Local News

Rex nurse inspires song honoring Wake man who died of COVID-19

Posted February 9, 2021 7:15 p.m. EST

— So many of the more than 10,000 North Carolinians who have died during the coronavirus pandemic passed without the company of family. Yet, many still had heroes by their sides.

Ron Norwood's family says Chuck Andrews was one such hero.

Norwood, 85, was a longtime forester for the state.

"If he were sitting here right now, he would name every tree and what the wood is good for," said his daughter-in-law, Gretchen Norwood.

He cultivated a life looking up and spent a life helping others look up as well, she said.

"He was a tough person to get to know, but when you did, he was a friend for life," she said. "He was one of the most giving people."

On Dec. 9, Ron Norwood went to UNC Rex Hospital after falling at home. There, he tested positive for coronavirus and was placed in the hospital's COVID-19 unit and started on anti-viral medications.

But he suffered a lung infection, and hospital staff moved him to "comfort care," knowing he didn't have much time left.

"They wouldn't allow us to be here prior to that because of COVID, but once they determined it was final, then we could come," Gretchen Norwood said.

Andrews, a longtime nurse at Rex, showed Gretchen Norwood and her husband how to put on their protective gear.

"Once we were fully dressed, he was warning us that [my father-in-law] was unconscious, but he could hear us," she said. "We turned to go in the door, and Chuck reached out and put his hand on my shoulder and just said, 'He's on his way up.' We knew that, but no one had ever said it that way."

A professional songwriter, Gretchen Norwood said the words touched a chord for her.

"To have someone on the hospital staff say that to me, I mean, [it was] instant family," she said. "It let me know he was really being taken care of."

She said she "started going to town on my phone," texting lyrics to herself.

"[It was] faster, frankly, than any song I had ever written because it was so raw and real," she said.

Gretchen Norwood called up her producer in Nashville and had singer Johnny Dailey lend his voice.

"The song is from the perspective of Ron as though he's lying in a cold hospital room, but there's brightness in the song and hope because he's on his way up," she said.

Andrews, who cared for Ron Norwood during his 10-day hospital stay – he died on Dec. 19 – said there was no forethought in what he told his patient's son and daughter-in-law.

"I wanted her not to be surprised by what she saw because it's not easy," he said. "I didn't think he was going to be long with us, and I didn't want her to be surprised going in. So, I touched her shoulder and said a few words to her. I had no idea it was going to have such an impact on her."

Andrews said he was "gobsmacked" that Gretchen Norwood had turned his words of comfort into a song.

"I never had that impact with somebody. It was really truly touching and moving," he said.

As a nurse, he said he always tries to put himself in his patients' shoes.

"They're isolated for their entire stay, and the only time we let them see somebody is if we don't expect the patient to make it out of the hospital, and that's just – I wouldn't want my family to go through that," he said.

Gretchen Norwood said Andrews achieved his goal with her father-in-law.

"You know how you meet someone and you know they just care?" she said. "He cared about our father-in-law, and he said things about him that were perfect and sweet and so accurate. I'm like, 'He knows him. He's not just another bed down the hall.'"

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