Remembering Hermina Johnson

Hermina Johnson (Courtesy of Mary Nelms)

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VINEMONT, Ala. – After battling COVID-19 for a month, Hermina Johnson died Dec. 1, 2020. Johnson tested positive and was admitted to Cullman Regional Oct. 31. She spent 18 days alone and unable to see her family. Many of those days she was unable to speak to them even by phone.

Johnson was born in Cullman. She was a lifelong member of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and graduated from Sacred Heart School.

Her daughter Mary Nelms said, “Her daddy helped build the steeples for Sacred Heart Church.”

Although she graduated from nursing school at Sacred Heart May 28, 1957, Johnson married and stayed home to care for her growing family. She married Henry Johnson Feb. 3, 1962. They had six children, including Angie, who was born with mental disabilities.

Explained Nelms, “Angie goes to Margaret Jean Jones and mama took care of her until 2013. Mama had a stroke, and she couldn’t take care of Angie or herself anymore. I moved mama in with me, and Angie lives in a group home through Margaret Jean Jones and she loves it. Mama lived with me up until she died, but mama had always taken care of Angie. That was her baby.”

Once Johnson’s youngest child started school, she went to work for Quincy’s.

“She made the yeast rolls for about 10 years or more,” Nelms said.

The family also had a farm and Johnson stayed busy in the garden and canning food. Henry Johnson died in 1993 when Nelms and her younger brother were still young teenagers.

“She never remarried, and she raised us all practically by herself,” Nelms said.

“She loved to garden, can, spend time with her grandkids. She loved to play bingo and she liked puzzle books. She really just liked getting outside in her flowers and gardening. She was also a huge Alabama football fan. She loved Alabama football!” Nelms smiled.

Johnson had six grandchildren with whom she loved to spend time.  

According to Nelms, when Johnson learned about COVID-19 she was scared of catching it. She was very careful and wouldn’t go anywhere. Nelms said Johnson had a doctor’s appointment and a little while after the appointment, she developed a cough. Like many people, she thought it was due to allergies, but the symptoms got worse.

Nelms recalled, “I was afraid I had brought it back home to her, but she tested positive and I was negative. She felt bad so I took her to the emergency room, and she tested positive, but they sent her back home. The next day, she got better and was laughing and talking to me. Then Saturday morning, she couldn’t get out of bed, so I had to call the ambulance. That was it.”

Nelms said Johnson was in the hospital for just over a week when she flatlined and the medical staff was able to bring her back and put her on a ventilator.

“She never wanted all that, but I understand,” said Nelms. “All that happened so fast and they wanted to give her a chance.”

Nelms said her mother spent almost two weeks on a ventilator and then was able to be weaned off.  

“She got to where she couldn’t talk to anybody. I got to where I would call, and she wouldn’t answer the phone so I would call the nurses’ desk and they would say that she didn’t want to talk to nobody or couldn’t talk. It’s bad. You can’t see her and when I did see her with all that stuff, it just broke my heart,” said Nelms. “Then I think, for the two weeks she’s been laying here, does she wonder where we were? Had we just left her? You don’t know what she was thinking and why no one had come to see her. Those days, they had to just drag on.”

On Nov. 15, Johnson suffered a stroke. Her speech was affected, and the family was unable to understand what she was trying to say. Nelms said doctors explained to her that COVID causes blood clots and patients are put on blood thinners, but Johnson had developed bleeding in her stomach, so they had to stop giving her blood thinners.

Johnson was sent home, where she fought for two more weeks.

“While mama was at home, we went and got my sister Angie and mama was kind of out of it. She had her eyes closed and Angie came in and said, ‘Mama, I love you!’ Boy, her eyes popped open and after that she really wasn’t communicating anymore. It’s like she was waiting on Angie to come see her,” Nelms shared.

As her mother’s full-time caregiver, Nelms said she struggled not only with her mother’s illness, but she herself had COVID pneumonia. She was put on oxygen and was quite ill.

“I had the virus, too. I got it from mama. She lived with me, but she didn’t ever know. She was in the hospital when I tested positive and I told my brothers and sisters not to tell her because I didn’t want her worrying that I was sick and that she had given it to me,” Nelms said.

Although she is now COVID negative and back at work, Nelms said she continues to experience the many lingering effects of the illness.

“Through all of this, mama dying and me being that sick, I have learned there are so many little things in life that are not worth worrying about. We worry about so many little things that there’s no need to worry about when there is a COVID out there that can kill you within a week. It can take your mama or loved one away.”

Hermina Johnson died Dec. 1, 2020. She was 82 years old.

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Hermina Johnson (seated) with her daughter Angie (Courtesy of Mary Nelms)
Hermina Johnson with her children (Courtesy of Mary Nelms)