By Jessica Cohen
For the Gazette
GLEN SPEY - COVID-19 ended several years of skirting death for John Decker, 72, of Glen Spey.
“Doctors who saw his chart were surprised he was still walking the earth,” said Donna Decker, his widow. “But I think, if not for COVID-19, he would still be here. He was stubborn.”
He still savored routine moments in his life.
“Every night at 5 p.m., from his recliner by the woodstove, he watched five deer run across the yard,” Decker said.
Meanwhile, he only had one fifth of normal heart function, she said.
She had met him in 1974 at the New Bauer Bar on Front Street in Port Jervis, a building now nicknamed the Beast and currently being renovated. He bought her a drink and talked about his life, where he lived and worked, which then was at the Sparkomatic factory in Milford, Pa.
“He was gentlemanly, compassionate and caring,” Donna said. And he took care of things, she found after they married - fixing whatever needed to be fixed around the house or car. She recalled him taking the dryer apart to see what it needed, then promptly driving to Middletown to buy the heating coil.
“No waiting. He’d get it done then and there,” said Donna.
They had four children, but a daughter died at childbirth and a son, Adam, died five years ago of Epstein-Barr virus.
“John was proud that I could stay home with the kids until the youngest was in kindergarten,” said Donna, who then began driving an Eldred school bus. “Family was his foundation, because he had not really had any. His parents couldn’t take care of him, so his grandparents brought him up. But he had no siblings.”
Two sons survive him, Tim and John, and they helped care for him in his last months. Together, they had attended Yankee games and hunted and fished at Pond Eddy, where John occasionally caught a big catfish.
He had worked for C&D Battery Co. for 35 years, until C&D left the area. Then two heart attacks weakened him, and in 2017 he caught the flu and then pneumonia, resulting in sepsis. But, after a couple of weeks in a nursing home, he was home again.
“His doctor said he should have been gone, but John said he would live to be 102,” said Donna. He was still fishing in Pond Eddy last September.
Since then Decker had been declining, she said. He had been in and out of Good Samaritan and Mount Sinai hospitals. A recent bronchial cough and swollen feet prompted his doctor, Seth Horowitz, for whom he had much affection, to send him to Good Samaritan, with ambivalence, because of the spreading COVID-19 virus.
“Because of COVID-19, they didn’t keep him,” Donna said. “But when he came in, he fell. He was wiped out.”
His sons helped him to Bon Secours Community Hospital, where he spent a week, isolated with the COVID-19 he had picked up along the way. In the hallway, Donna met a nurse assistant who had cared for her son, Adam, and had also worked with John at C&D.
“He introduced himself and said he’d worked with John for 18 years,” Donna said.
She was given protective gear to be able to visit John in his room, where he was on oxygen. She wore a gown, face shield and mask, shoe covers and gloves.
“He said to Timmy, ‘How’s the wood stove?’ and Tim said, ‘Don’t worry, Dad, I got it.’ ‘How’s the firewood?’ ‘Got it.’ Then he lifted his head because he had trouble breathing and said, ‘I need you to take good care of your mother. Timmy said, ‘Don’t worry. I will.’”
John said he would be out in three weeks, and Donna left at 3:30 p.m. on March 30, then called him at 8:30.
“He said, can you bring bottled water? The water here has chlorine in it.”
She agreed, and he told her he loved her and to sleep well. But at 3:15 a.m., a nurse called to say he had died. “Timmy was already in the doorway when the phone rang,” Donna said.