A first-person narrative by a gentleman about his experience with COVID infection appeared on a social media site, shared with us by his relative. I contacted him to ask if I could share his harrowing story and he agreed. It is perilous, poignant and desperate description. He admits he waited too long to get medical help for his serious breathing problems and he hopes people will learn from his experience. In his own words:
“If you test positive for COVID-19 and start experiencing severe respiratory issues, don’t wait, go to the emergency room. I waited days after my breathing became difficult, and by the time I got to the emergency room I was in big trouble. Thankfully, my wife got angry and made me go in with my daughter, who was also really sick. I went in at 74% blood oxygen and gasping for air.
“My situation deteriorated over the next 4-5 days and I was put on vapotherm O2 with remdesivir, steroids, antibiotics, etc. The medical staff said I was at the point where they had done everything that was available, and the only thing left was to hope I improved. I developed pneumonia and was almost intubated which scared the hell out of me. I was told by staff (after I started to improve) once you are intubated for COVID, you have less than a 50% chance of survival. …
“Thank God for my wonderful wife, my girls, and family and close friends for praying for me. I was told by the doctors that if I would have waited longer, I would have had a heart attack or gone beyond the point of no return concerning my breathing. After two weeks in ICU/hospital, I was transferred back home with oxygen and other medications. Still have severe breathing issues, and the doctor told me it will be weeks, maybe months, before I recover.
“I was in great shape and went to the gym 5-6 days a week. This didn’t matter in the end concerning COVID. My family all got COVID-19 and were ill, but for some unknown reason it throttled me. The medical staff told me they don’t understand why it nails some people so hard and not others.
“Why the long story? Because I didn’t listen to my wife and tried to be a tough guy, I made the situation far more worse and could have paid the price for it. Whatever your opinion is of COVID-19, if you start having severe breathing issues, don’t screw around or gut it out like I did, go to the emergency room immediately. Never been this ill in my life. Just trying to save somebody from the same bad situation I put myself in.”
Quite the tale and admonition from the patient himself, eh? I emailed him to ask if I could give him a quick call. He replied that “because of the severe damage to my lungs, I can only talk for a few minutes, or I go into respiratory distress.”
When he did answer my call, he could hardly get through a word, let alone a sentence, without coughing and gasping. My wife said it hurt worse to hear him talk than it did to read his story. He is 57 years old.
Since writing his story he has had further complications, with blood clots in his lungs, and has been in and out of the hospital.
He raised several salient points with questions but no straightforward answers. The main one is why some folks get so much sicker than others.
A New York Times article appeared in the Jan. 31, 2021, Science and Health section of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about a set of identical twins from Rochester, Michigan, who had totally divergent COVID-19 disease courses.
Only 35 years old, both had fevers and shortness of breath and were admitted to the hospital. One was out in a week. The other wound up in intensive care.
She had to relearn to speak, walk, chew and swallow solid food she could barely taste. I have seen exactly that disparity in disease expression and treatment response with acne in sets of identical twins.
My hat is off to the gentleman who was willing to share his tale of medical woe. I am sure all of us will share our prayers for him to make a successful, albeit prolonged, recovery and keep wearing our masks and distancing to stay safe ourselves.
Dr. Bures, a semi-retired dermatologist, since 1978 has worked Winona, La Crosse, Viroqua, and Red Wing. He also plays clarinet in the Winona Municipal Band and a couple dixieland groups. And he does enjoys a good pun.