A COVID-19 Personal Story

This is is the story of my encounter with Covid-19. I will begin with my ending words: “STAY SAFE! I can’t emphasize it long enough or strong enough! You do not want any part of this disease!

On November 1, Joan [Rick’s wife] and I attended a well-spaced 50th birthday gathering for the son of a friend.  All was well until we were saying goodbye.  The mother wanted to take a photo, so we did, dropping our masks quickly for the flash.  That was okay, but after the photo, the son immediately turned to me face to face as he has done before, to thank me again, and again, and again, and again (he was slightly inebriated), for helping his mom through the difficulty of his dad dying 20 years earlier. But this time was different. I had let my guard down during Covid. I realized that I had forgotten to put my mask back on after the photo, and the face-to-face thank you took place without masks on either of us. Joan and I got to the car, and I said to her: “That was not good. I don’t have a good feeling about what just happened”. We got home, and I replayed the afternoon in my head, as the son had been going from table to table to table mingling during the day, sometimes with mask on, and other times with mask off. I began to visualize the TV animations where they show the droplets of the virus flying through the air, this time flying from his mouth to mine, and vice versa, with both of us inhaling each other’s breaths during our too-close conversation.

I went about my business), until I got home from the office on Wednesday night, November 4. As I entered the house, I started getting the shivers and chills, and sat in a chair with an electric throw blanket over me the rest of the night to stay warm. My wife had taken my temperature and it was 101.3. I had two doctor’s appointments the next day, and, although still not feeling well, I was prepared to go to each one if they said to come in. Both offices said “no”, but one receptionist that I spoke to, who was working from home because of Covid protocol, strongly advised to get tested.

I called my primary care physician, explained my symptoms, and asked if I (we) should be tested, to which he replied most definitely, and sent an order in for the tests. Joan and I went to the hospital to be tested (saliva test) on Thursday, November 5. The next morning at 8:00am I received a call from my doctor advising of the positive test for me, and the negative test for Joan (thank God). Joan went into immediate 3-week quarantine.  We have remained separated for safety reasons since my positive test. Because they don’t want to overload the hospitals, the next course to take was to “monitor” the symptoms going forward, which we did for the next 8 days. I pretty much gradually declined over that time, but it wasn’t until I received a suggestion from my doctor to purchase a digital pulse oximeter (measures oxygen saturation), which I did on day 8, that things changed. It was at that time that I realized that I could not get my oxygen level above 86 (should be mid-90’s or better). The doctor, at 4:00pm on Friday, the 13th, ordered me to go to the emergency room. By that time, I was so weak that it took me 3 hours to prepare (shower, dress, gather belongings, etc.), and Joan dropped me off at the emergency room at 7:00pm (she couldn’t come in). I walked through the door, answered the “Are you Covid” question, and was triaged and in an ER room by 7:30pm. After being put on supplemental oxygen, and waiting for all the tests (EKG, blood work, lung x-rays, CT scan of lungs, etc.) to be performed, I was finally transferred to a hospital room at 2:00am. At this point I will foreshadow that the first of my two revelations during my hospital stay had to take place. This first was the transfer from the ER gurney to the hospital bed. The second revelation was yet to come.

That morning, the doctor explained that my main initial treatment, along with an antibiotic and a steroid, would be a daily Remdesivir 3 hour IV drip (5 days), followed by a half-hour steroid IV drip. I was then told that if it didn’t work, some form of plasma treatments would be the next attempt. Obviously, my overweight condition and high blood pressure did not help my situation.   I waited most of the day on Saturday, November 14, for the infectious disease specialist to approve the Remdesivir treatments, and my first treatment began at 9:00pm.

All I can say about the next day is that my supplemental oxygen had to be increased, and that wasn’t a good sign. My second Remdesivir treatment began at 9:30 that night. By the time the drips were done (1:00am), my supplemental oxygen had to be increased again. Another bad sign. Before you know it, the respiratory specialist shows up in the room at 2:30am, with a special, doublewide cannula with an oxygen-boosting pendulum, and they boost my supplemental oxygen up to 8½. I went to sleep that night allowing a good deal of oxygen to be “pumped” into me instead of breathing in the normal sense, and wondering what I unrealistically shared the day before when I texted that I was “cautiously optimistic”. That feeling went out the window. Two Remdesivir treatments, and I’ve done nothing but go the wrong direction…backwards. I have to tell you that I was very concerned. Bipap and cpap were the next steps before the ventilation tube. It was here the second revelation of my stay had to take place. Although I felt that my well-being was in my hands, I needed to accept immediately that I was in the hands of all the medical staff and the Good Lord‘s because my hands were not going to enough that night.

Lo, and behold, the next morning, I woke up to the good news that my supplemental oxygen was being reduced to 7. I’ll cut to the chase here, to tell you that, over the next 9 days, my supplemental oxygen was slowly reduced to a possible go-home level. The only challenge in that scenario was two days before I went home, when the lung specialist told me that the supplemental oxygen still wasn’t low enough, so they were considering releasing me to respiratory rehab. I stood up at that point and indicated that I was going home, not to rehab.

I arrived home at 7:00pm on November 24, with a dirty clothes bag in one hand and my oxygen transport tube in the other. We have one step to negotiate to enter the hallway from the garage, and when I couldn’t step up on the step, I immediately knew what they meant when they said it was going to take a long time to gain my strength back.

Steps are still the hardest, but I’m slowly gaining on it. Covid kicks the crap out of your lungs, but I won’t know the full extent of my diminished lung capacity (if any), until I am finished my rehab. I am still on supplemental oxygen at level 2, and my heart rate spikes at a minimum amount of exertion. Obviously, as I build up my strength, I look forward to weaning off the supplemental oxygen. I’m being told that it’s going to take longer than I expected. However, I am on the mend.

A few points about my hospital stay:

  • My room was a reverse pressure room where the air is sucked out at all times. In fact, the first fart I smelled was when I got home.
  • The disease is sort of biblical, in that you are treated like you are a leper with leprosy. Everyone was required to dress like a space alien just to enter my room.
  • COVID’s viral pneumonia may result in permanently diminished lung capacity going forward.
  • Oxygen dries out your nose membranes, but you can’t use any petrolatum product with the oxygen, as that may cause lipoid pneumonia to form.
  • NOBODY can visit you in the hospital, NOT EVEN YOUR WIFE.   You’re flying solo.  Thank God for FaceTime, as Joan and I at least got to see each other “live” every day.  It was a “life-saver”, and we were blessed by that technology.

My middle son is a minister, and he always says that life is composed of different seasons, and if you are in a bad season, take heart, because another season is coming. Unfortunately, contracting Covid has shown me that the present season of Covid MUST be a season of thinking with your head, putting emotions aside for a while. Once this season changes we can get back to the season of thinking with emotions.

I will close with my beginning words: “STAY SAFE! I can’t emphasize it long enough or strong enough! You do not want any part of this disease!

Rick DiMarzio

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