‘What I Went Through is Life Changing’

(photo by Jim Barcus)

Folk Singer Bob Reeder Recounts His Harrowing Battle with Covid-19

Bob Reeder, a well-traveled folk singer known for his penchant for Irish ballads and limericks, has a story to tell.

Bob, you see, has been to the other side and back.

For going on four decades, Reeder has been a weekend fixture at O’Malley’s Pub in Weston, the picturesque river town north of Kansas City. It was there one night in October when he began having trouble breathing. And thus began a daunting experience that drained him physically, spiritually and emotionally. Within a few days, he learned he had contracted COVID-19.

Reeder became a long-term resident at North Kansas City Hospital, including 13 days in the ICU. To hear him tell it, the disease threw him against the wall and wiped the floor with him.

“I am so thankful to have gotten past this near-death experience, and it has changed my life in the way I see all of us now,” Reeder wrote to his Facebook followers on Nov. 13. “I will not be on a crusade (though I probably should be), but there are some things I think everyone should know about all this before you decide this is a hoax and you do not have to wear a mask. This will be in a coming post, so brace yourselves for a real horror story.”

He thanked the staff at North Kansas City Hospital, from doctors and nurses to administrators and housekeepers. He called them “the most courageous people I have ever seen, risking their lives and that of their family members every day to save these people who are victims of this dreaded disease.”

Reeder, 71, can’t be sure where he contracted COVID. He said O’Malley’s had enforced social distancing and there were times when, as a precaution, he even sang through a mask.

“That’s hard to say,” Reeder said in an interview. “You know, this stuff is so terrible and so communicable. It’s contagious as hell. I really don’t know where I got it. I was playing at the pub and one night I said, ‘I can’t breathe, I’ve got to get out of here.’”

“I was about three minutes from getting a tube down my throat and I had to tell them ‘no’ I didn’t want it. ‘I sing for a living.’”

Bob Reeder

He was at home a couple of days and then got tested.

“The next day I had to go in because I just couldn’t breathe,” he said. “Luckily, I had a pulmonologist who said, ‘You’re going to the ICU.’”

Reeder said he literally did not know if he would make it out of the hospital. The only reason he did was the work of the medical professionals.

“Those wonderful people saved my ass,” he said. “You can’t say enough. And these people are so goddam stupid, not wearing a mask, calling it a hoax. Young people think they’re bulletproof.”

There were times, he said, when visitors to O’Malley’s came in mask-less. It made Reeder mad.

“I told ’em to leave,” he said. “You look at these people in the audience not wearing masks. I said, ‘If you can’t wear a mask, then get out.’ . . . My reaction to it is that it’s inconsiderate. It’s disrespectful to others. I mean, people wear seat belts because it keeps you from dying. It’s the same thing. You wear the mask, you save everybody in the car, you know. But I find (the argument) so absurd that it’s cutting into their freedom. They’re free to go the hospital. I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, because what I went through is life changing. It’s changed the way we live, the way we see things.”

Reeder’s wife, Becky, kept his Facebook followers apprised of his progress while he was in the ICU. She told readers she had contracted a mild case.

“Bob, obviously, had a severe case, and feels very lucky just to be alive,” Becky wrote on Nov. 9. “He knows it will take time, and lots of effort on his part to get back to good health. He is thankful for the support he received from all of you. It helps to know you are thinking of him, particularly when he feels discouraged. Anyway, barring any unforeseen setbacks, he should be back home before the holidays, and for that we are grateful.”

Bob Reeder performing at O’Malley’s (photo by Mike Coakley)

Home Base is O’Malley’s

Reeder, 71, grew up in Independence and began singing professionally in the mid-’70s. His mother had once been a professional dancer in both New York and Kansas City. His father was a traveling salesman selling sports apparel who had once made his living playing pool. Reeder was successful enough as a young folksinger that before long he was able to do it full-time.

He became a regular on weekends at O’Malley’s, usually on Sunday nights, after the owners saw him perform at the Renaissance Festival. For the last 15 years, he’s performed there on Friday and Saturday nights as well. The place was so important to him that on tour he would fly home just to play on Sunday nights.

“I guess I never made any money doing that,” he said. “But that wasn’t the point. I’ve never found a place that equaled it in terms of ambience. It just seems to be seething with an Irish feel, an old-world feel.”

After he was out of the ICU but still in the hospital, Reeder wrote a riveting account of his battle with the disease for his Facebook followers.

“After testing positive, I went into the hospital at a point where I could not breathe,” Reeder wrote. “Said good-bye to Becky, who took me up there, and wondered if I was coming out again.”

At the hospital, he was taken to the COVID ward and was put on oxygen, which helped his breathing.

“But when I tried to stand up, my saturation point would drop dramatically and I could no longer rise,” he wrote. “I could hardly move without a sharp dip in oxygen. After one day, they took me to ICU. I was then hooked up to a machine and a mask that forced air into your lungs when you took a breath. That helped, but not for long. They pumped me full of steroids and remdesivir, which was supposed to slow the progression of the disease. It was administered over about five days through the IV. It may have saved my life, that and the excellent care I received . . .”

Reeder wrote that he was also given insulin.

“The fight was on for the preservation of my lungs,” Reeder wrote. “While on this process, I hit bottom emotionally, which can only be described as falling from a high precipice into a bottomless abyss and never hitting the bottom. On the way down is when it really started to get uncanny, weird and downright scary with hallucinations. I think every memory I’ve ever had started rolling out of my head on to the floor. People in my life who have passed before me started coming back with beckoning motions. Nightmarish to say the least. I thought I was going to die with so much unsaid and undone. I was about three minutes from getting a tube down my throat and I had to tell them ‘no,’ I didn’t want it. ‘I sing for a living.’ They said, ‘We have a small one.’ I said, ‘I do too.’ (No, I meant ego.)”

He thought they laughed — but he couldn’t be sure because of their masks.

“Tough audience,” he wrote.

Reeder made it through the night and began to show signs of improving the next day.

Reeder wrote that he never got more than two hours of sleep at a time. Sometimes he couldn’t sleep at all. In effect, he wrote, he was awake for 25 days.

Then it was time for another joke: “I am surprised I did not have Drain Bamage. But then maybe I do.”

“So to recap, anyone who says this is a hoax, or a government conspiracy to control people by wearing a mask, refusing to social distance and not follow the mandates, I hope you will be happy in your ignorance and eventual demise if you get this s***,” he wrote. “I just wasn’t ready to go, but I may have, if I was weaker in spirit (and lung capacity). I was lucky with so many of you pulling for me. I just couldn’t let my audience down. Thank you for all that you are to me. I love each and every one of you. I can almost take a deep breath again. I hope to get back to singing after rehab. Thank you for reading, and please wear the f***ing mask.”

At the time of this interview, in December, Reeder was in good spirits, although his physical recovery was taking its time. And, yes, he wants to get back to singing when possible — and when it’s safe to do so.

“I think it’s gonna be a little bit longer,” Reeder said. “Who knows on that one? I would like to be vaccinated before I go back to performing. I don’t want to get this again. I should donate blood, because I had some convalescent plasma when I was in ICU and I’m guessing that saved my life.”

The belief is that those who have recovered from COVID have developed antibodies which will prevent them from contracting the disease again, at least for a while, because their blood is rich in antibodies.

“I believe everybody that can and has the intestinal fortitude to donate blood, should,” Reeder said.

Robert Trussell

Robert Trussell is a veteran journalist who has covered news, arts and theater in Kansas City for almost four decades.

  1. Marilyn and Mike Shannon says:

    Bob, ive read your story over an over. We were there the nite you became sick. It really wasnt the same without you on the “Bob Reeder” floor as weve called it for years. We were saddened to hear the news an our continued thoughts an prayers were with you, Becky, an the O’Malley families. So thankful to Becky for the updates. Our continued prayers remain with you.
    Believe it or not on our travels to weston 2-3 times per year, your cd’s are heard. God bless you Bob Reeder!

  2. Paula Ray says:

    Thank Goodness You Survived. I Met you At Medlins Colonial Inn in 1975. I was a cocktail server and Bartender with Bruce and Terry Medlin. You were my background music !!!!!

  3. Stacey Gibson says:

    Dearest Bob
    We were so thankful to Becky for keeping us updated. Prayers were definitely answered! I also had COVID-19 and I feel very blessed to have survived it. I had a mild case but still felt the symptoms for quite some time. COVID-19 is REAL! O’Malley’s is a great place but it’s even better with you there, my friend. We will be in Weston for Mother’s Day weekend. We hope to see you and Becky! God Bless!!

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  5. Dianne Sullivan says:

    Bob! Amy sent this to me! Neither Gary nor I knew and for that I am so sorry. You know, with the friends we have, in high places Your convalescence may have been shorter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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