My battle with coronavirus: 7 weeks and counting in an awful fight

All of a sudden, I felt nauseous.

I was driving away from an assignment on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 7, and I had to pull over to the side of the road. It happened so suddenly, I was on my way to another assignment, thinking there were no problems. Then, I felt awful.

I went for a coronavirus test that afternoon. My symptoms were so different from most that doctors said they were sure I didn’t have it, until the test came back positive a few days later.

That started a battle with the illness that has kept me from working and nearly all other activities for more than seven weeks, and my message to everyone is this: The coronavirus is serious, and please protect each other by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, washing your hands and taking all other precautions that experts recommend.

I’ve been a working journalist for decades, concentrating on the city of Hamilton for the Journal-News for the past few years of that career. I’ve mostly told other people’s stories. This time, I wanted to share mine.

COVID-19 hit me very hard. There was delirium at night. There was the agony of days and nights – I believe a week’s worth – of not being able to eat or drink anything without getting sick.

After one visit to the emergency room — we learned a day later my COVID-19 test was positive — my wife, Debbie, drove me home and I was again getting sick for several days before I again left for the emergency room. There were more tests, like the first time, and an IV.

There were still more days of nausea. I only craved the coldest Ice water I could get, which soothed me. Eventually, I could eat again, but sleep didn’t happen very much.

My body felt like it was being split in half vertically, with my lungs and stomach suffering the worst of it.

Eventually, thanks to some drugs, especially an anti-nausea medicine that made it comfortable for me eat again, I could have food and drink water finally without vomiting. I was on numerous drugs, including steroids, tiny shots to my stomach so I didn’t develop blood clots and another medication I was told could prevent ulcers from the other drugs I was being given.

I’m grateful to my caregivers, some of whom came in wearing full, self-contained protective suits that gave them a fabric halo of oxygen around their heads. Most of my caregivers did not wear anything like that, and I consider them all to be very brave, because this disease can be a killer.

After I began to eat comfortably, I became aware that doctors and nurses were concerned about my lungs and breathing, even though the breathing didn’t seem bad to me as I was restricted to bed.

For about a week, maybe a bit less, they had me on oxygen and watched my oxygen levels hour by hour. The levels gradually dropped from the mid-90s, it seemed, to the low-90s, then lower.

It increasingly looked like I was going to be put on a ventilator. For that, they knock you out, and a ventilator controls your lungs so they can rest and recover for a few days before you are removed from the machine.

I pushed the doctors hard for a percentage survival rate on a ventilator. I was given a rate, for my age, of 70-80 percent survival. For someone older than me, 57, that rate would be lower. The dangerous part comes when the person is removed from the ventilator and their lungs have to try to re-start.

I found peace after a woman gave me a pink, lung-shaped pillow. She asked me to put that pillow under my lungs and lay on my stomach, with my head on a regular pillow.

I never had to go on a ventilator, but was hours away from it. The night of Oct. 22, after I turned on my stomach, the doctors were delighted to see my oxygen levels quickly rise from 84 to 99, simply by doing that.

Later, I was discharged from the hospital, and I have been recovering at home, still spending a lot of time on my stomach and trying to wean myself off of the oxygen assistance. I hope to return to work and some other normal activities soon.

A friend of mine and Debbie’s contacted me through Facebook and said she wanted to make sweatshirts together that said, “I kicked COVID’s butt,” although I’m not sure butt is the word she used. I’m certainly game, as long as we do it by video chat so as not to spread the disease.

I love her idea because that message makes it clear that COVID-19 is America’s enemy. The enemy is not each other. We need to work together.

Then we all can say, “We kicked COVID’s butt.”

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