Regular readers of Wisconsin.Golf may have noticed that it’s been nearly a month since I posted a story to the website, leaving colleagues Rob Hernandez and Dennis McCann to do the heavy lifting over the holidays and into 2021.
I’ve got a good excuse:
I’m sharing my story as a cautionary tale, aimed primarily at those who still think, after all these months, that the coronavirus pandemic is overblown or some sort of hoax, or that it’s “just the flu.” I’ve had the flu and I’ve had COVID-19 and, believe me, the two have little in common.
Also, please spare me your political leanings, whatever they may be. When you’re lying in a hospital bed gasping for breath and praying you’ll live through the night, the last thing on your mind is whether President Trump took the pandemic seriously enough. The virus doesn’t care whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. It kills indiscriminately.
I’ll admit to being somewhat cavalier about COVID before I got sick. I masked up at the post office and gave a wide berth to people in grocery stores, but I also worked out mask-less in a gym and played in a tag football game on Saturday mornings with a bunch of guys, none of whom wore masks. I let down my guard months ago; I just didn’t believe I’d get sick.
On Dec. 19, I started experiencing mild symptoms – a little congestion, a low-grade fever. It felt like the onset of the common cold. The next day, however, I lost my sense of taste and smell, figured I had “it” and subsequently tested positive. A nurse told me to treat the fever with Ibuprofen and Tylenol and said most people recovered within a few days. I was confident I’d be one of them.
On Christmas Eve, my fever spiked to 103.6. It felt as if someone poured kerosene on me and lit a match and yet I was shivering uncontrollably under four blankets. On Dec. 27, when my fever touched 104, my wife took me to ER at Ascension Hospital in Franklin. I was treated with meds and released when the fever broke.
On Dec. 28, I started having problems breathing. It was as if someone clothes-pinned my nostrils shut and shoved a couple socks down my throat. I couldn’t get air into my lungs and the harder I tried, the worse it got. I had a panic attack. The next morning, my wife called our family physician; his nurse told her to get me to Ascension immediately.
Thereupon began the worst 11 days of my life.
I was admitted with a 104 fever and in respiratory distress. I had another panic attack during a CT scan of my chest, gulping for air and pleading for help. I was put on a BiPAP machine, a mechanical ventilator that forces oxygen into the lungs. I had a plasma transfusion on Dec. 30 and began treatments with the controversial drug remdesivir.
Hooked up to a heart monitor and a machine that measured my oxygenation level, I obsessed over the numbers. Just sitting up to use the urinal caused my heart rate to jump from 85 to 140 and my oxygenation level to plummet from the mid-90s into the upper 70s. I’d lay back down, alarms sounding, gasping for breath.
In the meantime, steroids to treat COVID pneumonia caused my blood sugar to soar to over 300 and I started getting three insulin shots daily. A nasal swab revealed a MRSA infection, so I was put on a powerful antibiotic, then a probiotic to treat waves of diarrhea.
On New Year’s Eve, a respiratory therapist told me that if I didn’t show improvement soon, sedation and intubation would be the next step. When I told him he was scaring me, he said, “I just need you to be prepared for the possibility.” I prayed for two solid hours that night, did all kinds of bargaining and deal-making with God. At 2 a.m., the respiratory therapist lowered both the percent of oxygen flow and the liters per hour. I tolerated less oxygen. It was a baby step in the right direction.
Over the next week, I was slowly weaned off oxygen and gained enough strength to be able to use the bathroom and sit in a chair while eating meals. Finally, on the morning of Jan. 8, I was taken off oxygen entirely and was released later that day with a fistful of prescriptions.
It’s taken me a few days to get my legs back under me. Equilibrium has been a problem. I’ve got what I’d describe as a bit of “brain fog” that affects my concentration and coordination. I am improving daily, though, and optimistic I’ll be fully recovered in a few weeks. But for the grace of God, I might have been one of the more than 5,000 Wisconsinites who have succumbed to this hideous virus.
It’s going to be a big year for golf in Wisconsin. After a one-year hiatus, the American Family Insurance Championship almost certainly will be held in June, with or without spectators. Two new short courses – the Baths of Blackwolf Run and 12North at Trappers Turn in Wisconsin Dells – are scheduled to open. SentryWorld, which was closed for all of 2020, will unveil its new boutique hotel in the spring.
And the 43rd Ryder Cup, delayed one year by the pandemic, hopefully will be held with spectators at Whistling Straits in September.
I’m grateful I’ll be there to see it.