When it comes to Covid, Greg Overstreet has a message for you: don’t fool around!
Overstreet, an attorney in private practice in Stevensville, was diagnosed with colon cancer in February of 2021. He went through chemotherapy and in late August he was told that the cancer had been eradicated.
Overstreet had surgery on October 23, 2021 for ostomy removal, the final treatment in the colon cancer journey. The day after that surgery, he was diagnosed with COVID-19.
“I was obviously very weakened,” said Overstreet. “It hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Overstreet was sent home from the hospital with an oxygen tank. He was home for two or three days. During that time, his oxygen level went down to 51, from a normal of 99. “I jokingly say that 51 is brain damage material.”
But COVID-19 was no joke. “It got so bad I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like I was being water boarded, or what I imagine water boarding to be like,” recalls Overstreet. “This is when I realized that I was not taking Covid seriously enough. From a tough guy perspective, I thought it was just the flu. But it was not.”
Overstreet went to the Emergency Room at a Missoula hospital. He was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit, where they observed him for about two days before recommending that he go on a ventilator.
“My wife was heavily involved in the decision,” said Overstreet. “They tell me now that the survival rate for people my age (54) with my health conditions, is about 20%. I don’t remember anyone telling me that at the time, but I was on a lot of sedatives. But they told my wife. She was existing in two worlds. In one she was hoping and praying that I lived, and in the second she was making funeral plans and planning on life without me.”
Overstreet’s wife is Anne Marie Gurney, a para educator at Stevensville Schools. His stepson attends Stevensville High School.
Overstreet also has some grown children. He contacted them, “to say the things you would regret not saying,” in case he didn’t make it.
Overstreet ended up being on the ventilator for seven days. He said he wasn’t conscious when on the ventilator and has no memories of that time. He said it was like being asleep, “but without dreams.”
He said, “They ‘wake you up’ partially each day to check in with you – on the sixth day I was still not responsive. They tried again on the seventh day and I remember yelling, ‘I want to live!’”
He adds, “When I went on the ventilator I had expressed to the doctors that dying wouldn’t be the worst thing. But I felt very guilty about leaving my wife alone down here.”
His wife wasn’t allowed to visit him. She received a daily call with an update on his condition. His oxygen level was slowly rising, a few points a day.
Overstreet had been sworn in as Stevensville’s new Town Attorney on October 14th. After learning that he had been hospitalized for Covid, an attorney friend in Hamilton, Joan Mell, contacted the Town of Stevensville and on her own just started filling in for him on all the court dates. Overstreet said that this is the kind of attitude that is typical in Montana, which is one of the reasons he and his family relocated here from Washington State. “That’s how Montanans are, they just pitch in,” he said.
After seven days, he came off the ventilator and his wife was able to come and visit him. “When you go through such an emotional thing as saying goodbye to your wife like I did,” he recalls, “you miss your spouse even more.”
“When my wife could finally come see me, there was euphoria like I’d never experienced,” said Overstreet. “It finally sunk in that I was alive and that I had avoided probable death. It completely changes your perspective on life. I’ve lost my Type A personality, I’m much more relaxed, I realize what’s important in life and most of the daily stresses are not.
“I had hundreds of people praying for me and I’m entirely certain that’s what made the difference,” said Overstreet. “It was very clear to me that God had things in mind for me to do down here on earth.”
After getting off the ventilator, Overstreet was in the hospital for another week. “They were making sure that I could stand up,” he said. “I was decimated.” He had to do some physical therapy. “I had to get a refresher course on how to walk again because I was so weak. Being discharged after a week is a very short time. I was glad I could meet their criteria for leaving. I came home and for three days I convalesced. I’ve never been that fatigued in my life. Then the fatigue started going down, and it was easier and easier to do my work and function around the house.”
Overstreet said his wife had been picking up the slack around the house, both through the chemotherapy and Covid recovery.
After just three days at home, Overstreet went back to work. It’s now been two months since he was released. “I consider myself fully recovered from Covid,” he said. “I’m doing 45 minutes a day on the elliptical. I’ve never been so out of shape. I got so used to being semi-disabled, that my wife pushes the cart around Costco. I’m having to consciously break myself of the habit of being semi-disabled.”
His Covid experience happened right around the time he was establishing his law practice in Stevensville, after practicing law in Washington State for many years. The Town of Stevensville was his first local client.
“Then I got taken out. Not once, but twice.”
Overstreet’s message to the public – if you test positive for Covid and have symptoms, take it seriously. “It is not just the flu,” said Overstreet. “It affects people very differently. I should have gone to the hospital days before I did.” He said that taking care of your health is a prerequisite for any chance at happiness.
“When I was in the ICU, there was a window and once or twice a day I would see a gurney go by with a body bag,” remembers Overstreet. It was a gruesome reminder that people were dying of Covid. “Several of the nurses were very touched by my survival.” He said they told him they needed some hope and they needed to see that evidence that the ventilators can make a difference.
Overstreet says he doesn’t know if it was having Covid, or surviving Covid, that has caused him to become more emotional and more empathetic, even towards animals. But he’s comfortable with his new self.
“Only important things matter,” he said, “and life and death is such an important thing. You can emotionally connect with the important things and you can ignore the little things.”