So much of Doug Rigler's battle with COVID-19 cannot be explained easily. The questions are medical, theological, emotional.
There was the rapid decline in health that had the former Komets player on the cusp of being put into a medically induced coma at Dupont Hospital. Then his father, Bob, who died seven years ago, appeared to Doug, spoke to him, and a miraculous recovery began. The upward turn in Doug's health, which made a ventilator unnecessary, was tempered by more bad news: the death of his mother while he was still in the intensive care unit.
What can be easily explained was the outpouring of prayers and well wishes for Doug, 58, who starred for the Komets from 1982 to 1987, remains active with the team by doing commentary on TV broadcasts and is an account manager for Newbold Services, a facilities management company. The outpouring of support for Doug through calls, texts, emails and social media was substantial.
“Very humbling is the best way to put it, the number of people who had reached out and contacted me,” Doug said. “There were friends I hadn't talked to in a long time, old teammates from junior days, it was just amazing. It was usually at a time when you just needed that mental boost, all of a sudden, out of the blue. And there were a few people it had been many years ... and they contacted me.”
Doug, a forward, totaled 139 goals and 366 points in 345 games for the Komets, including a magnificent 1983-84 season in which he had 42 goals and 104 points in 75 games.
He tested positive for the coronavirus April 22, though he underestimated what its effect would be, he admitted, until his oxygen levels plummeted. He asked his wife, Lynne, to take him to the emergency room in the early-morning hours of May 1.
“There was nothing more horrible than having to leave him at the door of the ER,” Lynne said. “When I called to say I was bringing him in, they told me to pull up in the ambulance bay and they would come get him. I wasn't allowed in (and) was told to wait in the parking lot. I pulled over to a spot, and there I sat at 2:30 in the morning, sobbing, not knowing if I would see him alive again. I sat there almost an hour and they finally called me and said to go home, they were admitting him to the ICU.
“I don't think I slept the first 24 hours. He was able to text me, so I knew he was OK, but it was awful not being able to be there with him and know what was going on.”
Doug, who described the staff at Dupont as “unbelievable,” had so many wires connected to him in the ICU, it amounted to a “2-foot tether.”
“To be honest, you didn't have a whole lot of energy for anything anyways.” Doug said, adding the hospitalization was “100% worse for Lynne” because they weren't allowed to be near one another.
Doug has four kids and two grandchildren, too, and FaceTime gave him the ability to see their faces.
Doug wouldn't find this out until he was discharged from the hospital, but his health had declined so much May 1 that arrangements were being made to put him on a ventilator. As Doug's name was being spread through prayer chains, Bob appeared in a vision.
“My dad had passed away about seven years ago. I had never really had anything (like this) really happen. I was wide awake Friday night and he came for a visit,” Doug said. “It scared the living hell out of me. ... He said, 'I'm here to protect you and help you get through this.' Within 24 hours, I made enough improvement that they took me off the list that they were going to vent me.”
Just as the family was getting enthusiastic about Doug's condition, his mother, Kitty, died of natural causes May 3. She'd been in declining health for years.
“Doug has always been my rock. He's always been everybody's rock, actually,” Lynne said. “He took care of everything through my own parents' caregiving and deaths. The fact that I couldn't be there to comfort him when his mom passed was heartbreaking.
“But I truly think he found comfort in being able to FaceTime, and she was able to hear his voice before she passed.”
Doug was released from the hospital Wednesday.
“The doctor told me, 'I don't know what caused the turnaround. I don't have a medical answer,'” Doug said, adding he believes family, friends, prayer and maybe something more played a part.
“I've always known how strong he is,” she said. “However, seeing how this virus knocked him down scared me like never before. I wholeheartedly believe prayer brought him through this.”
Doug was still testing positive for COVID-19 when he left Dupont, so he must isolate in the basement of his house until at least May 20. He has to exercise hourly, for 20 minutes, to help clear his lungs. He sounds weak, coughs often, needs time to string together long sentences.
It'll be months before he can get back to normal, and there will be appointments with a pulmonologist. Doug also developed blood clots in his legs from lack of movement, so he's on blood thinners.
But he feels fortunate.
“I tell you what, I'm pretty blessed and I can't believe how tough so many other people have it, way tougher than I have despite how sick I was,” Doug said. “I just couldn't imagine what they're going, or went, through because I know exactly what I went through. I didn't realize just how sick I was until I was getting discharged and the doctor was filling me in (on what had happened).”