My COVID-19 experience: An open letter to fire and EMS personnel asking for vigilance

It will take teamwork and cooperation among all of us to understand and fight this monster

The version of this letter was originally written to the author’s fellow fire department members to share his experience with COVID-19 and encourage them to stay safe and healthy.

Read next: A plea for renewed commitment to COVID-19 prevention

First and foremost, I am not writing this to promote a political stance, but if there is one lesson that I have learned over the last year, it is that this virus is real – and it attacks. I can only tell you my experience and what the teams surrounding me did to bring about a positive outcome.

As of this moment, it has been a battle, a very real battle that I did not expect to take on.

The symptoms kept getting worse

For many years I have had allergies. Like so many allergy sufferers, I know when it’s coming. We stack up on some Claritin, maybe some Benadryl to sleep.

My allergies would always come as a dry cough. The first few cool fronts of fall had set in, so I knew it was time. A week on Claritin and it would be business as usual.

But that’s not how this played out.

On late Nov. 3, I was working on a project when I broke into a cold sweat that was like nothing I had experienced. I had full-body chills. I cranked up the heat a little, took some Tylenol and hoped that it would pass within 24 hours.

I did not sleep that night, as the chills were so violent that I could not remain still.

I was starting to have a productive cough. The amount of force to clear my lungs was gut-wrenching. I was able to eat and keep food down. My theory was that if I could keep calories in me, I could function.

I went to my other job site for about an hour before the fever and chills hunched me over to the ground. I immediately went home and contacted everyone whom I had been in contact with in the last 36 hours. Fortunately, that was only three people.

That evening I contacted my chief, and we had an antibody/antigen test completed along with nasal swab and vitals. My temperature at that time was 103.3. The antigen was negative, likely too early for an accurate result.

Knowing that the test would take five days, the chief, paramedic on shift and I decided to I should start Relenza, an antiviral as a precaution, thinking it could be Influenza A or B.

Over the next four days, I stayed on a tight schedule of the antiviral, but I could not keep my fever down, and the chills were getting more violent. I would be changing clothes with every round of medication throughout the day. Sleep was impossible, and I was only able to manage around six or seven hours in five days.

By the morning of Nov. 8, I had completed the Relenza inhaler disk. I decided to give it 24 hours to see if the symptoms would recede with the Relenza and over-the-counter medication.

My symptoms had slowly progressed, with the coughing become more and more violent, but I wanted the test results for COVID-19 before making any decisions about going to the ER. Along with the fever and chills, my body was done.

On the morning of Nov. 9, I had a horrible coughing attack that showed dark blood clots, dark brown phlegm and solid chunks of whatever was coming out of my lungs. I decided it was time to go seek medical attention.

Houston firefighters prepare for the memorial service of Captain Tommy Searcy, who died from COVID-19 in September. (Photo/Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association)
Houston firefighters prepare for the memorial service of Captain Tommy Searcy, who died from COVID-19 in September. (Photo/Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association) (Photo/Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association)

How bad was it going to be?

The hospital put me through the standard COVID protocol as I waited for a room. My oxygen saturation was in the 80s. I had an X-ray and a CT with contrast.

I was given a rapid COVID-19 test. I knew I had it; the question was how bad was it going to be. I immediately thought of a firefighter in Houston who had died from COVID-19 at age 45. We were friends, had the same job, had been in the same firehouse, lived the same lifestyle.

The doctors confirmed it: I did have COVID-19.

Several blood clots had developed in my lungs. The “sheet-glassing” effect or ground glass opacity had presented itself in an abnormal manner. It presented in small nodules, in pockets, instead of as sheet effect like was seen in most patients with COVID-19. It was described by the doctor as something she had never seen, nor had anyone else. She asked permission to have another team look at it before we moved forward with treatment. Until then, we would start Lovenox shots in the stomach to help bust the clots, heavy steroids to get the inflammation down, and get control of the fever.

After being moved to observation, I was given some drugs to help me sleep.

Phone calls I’ll never forget

The next day, I was making phone calls that I never thought I would make. My daughters were lined out with instructions on who to contact and what to do – the “just in case” protocol was suddenly very real.

They understood and stood by on the phone as I gave them my instructions. We finished with some “I love you’s” that I’ll never forget.

Managing the ups and downs

We continued to watch my fever and stats. As my oxygen saturations increased enough to be on room air, new problems emerged: My kidney functions become depleted, my fever spiked and there was now an electrolyte imbalance.

The doctors decided to put me on IV therapy of Remdesivir ($2,500/dose) and continue with the Lovenox shots for the clots for five days.

Things are finally starting to improve. But all of this has with a price. The morning coughing episodes are violent on a good day. What this disease has done to my lungs, only time will tell. The things that have come out of my body looked like something out of a Hollywood horror.

COVID-19 doesn’t care, so you have to care

I was not a skeptic. I agreed that masks are needed, good hygiene should be a given on any day of the week. But nobody predicts this.

The most important thing to realize is that this disease is real, it’s mean, it picks and chooses who and what it wants to do. I live an above-average healthy lifestyle – a busy, but healthy one. I love doing the things that I love to do – being a father, a friend, serving my community to the best of my ability, walking in my faith.

COVID-19 didn’t care about any of that.

It will take teamwork and cooperation among all of us to understand and fight this monster.

Thank you for all the support

I cannot thank enough the people who have come together to support me on this fight. From the early tactics of my fire department and getting the ball rolling on testing and meds, to the doctors who were open with me about their insight and treatment options, to the nursing staff that was on point, and to all the family and friends who called or texted to share their best wishes. I am indebted to them all.

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