Behind the Numbers: My Story Surviving COVID-19

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Behind each case is a person. Not all of us make it.

By Mike Clark, Colorado Department of Transportation | June 15, 2020

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Nurse helping man with covid on a ventilator
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Wear your mask!

On Sunday, March 15, 2020, I came down with COVID-19, and spent nine days in bed getting progressively weak and sick. Then my wife said, “Get in the truck, or I am calling the ambulance.” We went to Urgent Care and the next thing I remember is waking up nearly two weeks later in the ICU at St. Anthony's Hospital. While I was at Urgent Care my blood-oxygen level was in the mid 70's, when it should be in the mid- to high-90's. COVID-19 gave me double pneumonia. I was put on a ventilator. Doctors were about to put me on a tracheotomy, but I started getting better and the procedure was canceled.

I woke up with a ventilator breathing for me

I woke up to nurses in white plastic space helmets, a ventilator down into my lungs with no way to talk, and a constant thirst that couldn’t be satisfied because there was no way to swallow. To communicate, I would try to write, but could not make readable letters. Two or three days after waking up, the ventilator was removed. That felt like having my toenails pulled through my throat.  At least I could whisper and beg for ice cubes to re-hydrate. Nurses were always afraid I would choke, or get more liquid in my lungs, but I persisted.
After being in bed for so long, I lost up to three percent of muscle mass per day, with no strength to walk. The most I could do was roll onto a bedpan. If there is anything that should prompt you to wear a mask at work, it is the thought of lying in bed, in a hospital, atop a bedpan. 
One evening as I was going to sleep, four people entered the room and said, “Cross your arms.” Suddenly I was airborne, moving from one bed to another and taken to a room on another floor.
Every day I was tested for COVID-19. For a week, I would test positive, then negative, then positive, and finally negative for two days in a row. The test involved sticking a long Q-tip up my sinus cavity. This is an extremely grim experience. Each day my blood was drawn and I was injected with a blood thinner. My vital signs were checked every four hours. Even though the toilet was only 10 feet away, nurses had to help me get there while I was wearing a hospital gown (more like a dress with no back).

Learning to walk again

I was taken to another room as more COVID-19 patients were moving through the system to rehabilitation. I had to learn to walk again with the help of a walker. All liquids had to be thickened using corn starch as my throat was healing from two weeks on a ventilator. Coffee, tea, milk, and every other liquid was thickened with corn starch. Yuck!
I had physical therapy twice a day, occupational therapy once a day, and occasionally swallow therapy. Because of being on the ventilator for so long, I had to learn to swallow correctly so food and liquids did not go down the wrong pipe. In between vitals being checked, I ate the same meals in a row, all with thickened liquids. During every commercial on TV, I got up and walked with the walker back and forth across the room, until I graduated to a cane, and then walked without any help. 
The doctor never got closer than 10 feet to me. He saw numerous patients per day, and did not want to transfer diseases from one room to another. He was on a twelve- hour schedule, with each patient visit lasting about five minutes. 

34 days in the hospital

In summary, I spent 34 days in the hospital, starting with the ventilator and very gradually learning to swallow, walk and eventually climb stairs again. My blood was drawn and I had injections numerous times. I had to use bedpans and urine bottles and wore a gown with no zipper up the back. Showers were scarce and toothbrushes were flimsy. And then there were the long Q-tips stuck up my nose. I survived.

Reality check

There are 28,347 COVID-19 cases in Colorado as of June 8. Behind each case is a person. Not all of us make it. 1,312 deaths so far.
Wear the mask. Stay at least six feet from each other and follow all other safety precautions, especially as businesses and recreational areas open up. Be safe on the worksite to prevent the exposure of this virus.