WASHINGTON - Much has been written of the warning signs, symptoms and dangers of COVID-19. But what is it like to live through an active infection? Three sufferers agreed to share their stories, day-by-day medical conditions, thoughts and observations with VOA in this first installment of a bi-weekly series chronicling life with the coronavirus.
‘I’ve never been this sick, ever’
Occupation: Entrepreneur, retired
City: Jupiter, Florida
Carlos Gavidia epitomizes the American dream.A Peruvian-born immigrant, he rose from Washington hot dog vendor to become the CEO of a financial services company. Now retired, Gavidia has enjoyed the good life, skiing in Colorado and taking his boat to the Bahamas for long excursions. But that seems a distant memory now as Gavidia fights for every breath while his body battles the coronavirus.
Earlier this month, Gavidia flew his family of four to Aspen for his son’s spring break from college. In what would prove to be a fateful decision, he and his wife enjoyed brunch at a fancy resort. The hotel later announced it was closing after two guests tested positive for COVID-19.
“I was at the epicenter of where it broke out in Aspen,” he recounted to VOA.
Gavidia rushed his family home to Jupiter, Florida, but it was too late. First his wife began showing COVID-19 symptoms. Two days later, in mid-March, he was ill, too.
“I’ve never been this sick, ever – the fever, the headaches, it just won’t go away,” he said.
‘I didn’t know if I’d see them again’
On March 21, Gavidia called 911 from his cellphone. He could not catch his breath. Fearing COVID-19, the EMTs refused to come inside the house. Gavidia was forced to walk outside and stand in the middle of the street.
He said goodbye to his family and his wife, thinking he might never see them again. Gavidia said he’d heard about coronavirus patients who “die by themselves because they're contagious -- so when I'm saying goodbye to my wife, I thought that could be it.”
Gavidia tested positive for COVID-19 in the hospital and was sent home to quarantine. By this time, his entire family was battling fevers. All four lost their sense of taste and smell. But his symptoms and suffering are the most severe.
Gavidia’s doctor suggested he try an anti-malarial medication that reportedly showed promise in some patients but has not been approved as a COVID-19 treatment. “A lot of people don’t want to prescribe it because it’s not approved or tested yet,” Gavidia said, "but I got it.”
In our next installment, we share the extraordinary lengths Gavidia went through to secure an unproven drug and find out if he is improving on the medication.
‘We just don’t feel right’
Occupation: Technical Recruiting Manager
City: Arlington, Virginia
Zack Armstrong handed his active, soccer-playing roommate his cellphone to call 911. The roommate, 27, could not lift his arm to grasp the phone. That’s when Armstrong knew something was horribly wrong.
“It was shortly after he got to the hospital that we got a text. He tested positive for COVID,” Armstrong said.
Now Armstrong, another roommate and their two girlfriends are experiencing symptoms while the original roommate remains hospitalized on a ventilator. The four have not been tested but are presumed to be infected with the coronavirus. Sequestered in a three-bedroom apartment, they are experiencing moderate symptoms so far: upset stomach, headaches, shortness of breath and dry coughs.
“I get coughing spells typically in the evening," Armstrong said, adding that he takes acetaminophen and cold medicine.
While the four are cooped up with nothing to do but wait, outside the apartment an army of health officials, specialized workers and friends has mobilized.
The Arlington County Health Department checks in with them twice daily and asks about fevers and symptoms.
Hazmat trash pick-up
Since no one can leave the apartment, the building manager has arranged regular trash pick-up. Armstrong said he was shocked when he opened the door the first time to two workers in hazmat gear in the hallway.
“We are given a very strict instructions -- don't even put the trash bag on the ground in the hallway,” he said.
After learning of the confirmed and suspected COVID-19 cases, the apartment property manager sanitized all common areas.
Meantime, at a nearby hospital, Armstrong’s roommate first seemed to improve but then had a setback and, after a week, is breathing with the help of a ventilator.
In our next installment, we check in with the roommates to learn if any of them are getting worse. We also discover the creative and unusual ways their friends are supplying them with food – and toilet paper.
‘I can’t believe a human being can be this sick and still alive’
Occupation: Restauranteur, retired
City: Suburb of Chicago, Illinois
Prior Health Issues: Lung cancer, stroke
Connie Lambert never let her age or serious medical episodes slow her down. She travels. She plays handbells. She attends Bible study.
But not now.
"I couldn’t breathe. There’s nothing worse in the world than not being able to draw air into your lungs,” she said.
Lambert has been susceptible to pneumonia for years. But from the start, her current respiratory distress felt different. And it never got better. So she went to St. Margaret Mercy Hospital and waited seven hours for a coronavirus test. Like many people with suspected COVID-19 infections, she is awaiting the result.
Nurses recoiling in fear
Lambert said nurses backed away “like I was glowing or something” as she was wheeled past them in the hallway. Hospital workers tried to admit her after swabbing her for the test, but she insisted on self-quarantining herself at home.
One of her roommates, Jane, helps her sit up in bed and to use a walker. Lambert said she has trouble swallowing and has been sapped of energy. While not experiencing high fevers, she said, her body gets uncomfortably warm.
“My neck is red. Face gets red,” she said.
Missing her favorite job
Lambert raised three sons and owned and managed a restaurant for 30 years. In retirement, her favorite job has been watching her two great-granddaughters, ages 3 months and 2 years. Now, when she needs comfort the most, she can’t spend time with them.
For now Lambert worries about her two roommates who are caring for her. She has heard there is no treatment for COVID-19 and wonders, “Am I going to slump over? Is that going to be it?”
In our next installment, we see if Lambert’s test result is in and where she goes from there.