I now understand why so many people die of this infection. I feel like I’ve lost several days of my life.”

Most Chieftain readers have not personally known an individual with COVID-19 infection. That was true for me until January when John, a good friend from South Carolina, became infected.

John is an academically based pharmacist engaged in teaching infectious diseases, clinical practice and research. He is 73 years old and previously in good health. This is John’s story, followed by a response from Gordon, a friend and infectious diseases physician from Virginia.

Jan. 16: I think I might have COVID — getting tested today. Symptoms include runny nose, intermittent headache and low-grade fever, occasional dry cough.

Jan. 17: I got my test done at CVS, I’m not feeling any worse and possibly a little better. Thanks for asking!

Jan. 19: The results are back and I have COVID. Compared to a lot of the cases we hear/read about, my symptoms/course of illness (today is day 7), I guess I’m lucky. Seems very much like a mild case of the flu but new things seem to crop up daily. One step forward, a step and a half back. Main issues now are lack of energy and shortness of breath. Newest thing is an urticarial rash. I’m sleeping as much as a cat.

Jan. 19 evening: Tonight has been quite the adventure, as my cough and shortness of breath are a little worse. (My wife) has been on the phone with neighbors and infectious diseases folks in Columbia. My (oxygen level) from a few minutes ago was 94. And the infectious diseases team at (the university) will be discussing my case tomorrow and thinking about monoclonal antibodies. I think this is all an over-reaction, but this is the time in the course of the disease that patients slip into (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome).

Jan. 20 (4 p.m.): I had a miserable night and went into the emergency department at 7 a.m. Four hours later, I was back at home. So, have I improved? Actually the opposite. At least I’m getting the (monoclonal antibody) infusion tomorrow. To give you an idea of some of the symptoms of this disease, it took me 20 minutes to type this message!

Jan. 21 (5 a.m.): I can understand why so many people die of this infection. I feel like I’ve lost several days of my life, hoping to wake up on one of these mornings feeling better. Hasn’t happened yet. Today, I get the monoclonal antibodies and the therapeutic goal there is to prevent me from going to the ICU for respiratory support. We’ll see; seems like the bottom line is who wins the fight — your immune system or the virus!

Jan. 23: Better today. A couple of miserable nights — sweats, chills, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, low oxygen every time a got out of bed to use the loo (as we Southerners refer to it), rash, diarrhea — (OK — close your eyes and picture RoseAnne Roseannadanna); I THOUGHT I WAS GONNA DIE!

Worst part was when I started having nightmares about my respiratory system failing unless I got my oxygen concentration above a certain level and couldn’t do it. I was in a time/phase when it wasn’t clear to me whether I was asleep or awake. Anyway, please never mention the dream to (my wife) as she would have freaked out if I told her about it.

Got the monoclonal antibodies yesterday — no miracles there but it probably depends on how much (lung) damage you’ve already sustained. That said, the infusion clinic scene and experience was engaging and somewhat entertaining. I think the next time I hear someone say that we have “the best health care in the world,” I will probably break into hysterical laughter. When funny things weren’t happening, my IV infiltrated (still got my full dose).

So today; feeling significantly better — don’t get me wrong, still short of breath without any appreciable energy but I sense that I’m mending. Before this interesting journey comes to an end, I want to thank you for the way you kept reaching out, asking after my well being. It has meant a lot. Live long and prosper!

This is Gordon’s response.

Jan. 25: That is frightening. Even though the overall mortality rate from COVID is less than 1%, it appears to be 4-5% in the older age groups. And I’ll bet the morbidity is closer to 10% or 20%. There must be many people like John who got severely ill but weren’t reported in the “severely ill” category because they were never in the hospital. I hope someone is following these people to see what their long-term disability is. Unfortunately, it’s hard to believe with so much pulmonary and systemic inflammation they will get away scott free. To me, this is the best argument for vaccination. I would be less worried about dying than being long-term disabled. Give John my best and tell him that I hope he has an uneventful recovery.

Feb. 8: John remains short of breath and lacks energy. He and his wife are moving to be closer to kids and grandkids. He feels fortunate.


Ron Polk lives in Lostine. He is emeritus professor of pharmacy (retired) and professor of medicine (affiliate) at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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