Covid-19 • A Personal Memoir

Ed McArdle's Diary of Diagnosis, Treatment, and Survival

    icon Jun 04, 2020
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The only way for an individual to beat COVID-19 is to avoid getting it in the first place. And you do not want to get this monstrous virus. Trust me. I've been there.

As of May 21, 2020 less than 0.05 % of United States citizens have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Roughly 1 in 2000 odds, but, as fate would have it, my wife Naomi and I were of those so very few. You have watched the news and may be unsure what to believe anymore. But know this to be true - it is all they say it is.

My introduction to what has become all the talk of the past three months began on Dec. 31, 2019 when news arrived with the headline, "Mystery Virus Sickens 41 in China." Clicking to uncover more details, the accompanying descriptive words shook my world. Unknown cause, no treatment, no cure, no vaccine.

As a kidney transplant recipient in his 20th year living with a suppressed immune system, my reaction to this unwelcome revelation was simply, "you gotta be kiddin' me."  I'm usually high on optimism, but this news I never wanted to hear prompted me to approach each day with great trepidation. From that point on I made every effort to be as prepared for what could lie ahead as one could possibly be.

Naomi and I had been in stressful situations similar to this in the past, as she beat Stage 4 uterine cancer in 2018, while I had lived with diabetes for 45 years, made it through a stroke, and had a lung condition called Bronchiectasis. Remaining healthy has long been a high priority, but in this instance the realization that I was in the highest of the high-risk category for an affliction of this magnitude raised concern.

Though never fearing the worst, I wrote my obituary, prepared advance directives and planned my affairs accordingly, just in case what appeared to be a rather fierce adversary, which was said to cause all sorts of bad things, reared its ugly head.

Beginning March 10, when Michigan's initial cases of COVID-19 were announced, Naomi and I began planning for the when not if. With Gov. Whitmer's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" Executive Order on March 23 everything changed. We all know that. Though a big inconvenience for most, both Naomi and I were designated "essential employees" at our places of employment and were proud to continue working. We agreed, though, to both step away from our jobs and remain out of harm's way when it became the right thing to do.

Though the pandemic was paralyzing society, I never reached the stage of panic or being scared. I will admit, though, my worried scale rose to nine on a ten scale as Michigan residents began dying.

Then the coronavirus got us both.

Saturday, April 4, I awoke at Noon to a 102.5 temperature and nausea. Naomi had a fever, cough and headache. We both had felt fine the day before, so this came on quick. I called the Covenant COVID-19 Hotline and learned that we both met their criteria to get tested, but that was unavailable at the time.

So, on Monday, April 6, we proceeded to the Visiting Nurse Association drive-through test site for the nasal swab test. The location looked surreal with all staff dressed accordingly. Not a sight I was used to, but necessary. My pulse oxygen registered an abnormally low 92 though I had little chest congestion and only a mild cough.  Since we were presumed positive, we had to stay quarantined and wait for our results, which would take up to seven days.

On Wednesday, April 8, the news arrived that both Naomi and I had tested positive for COVID-19. How we contracted this affliction will never be known and that did not really matter at this point. What was important is how one reacts when faced with an unwelcome situation.

Having survived many previous medical setbacks, I looked at this latest life-test with the "better me than anyone else" perspective, as I had gone through this before. Though my mental outlook was positive, I soon learned this illness was altogether different. Perhaps I should give that a second thought.

The progression started rather slowly. On day four I still had moderate symptoms - fever and moderate cough. It felt like the flu (ha). This journey was only beginning.

As the majority of my care is overseen by the University of Michigan Medical staff, they kept in contact daily to closely monitor my progress.  I was forewarned that in immuno-compromised patients the COVID-19 symptoms can escalate quite suddenly. If breathing difficulties arose I would be admitted to U-M Medical Center. I was also informed that they offered a few clinical trials for transplant patients that may benefit me which were unavailable in Saginaw.  Most importantly, at the risk of death, if I felt unable to make the 85 mile trip due to difficulty breathing I should go to the nearest Hospital.

The attack of this unrelenting vicious beast came in waves. Over time my symptoms ran the gamut. Escalating from the elevated temperature, then the body aches unlike any I've ever felt before, then gastrointestinal issues, and then extreme fatigue. It was very hard to do anything - get out of bed, walk, anything. So I slept for about three days straight. The fever was ever-present, but my cough did not worsen, though at one point my fingernails started turning blue. I never had an appetite. Food was the last thing on my mind as the struggle continued.

On Wednesday, April 15 it was time.  After 11 days with a fever of between 102 - 104 degrees (extra strength Tylenol just does not cut it) I was given direct admittance to Michigan Medical Center.  In order to be hospitalized one has to reach a rather critical point in the illness. My breathing was still stable, but beds were available so they would be able to treat me.

I wondered if this was the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end. I was happy to finally be receiving medical care, but did not want to be away from my wife. Naomi's condition remained stable, with the moderate symptoms. She was more than encouraging and took the latest directive well because she realized I needed help.

Not in good shape I left the house clad in my bed clothes. We arrived in Ann Arbor in a timely fashion. This city usually bustling with action was noticeably vacant of anything approaching that. The hospital (usually a city in and of itself) had very little activity.

When Naomi dropped me off at the Emergency Room, I was swiftly wheeled away without even a kiss good-bye. I experience firsthand one of the harsh realities of this new normal as she returned to Saginaw filled with uncertainty and alone. For me this was the worst feeling I have had in quite some time.

Upon admittance to the COVID-19 triage it was discovered that I had abnormal kidney and liver function. Also, my chest X-Ray showed pneumonia, so the virus was evident in my lungs.

I was immediately connected to an oxygen machine and hooked up to the routine IVs and heart monitor, but everything seemed okay to me. Receiving treatment from the "Leaders and Best" in healthcare is always a good thing.  I had been an in-patient there 12 times previously, but before long realized this visit would test my strength and fortitude.

The first four hospitalized days were rather uneventful. I received my initial clinical trial and this treatment rid me of the lingering fever almost instantly. I do not recall exactly what was done, but it was transplant patient-specific and had something to do with my immune system running on overdrive. I soon regained my appetite and was eating pretty well.

Social distancing was also present in this setting as the doctors did not make their usual room visits, but used the telephone to communicate information.  There was not that much staff activity, which was a big difference to what I had become accustomed to in a teaching hospital.

Then, on Saturday, April 19 (Day 16 since becoming COVID-symptomatic) I experienced how suddenly things can change for the worse. Since I had been bed-ridden for so long, I was asked to get up and attempt walking around the room without oxygen. Simple enough...or so I thought.  When I completed this task and sat down it caused my oxygen level to drop to a dangerously low 85.  Though really not feel bad, that prompted an emergent situation and I was very, very quickly transported to the Respiratory Intensive Care Unit.

I soon found myself inside an environment rarely seen outside of a science fiction movie.  It became apparent that this was unlike anything I had ever known. Scared yet? Nah.

As you can surmise, there were several major differences in this unit. I would liken it to a futuristic airplane hanger. The noise of air flow was constant and loud as machines were circulating the air constantly and an exhaust fan was blowing it outside.

The Nursing staff wore what can only be described as space suits with the requisite masks, face shields, oxygen tanks and something akin to a hazmat suit-light (though blue in color). They were protected to the extreme and understandably came in only as needed.

I was in this area with an increased level of care for four days connected to oxygen tubing approximately the diameter of a garden hose as they were pumping a lot of oxygen into me. Though my coughing was more pronounced, I really did not feel much different, though I had not eaten much. I attempted to tune everything out as my sole objective became to get better and get the heck out of there.

Another clinical trial was done (the nature of which I cannot recall) and it must have achieved a positive outcome because on day 18 I was allowed to downgrade to the critical care floor (third different area thus far) which was fine by me.

My goal in this room was to rehab and regain strength as well as improve my lung function.  After being predominately on my back for over 20 days and dropping 18 pounds (down from my normal weight of 158), I was wiped-out.

Soon feeling ready to get on my feet again, I struggled at first. The rehab was rather intense but I was driven to get well.

The mark I had to reach for oxygen level was 94 unaided - breathing just room air. I was soon able to do that. But it was discovered that my reading dropped to 88 when sleeping. This prompted discussion as to the merits of being on oxygen at home. As much as I bemoaned this less than desirable necessity I accepted the oxygen for nighttime use only.

After 11 days at Michigan Medical Center and 22 days with COVID-19, on Saturday, April 25 I was free to go home. As a final unexpected twist another COVID nose swab test was performed and it came back positive. Just my luck.

So, I returned to a mandatory 14 day home quarantine and left the hospital wearing a mask similar to when I came in. I was dressed in my usual attire, though, but my pants no longer fit.  Usually clean-shaven I had not used a razor since this whole thing started, so I looked a bit worse for wear.

My discharge diagnosis was simply acute respiratory failure with hypoxia and Pneumonia due to COVID‐19 virus. The kidney failure and liver abnormalities were successfully addressed during my stay. Though all of this had happened to me, reading the medical notes emphasized the seriousness and made me realize that while I surely passed my sell-by date, I  thankfully have yet to hit my expiration date.

It was an extremely good feeling to be reunited with Naomi at long last. The 11 days forced to spend apart were the longest stretch away from each other during our seven years of marriage. We remain grateful that her symptom never advanced from moderate.

May 9th (37 days in) marked my designated "virus free" day following my second quarantine. In a way that time flew by and in other ways it dragged on. Regardless, I am overjoyed it is in the rear view mirror.

COVID-19 may have weakened my body but my spirit remained intact.  I never feared for my life and looking back that stands out to me. In possession of faith, confidence and the resilience of a warrior I persevered.

I realize that the coronavirus certainly hit me hard and left residual effects. My lungs sustained damage and I remain on oxygen at home. I will need to follow-up with U-M pulmonologists and have no idea when I will be able to return to work. I did not emerge unscathed and can't just shake it off and get back in the game. Playing the hand I am dealt has been my trademark and I will always consider myself overly blessed.

Putting my situation in proper perspective, one of my doctors told me, "This is a marathon, not a sprint". I have found these words to be motivating as I move forward.

We are all faced with difficult situations, especially in these trying times. 

As my recovery continues, I offer these keys to successfully navigating adversity: preparation, knowledge, awareness and carrying a positive attitude.

It has been said that you never know how brave you are until being brave is your only choice and I have found this to be true. Even after surviving this recent ordeal, though, I do not believe in “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

But I will admit to feeling a bit victorious right now.



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