Darren Benike Part 2: ‘COVID Doesn’t Care Who You Are or What You Think’
My name is Darren Benike. I'm from Castlewood, South Dakota. I work at Estelline Community Oil Co-op in Estelline South Dakota. I'm the general manager there.
How long were you hospitalized?
I was diagnosed with COVID-19 on October 24. I spent seven days in a hospital here in Brookings, South Dakota. Things weren't going well so I was then transferred via helicopter to the Avera clinic or Hospital in Sioux Falls. I spent 10 days in the ICU there. Then I was transferred out of that into a regular room for a couple of days. They thought it was gonna take a little longer so then they transferred me back up to Brookings. And I spent another couple of days here before my lungs actually got to a point, my body got to a point where it could handle the oxygen and I could go home with the support that was required.
Why were you transferred to the ICU in Sioux Falls?
They thought getting me there would provide a little bit better level of care if I continued to not improve, or if I started to get worse. Then I get on the helicopter and I'm thinking, this is kind of a cool ride. I remember thinking that and I could see out and stuff and also "boof" we're down in a hurry. And, you know, I thought I'm feeling good, everything's good. The nurses on that helicopter were fantastic, or whatever they are. They pulled me off of there and we're in, in a hurry. And I remember being a little cold outside and like, "gosh, this feels good to breathe in this air." And all of a sudden, boom, we're back inside, and we're up and they got me on the bed and they're testing everything out. And okay, well, this is getting real, this can't be good. I didn't know that my wife had been talking to these folks behind the scenes and had arranged this with them.
What do you remember from your transition to Sioux Falls?
It instantly became as real as it could get when the ICU doctor came in and talked to me. They got real scary, I'm telling you. Like I said, "you're a grown man, I can take care of this myself. I'm a big boy." I wasn't at that point in time, it was very humbling. And I about lost it. It was tough. But after that second day that night, you know, Doc saw me and said, "Okay, looks like, you know, you're still stable. It's not going backwards so I think we're okay." He said, but this could be a little bit of a long road, I need you to be patient. And I'm like, you know, that's the last thing I wanna hear. I've already been here for eight days. I mean, he was cool about it but at the time, I remember I was still kind of irritated, right? Because, you know, I don't wanna be in that situation. I'm a big boy, I can handle myself. But you think about a couple of the moments that I had, and then it starts to come to you. And then finally I just kind of gave up and said you know what, it is what it is. Whatever it takes, I'll just stay here and so my whole prerogative changed at about day three or four in that ICU to where I finally said, you know what, I'm not getting out of here on my own. It's not working. My lungs aren't there. I guess I may as well sit here and work through this because it's not getting any better otherwise. The alternative I thought at that time was bad, which is not being around. And I thought all right, let's do this. Let's fight it out and see what we can do.
When did your condition improve?
So I was in ICU for 10 days down there. Finally, we're making progress that I can understand. I had my appetite back. It seemed like things, you know, like I was getting better. And so yeah, they were looking for a room closer to home, which was Castlewood. So they said, What would you be willing to go back to Brookings? I said, "Oh, absolutely."
What do you remember from your return to Brookings Health System?
That's what was really cool. That was a tear-jerker for me. Because when I got back here, everybody was awesome. The nurses are, you know, like, "Woah, you're back?" And a couple of them explained, they didn't expect to see me back so that was still tough. But yeah, we were all really good. Giddy, they were chuckling and laughing and telling me some of the stories, filling in some of the blanks that I didn't have. And I thought, this is kind of neat, you know? I didn't know any of them from a hole in the ground, really. They were cool.
How is your recovery today?
My recovery is going fantastic. I actually started breathing on my own. I could sit in my chair in the house without the oxygen on for a pretty long period of time before I would get below 90%. It's like, okay, I feel good enough. I'm gonna go try to get back to work. When I walked in, I didn't tell anybody I was coming of course, and I walked in and they were all like, "What in the world?" I didn't know I had maybe lost 50 pounds as well. So I maybe looked a little different and they're all trying to talk. They were like, "Oh my god," so then we had our moments. And you know, I thought, okay, going through all this I'm probably gonna lose my breath again and stuff and I sat down and I checked it. Did the breathing techniques and they work. It's crazy, you know, doctors do know what they're saying.
What did you appreciate most about your experience at Brookings Health System?
There's no question the answer to this question because I have a whole new appreciation for the medical staff, for the nurses and doctors. You know, it didn't matter who you are, what you are, how stubborn I was, they knew what they needed to do. And everybody, the nurses I don't know whoever it was, the receptionist, folks, Doc, everybody was fantastic. Like I said, I was a little foggy on some of it. And I don't remember all of it but even with the state I was in, which I think maybe I was a little belligerent might be the word. I was a little stubborn and a little ornery with some folks, they didn't care, they treated me awesome.
What advice do you give your friends about COVID?
You know, it was an awful experience, but it was also a pretty remarkable experience because I'd have never thought anything like that could happen with the COVID leading up to that point and, you know, it's bad but I can just stay at home take some Tylenol and I'll be good, right? That's not it. The biggest thing that I told everybody, friends and everybody because, you know, there was a lot of more similar to me, like, you know, it's COVID. And when this happened, you know, it humbled a lot of us. It made us a lot more humble than we are. It doesn't care who you are, what you think or anything like that. COVID is a bad thing. And when it gets you, it gets you and it's gonna decide how bad it gets you, you're not. I didn't know I was that close for a lot of that time to not being around and when you start thinking about it now, it still gets me.
Are you one of Brookings Health System's grateful patients who would like to give back to us? Learn more about how you can give back at brookingshealth.org/MyThanks.