An old friend of mine from my childhood years in Georgia just survived an ugly bout with Covid-19. Chip Burger was the older kid I looked up to when I was young. Our old hometown of Albany is actually experiencing one of the worst outbreaks of the virus in the nation. It’s heartbreaking to read about.
Chip, who now lives in Atlanta, recently wrote about his experience with the virus and I want to share it with you. It’s a reminder that no matter how strong or healthy you think you are, this virus is dangerous.
It’s a smart, inspiring piece that everyone should read.
I was released from WellStar North Fulton Hospital yesterday after nine days fighting viral Covid-19 pneumonia – six days in the ICU and three on the medical floor. I thought I would share with you the top ten things I learned:
On Wednesday, 3/11 I developed a dry cough and worked from home the rest of the week. I felt good and actually overdid it on Saturday running errands and doing things around the house.
Lesson 1: Don’t overdo it – If you have a cough, fever, shortness of breath, sore throat, loss of appetite, loss of sense of smell or other potential Covid-19 symptoms, notify your doctor, rest and take over the counter medications that help your symptoms.
From Sunday, 3/15 to Sunday, 3/22 my condition worsened. My cough persisted, I had very little energy, my sense of taste left me (food tasted like a mix of cardboard, sawdust and black mold) and toward the latter half of the week I started hearing a dry, crunchy sound in my chest.
Lesson 2: Listen to your body – You know when something is wrong. Early in that week I should have contacted my doctor and gone in for an evaluation. I thought I was supposed to stay at home and not overwhelm the medical system. But if I had received medical treatment earlier, I may have avoided my stint in the hospital.
By Sunday, 3/22 I was among the walking dead and Heidi was having no more of it. She loaded me in the car and we went to WellStar Urgent Care. During the check–in process I was impressed with how professional and attentive the staff were and how alarmed they were at my condition. They knew practically immediately I had pneumonia (remember the dry, crackly sound in my lungs?) and they measured my blood oxygenation level and said it was extremely low. They told us they could either call us an ambulance or we could drive, but that we were going to the WellStar North Fulton Hospital emergency room practically across the street. Heidi zoomed me over there and I was whisked away to emergency. That was the last I saw of Heidi for nine days.
While in the emergency room I sort of went into slow–mo mode. I could see how concerned the emergency room staff were and the thought occurred to me that I was circling the drain. I was so weak and tired that the realization didn’t scare or alarm me – it was just an observation. I snapped out of it when Dr. Tony said my situation was very serious and that they were going to put me on oxygen. If my blood oxygen levels did not improve quickly, they were going to intubate me and put me on a respirator.
Lesson 3: Push for the least invasive treatment option – This is the hardest lesson to describe yet the most important of my experience. I think if I had relinquished control of my recovery to a machine I would have been in the ICU longer. I don’t know this – I just feel it. I asked the doctor to give me a chance with the oxygen and focused all my energy on breathing as deeply as my crackly lungs would allow. Over time, my blood 02 levels improved – so much so that they actually switched me over to just an oxygen tube that fit in my nose.
During the early part of my stay in the ICU, it became obvious that for the foreseeable future my life would suck.
Lesson 4: Embrace the suck – At this point it seemed everyone wanted a piece of me. Technicians getting vital signs, blood draws, x–rays, the works. If you ever get in this situation – the suck is what is going to save you. This is where the medical team is getting the vital information they need to help you. If they want to draw blood every morning at 3:15 (they did) you smile at them and thank them when they’re done. Same with the folks that come at awkward hours to get your vital signs – which tells them how you’re progressing and gives them early warning if something is going wrong. The belly shot at 5:00 pm to thin your blood? Tomorrow let’s do cocktails with that! You are always glad to see them and hope they come again soon.
The staff also tested me for Flu A/Flu B which entails inserting a bristly feeling wire into your sinuses and pulling it back out. They also tested for Covid-19 (winner) which involved inserting a bristly feeling wire into my sinuses, but then taking a tour of the inside of my head by twirling the wire around. Embrace this and just live in the moment while they do it (which happens automatically since you will not be thinking of anything else during the “swabbing”).
By Tuesday, 3/24 things had improved enough that I knew I was going to be okay – I just didn’t know how long it was going to take me to get out of the ICU. The staff gave me some devices to help me with my breathing – one for inhaling and one for exhaling. They set goals for me each day – which mainly consisted of getting off the supplemental oxygen and working with my breathing devices.
Lesson 5: Take what is offered / Do what you are told – At this point my appetite was back and I was better able to get out of bed and take care of myself. I figured the staff knew what they were doing (they did – I love them) so I decided I would accept whatever they gave me and do whatever they wanted me to do. I ate everything they brought me, drank water almost continuously, used the breathing devices on every commercial break or every 10 minutes or so if the TV was off (really weird watching the news anchors discuss the Coronavirus while you are in the ICU with it). I think getting with the program early really helped my recovery.
Also by Tuesday–ish , I was also getting to know the medical staff. They operate as a team and are very professional. I knew by watching them enter the room that they had strict protocols on personal protective equipment (PPE) and how to interact with me.
Lesson 6: Join the team – Since the nurses and techs had to come in fairly regularly to check on me, bring meals, etc., we quickly reached an understanding on how we could help each other. In order to minimize the amount of PPE they had to use, I asked them to bring two cups of ice water every time they came in. This would last me four hours or so and meant they wouldn’t have to come in as often. Cooperate with your team – they are nice people!
As I began to feel better on Tuesday and Wednesday I started asking whether there were other Covid patients in the ICU. The nurse said my whole side of the ICU was Covid. I asked her how they were doing and that’s when I learned that despite the medical team’s best efforts, considerable skill and medical technology – their patients were dying from the virus.
Lesson 7: Be kind to your staff and be understanding of what they are going through – Imagine a job where you report for your shift and people are in various stages of dying. I began talking to the people that came in my room and asked how they were doing, thanked them for their help and praised them for being willing to endanger themselves to help their patients. Everyone likes to feel appreciated – and your staff needs to hear it. If you know a medical person that is dealing with Covid patients – please reach out to them and let them know you are thinking of them and admire what they are doing. We need them!
Each day I was reducing my need for supplemental oxygen and was getting close to my goal of eliminating it completely. Soon we started talking about me leaving the ICU and going to a regular room on the medical floor. This happened on Friday, 3/27. Even though I was still on supplemental O2, I was given a transfer to the medical floor. Nurse Katie came to help me move and there was also an assistant with a wheelchair. Katie asked me if I wanted to walk to the new room and I told her I would love to stretch my legs. As we were leaving, one of the key ICU doctors passed me and stopped Katie and the wheelchair lady to speak with them. He was speaking in low tones and at first I was worried he was getting on to them because I wasn’t in the wheelchair. But then I heard Katie tell him that he should tell me what he just said. The doctor came up to me and said that no one with the level of infection I had was still alive – and that of all the Covid patients they have treated, none had walked out of the ICU. I told him I was a testament to the great care I had received from him and his staff and North Fulton Hospital. My walk from the ICU to the medical floor was one of the best of my life!
Lesson 8: Be thankful you are alive – No explanation needed. When I got to my new room, I was shocked it had a window. In the ICU and in my new room, they had to make the room have negative pressure so when the door opened air came in instead of blowing the Covid virus out into the hall. To do this they took out a window, added strong cardboard and rigged it to have a blower shooting air out of the room to the outside. Since the ICU room only had one window, I had not seen the sky in almost a week. The medical floor rooms had two windows and I just sat down and stared out of the one that remained (there was even a hawk flying around). I was overwhelmed from just being able to see outside. I felt like a prisoner who had just been taken out of the hole and given a pardon forgiving my death sentence. It was a powerful moment.
Lesson 9: Take nothing for granted – There are still a lot of great things happening all around us – time with our families, texts with friends, walking your dog, drinking water with ice in it, looking at the sky. Every little moment is precious – enjoy it.
While on the medical floor I finally got off the supplemental oxygen and had to go through another round of medications before I could finally go home on Monday, 3/30. What a sweet ride! Heidi picked me up and took me home. Cruelly, I cannot be near her as I will still be contagious for about a week and have to wear a mask whenever I pass through a common area in our house. I catch a glimpse of her now and then – she’s a babe!
Lesson 10: Give back – I do not know exactly how I will exact revenge on Covid-19, but I will get it. For starters, I have written this account of my experience so that you know what to expect in case you contract the virus, to encourage you to do everything the CDC and other experts tell you to do to avoid it and maybe to scare straight those of you that have become complacent thinking this will not happen to you. It can – and you do not want anything to do with Covid-19 and you sure as hell don’t want to be responsible for giving it to someone else.
I have also heard that over the next few weeks I will begin to develop anti–bodies to the virus. I have also heard that there are studies underway to see if these anti–bodies can be used to treat those that have contracted Covid-19. I would love it if my anti–bodies could kill this damn virus in others. THAT would be sweet, sweet revenge.
Until I see you again – wash your hands, make the best of these crazy times and take care of yourselves.