and Peggy Chambers. Photo courtesy of Charlie Chambers.

“We grew a special bond. They were so good to me,’’ Charlie said of his nurses. “It was so stunning, they all became my friends and so it was really touching.’’

On Dec. 22, 2020, Peggy called her husband via video chat to wish him a happy anniversary. Charlie told her that he didn’t know how long he’d be in the hospital, but he was feeling a lot better.

The next day, Dr. Stoyanovich, thrilled with Charlie’s progress, had good news for Charlie: “I think we’re going to be able to get you home before Christmas.’’

On Christmas Eve, Charlie met with a pulmonary therapist and a few other professionals who gave him guidance on how to stay well and what to do in case of this or that.

Charlie hadn’t realized that while he was in the hospital, prayer chains had sprung up across the country. People in South America, England, Italy were praying.

“It was — for me. Never in my life, that had never happened,’’ he said. “It was so humbling, I didn’t know until I got home how many people were involved.’’

On Christmas, Charlie was still contagious, so he and Peggy spent it alone. But their phone rang non-stop with people who had been praying for Charlie and wanted to express their joy that he was home. Charlie says some of them cried when they saw him via video chat.

When they weren’t talking with their family and friends, Charlie and Peggy celebrated their harmony.

“So that was my Christmas. One of the best I’ve ever had.’’

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.