Covid19 is here and is real. It’s hard to understand something we can’t see until it happens to someone we know or to ourselves. That is exactly what happened to Jon Stanford, MD FACS. We think it won’t happen to us or it’s not that bad.
Dr.Stanford posted his coronavirus story on Facebook after his road to recovery was moving in the right direction. His story was quickly shared almost 8,ooo times within the matter of a couple of days.
I had the pleasure of personally speaking with Dr. Stanford over the phone about his coronavirus story. He explained how important it is for him to share his story with others so they can see how real Covid19 is. Dr.Stanford wants us to learn a few things from him and take this situation seriously. Jon is a husband, father and a general surgeon in the Atlanta metro area. No, he didn’t get coronavirus from work either. He thought he was being careful as he and his family went on a cruise.
The story below is personally written by Dr. Stanford. As he shares his story, you will see that the words he writes matches the intentions of his heart. I love how he shows vulnerability, transparency and a bit of humor as he writes his coronavirus story.
Dr. Stanfords Story
Now that it’s been 15 days and my wife and kids remain asymptomatic, I can now tell my coronavirus story. I was wrong. I had seen it before. Media had sensationalized the news. SARS was coming, MERS was coming, Swine flu was coming, Ebola was coming. Small groups of people panicked, small groups were affected. The viruses that were to be the next plague faded away and the media shifted attention to some other news to get ratings- one week it was 24/7 discussion about Hilliary and her private server, the next week maybe something about a Kardashian, or members of the US Women’s Soccer Team declining an invite to The White House.
With that history of news hysteria, I discounted the admonitions and went on my planned vacation. A week on the 80s cruise. We had received information regarding the travel restrictions for guests who would be on the cruise. We were told of the enhanced embarkation screening and the increased on-boat cleaning and sanitization that staff would be completed during our trip. To my knowledge, no staff or guest had any symptoms of the coronavirus during the cruise.
What a great cruise (except for the fact that the cruise cost twice the price for most cruises and the major headline performers canceled either the day before or day after the cruise set sail. Yeah, The B52s, Loverboy, and Brett Michaels- I’m talking about you guys.)
I don’t know when I had contracted the virus that week. Amusingly my wife and kids have remained asymptomatic despite being in close quarters with me that week.
I wore an N95 mask on the flights to and from Miami, (my family didn’t). Only I had used the spa for a massage. I rode shotgun to and from the Port of Miami while my family rode in the back of the taxis we used. I washed my hands many more times than I usually do a day. Mind you, I’m a general surgeon- I wash my hands a lot. I wiped down doorknobs and my cell phone with antibacterial wipes I had all the time in my back pocket. I did all of that to make me feel better about catching a virus I thought was surely being sensationalized by the media. It was a small risk and it wouldn’t be so bad even if I caught it.
Let me state this again. I was wrong. Though we had minimal internet service on the cruise, we were able to get news updates whenever we came into dock. It looked like things were getting REAL. People are hoarding toilet paper? Banning flights from Italy? Disney World is closing? Tom Hanks has the virus? When we got home that Sunday I convinced my wife to go shop for some non-perishables and marvel at the empty shelves where the toilet paper should be. We came home and hunkered down. I had already received a text from my hospital’s infectious disease specialist. She knew I was on vacation and wanted me to stay low and surveil for the development of any coronavirus symptoms.
Day 1 of living with coronavirus
I didn’t have to wait long. The next morning, my Day 1 of living with coronavirus, I woke with one of those irritating coughs that tickle the back of your throat. Then a mild headache. Then muscle and joint pain. All of these were allergy symptoms I have every year when the yellow pollen snow coats my home’s lawn and driveway. Still cautious, I canceled my week’s scheduled cases and office visits. I isolated from my family and moved into our walkout basement. I got back with our hospital’s ID specialist who told me to stay at home but not to be too worried because I had no fevers.
Day 2 – Fevers Started
The fevers started on Day 2. These weren’t high spiking 102.0 fevers (those would come later), but low-grade fevers that made me feel flushed and irritated. They were easily controlled with Tylenol. I drove over to the hospital’s new drive-thru viral testing center. I knew the staff working there; they laughed at me thinking a was pulling a prank on them. “You don’t look sick,” they said. Our ID MD came out and shoved the longest cotton swab I’ve ever seen into my left nostril and told me results would take 48hrs to come back. I know now how wrong I was during my surgical residency to place all those nasogastric tubes at bedside without remorse.
Days 3 and the start of day 4 – The official call
Day 3 and most of Day 4 was a continuation of the same. I was obviously sick but not too bad if I could keep my temperature down. Then things began to progress quickly. I received a text from our administrator for physician affairs just as I had my first fever above 101.5. ‘This is *** ****. Can I give u a quick call?’ Damn. I knew what he was to tell me. So 10 minutes later I have to holler upstairs to my wife and let her know I have coronavirus and we are all in quarantine. She decides since it’s late in the evening, she’ll sit tight and find a way to break it to the kids in the morning. 2 hours later the fever is worse.
The rest of day 4- The ER visit
Then the breathing problems started. I felt I was trying to breathe through the cardboard tube that holds towel paper- able to be done, but uncomfortable after a few minutes. At midnight I called my wife and told her I was driving myself to the hospital. I called the ER MD that was on call and told him to expect me. My lab work, vitals, chest x-ray, and EKG were all fine and I was told I could go home or be admitted for observation. I had been sick for 4 days and was now much, much worse with shortness of breath- why was I even given an option to go home? I chose admission.
I spent the next 8 days in the hospital.
I was not well. Fortunately, I never was hypoxemic where I required oxygen supplementation, though I used an oxygen venturi mask for breathing comfort. The first 6 days of my hospitalization could be summarized easily. My day involved lying under blankets help with my chills and body aches. The blankets would soon be torn off the bed and I’d strip down to my underwear because I’d become feverish and sweat profusely. It was during these sweat fests that my breathing worsened considerably and I prayed to God for a miracle. I always thought, “Is this the one where my breathing gets so bad the nurses say, ‘he’s spiraling, take him to the ICU.'” The cycle of blankets and stripping and sweating and gasping would happen 4 to 6 times a day. Usually, the worse episode occurred at night. I’d always get some sleep between 23:00-1:00. Then each night I’d be up for the remaining early morning hours fighting another fever.
There are a limited number of Forensic File episodes. They are played one after another on the HLN channel from Midnight to 6 AM. I have quickly approached to see almost all of them. I would maybe get another 1-2 hours of sleep during the day. For those who have never ‘sweated a bed,’ it is a very uncomfortable thing. The breathing difficulty became much more pronounced when I sweated the bed. Moreover, it was embarrassing to do it in front of the nursing staff you see daily at work.
First time in my life I really took to heart the tale about mothers saying to always wear clean underwear because you’ll never know when you get into an accident. Thank you to Dr. Bakhtazde for having the compassion to run over to Target and buy me a fresh 6-pack of briefs on Day 4.
Tylenol is a wonderful drug. It was the only thing that helped break the fevers. Every patient on my ward was needing Tylenol around the clock. On Day 4 the hospital had run out of 325mg Tylenol tablets and was using 500mg tablets at six-hour intervals to conserve resources until the pharmacy could be restocked. Let that sink in. “Could they run out of Tylenol?” I called our PA and had her buy and smuggle Tylenol into my room. She said she bought the last 2 bottles on the shelf at Walgreen’s. If I make it, years from now I’ll die and my wife will find a bottle of Tylenol hidden between my bed mattress and boxspring.
I never lost my sense of smell. My room still smelled like a hospital. I lost my appetite. I never lost my sense of taste but it changed. I ate a cookie and it tasted like a stick of butter dipped in cinnamon. Italian dressing on salad tasted like vomit. On hospital day 6 I finally was feeling hungry enough to order out for pizza. I thought I was eating a salt lick.
Day 6 – Chest Pains and Coughing Fits
On Day 6 my MDs were contemplating starting me on the Plaquenil/azithromycin regimen because of my persistent fevers. Also, I was beginning to experience pleuritic chest pain. I couldn’t start the meds due to the fact that the Plaquenil would put me at risk for long QT/arrhythmias- I’m already on a risky anti-arrhythmic medication to treat/prevent my atrial fibrillation. Then something good finally happened. My fevers became less severe and only 1 or 2 times per day. I was still short of breath but it was less severe thanks to the break in the fevers. But now I had to deal with the chest pain and a nonproductive cough that could be set off from simply turning in the bed. The coughing fits would last for a minute, but seem forever.
I have nothing but praise for the nurses who took care of me. They knew how the food was tasting funny. One of them smuggled in a doughnut and Hershey kisses for me one morning when I said I missed sweets. It was the best cotton ball flavored doughnut I ever ate. Though I didn’t feel it, I knew the ward was full and I was likely one of their healthiest patients. Sorry about all the sweaty underwear. They all have kids and families and recognize the figurative crud is quickly about to hit the fan. They still come to work.
Day 8 – Discharged and Sent Home
God, they all must be scared and stressed. Pray for them. I was still sick but felt well enough to be discharged home on hospital day 8, that’s 12 days after I developed symptoms. I drove home 20 miles per hour with my hazard flashers on and huffing for air. Along the way, I saw cars everywhere and people out walking. “Don’t they know how bad it is? Don’t they know how bad it will get?” I thought to myself. I entered my development and saw a group of 6 older men in their golf carts ready to tee off at the club’s 4th hole. How I wanted to drive up to the tee box and reprimand them.
I pulled into my garage and broke down. Nothing is more gut-wrenching than spending a week in anxiety wondering if I was going to be a patient who needs mechanical ventilation or worse one of the 1.3% and having to be welcomed home through a glass window. I’ve known Angie since I was fifteen (35 years). We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary last year. God knows what she was thinking while I was in the hospital. God knows I held information from her so she wouldn’t think the worst.
Here I come home. Two best friends back together hands separated by a windowpane and all emotions coming out at once. When will we finally be able to get a hug? So now I’m on my 15th day with coronavirus symptoms. I have no more fevers. The coughing is terrible, uncontrollable. I remain very weak. I can stand for no more than 3-5 minutes. I’m able to walk from my basement door to my front porch though it takes some time and I need to sit down for 20-30 minutes once I get there. I got exhausted organizing puzzle pieces.
Angie brings breakfast down to the basement door and we talk each morning through the basement windows via our cell phones. I’ve become a good listener. I can’t talk for very long- too tiring. My family comes down and sits on the back porch for lunch and dinner. Angie knows how my appetite and taste had changed. She has changed her cooking and meals appropriately. She doesn’t know that the taste thing is back to normal. Let’s keep it all a secret for now. I am certain she is perplexed why grilled ham and cheese with brown mustard is extremely palatable, but cooked vegetables make me nauseous. I’ve regressed into being a teenager. I spend my time on the couch- minimal activity. Netflix is my closest friend. I’ve not watched any more episodes of Forensic Files, but I’ve seen enough episodes last week to see the patterns of spousal homicide. There is no doubt in my mind. CAROLE BASKIN KILLED HER SECOND HUSBAND AND FED HIM TO THE TIGERS.
I have become more spiritual. I have spent 25 years in the Catholic church and never officially converted. It’s now on my to-do list. I’ve prayed every night I’ve been sick and sometimes during the day. I’ve thanked The Lord for keeping me alive and helping me recover. I thanked him for keeping my family healthy without symptoms where surely they should have been sick. I asked to keep them protected. I asked for this craziness to end. I went to mass via the tv twice. I am surprised that I know the entire Nicene Creed- I always thought I was repeating what the lady 2 rows behind me was saying a little faster than what our priest was saying. Sometimes it takes bad times to help us recognize the good things.
I did a drastic thing and shaved my head and beard. I was many weeks due for a haircut, and no chance of a cut for the next few weeks. The continuous sweats left my hair knotted and unmanageable. I washed my hair 5 times in the last 2 weeks and I still couldn’t keep it clean. Interesting how literally and figuratively a bald head can make one feel cooler.
This is the longest I’ve ever been away from work. I have no idea when I will not be considered a risk to patients. I have no idea when I will feel better. I have no idea when I will be back to work. My only prediction- not soon.
So let me give you the take-home points.
1) This virus is bad. I have never felt this sick before in my life. I’m nearing fifty and I have controlled hypertension, 25 pounds overweight, and controlled atrial fibrillation. I exercise almost daily. That’s pretty much healthy. Trust me, I am a doctor and I see patients 15 years younger than me who are much worse off medically. I got thrown for a loop. If you get it, you will too. You could die.
2) Age isn’t as big of a factor as we were lead to believe. Young people get sick. Young people can die. Telling youth that they should practice social distancing so their grandparents don’t get sick is the wrong message. Tell the kids the truth. You can likely get sick too. There is a chance you could die. You can spread it to your friends and they could die, too.
3) Social distancing is necessary. I’m an example of what happens when you don’t distance yourself from infection risk. No one was ‘sick’ on that cruise ship. Truth in the matter is people were likely infectious and passing the virus unknowingly. Until proven otherwise, everyone has the cheese touch and they just need to stay away.
4) Spread the message. It’s okay to be deemed the crazy one and lose some social status and friends over the next few weeks. How close does this virus have to affect you before you say, “wow, this is real.”? Don’t be me. Don’t be lying in a hospital riddled with guilt. Don’t be afraid that when the phone rings from your wife she’s not calling to see how you are doing. Don’t be in the position where you’re afraid she’s going to tell you that one of your kids is going to the ER with symptoms. I called my 81-year-old father. I told him that this is real. He had his girlfriend over. She needed to go home. Role reversal. I told him my brothers could drop off supplies but not enter the house. I told him that the weekly cleaning ladies stay away for the rest of the month. I called my brothers and told them to stay out of the house. Call people out when they are going to do something stupid. Infuriate your kids. Deny playdates and girlfriend visits and planned ‘look who I bumped into’ visits at the grocery store. No one died from missing one too many get-togethers. There’s a method of logical decision making where the best decision is based on the worst of all outcome possibilities if your logical assumptions are wrong. Though they could likely weather the storm, it’s the reasoning method for why commercial planes and cargo ships change their travel paths far from rather than staying close to projected hurricane paths. I failed to use this logic and I was dealt with the consequence.
5) Tylenol. It was the only thing that helped me. Look in your cabinet see how much you have in stock. You don’t need to stockpile Tylenol, but you should have enough on hand to treat everyone in your home. The maximum dosage of Tylenol (acetaminophen) is 4 grams/day for an average adult. I (as well it seemed for all of the other inpatients) were taking 2-325mg tablets every 4-6 hours for several days. I had fevers for 13 days (today is my first day without a recorded fever). I would recommend having a supply of Tylenol for everyone in your house that would be equivalent to taking 500-650mg every 4-6 hours for 14 days (again, I was on a similar regimen for 13 days.) Add that up, and you have quite a few Tylenol tablets. 14 days = 164 – 325mg tablets. I’m relaying dosing not as medical advice, though I am a physician. Overdosing and prolonged dosing of Tylenol is toxic to the liver. Follow the bottle dosing recommendations. I am only telling you how much Tylenol I was given as an inpatient, and advocating that people have reasonable amounts available if they should get sick and need to manage their fever symptoms at home. This febrile phase of the illness lasted longer than any flu or cold I had encountered in my past.
Disclosure: I had a long talk with Dr. Stanford. He said he had received some negative comments for bringing political drama into his story. He says he wrote his story down with his concerns. He wanted to express how conditions will get worse and now is the time we all need to be united and not divisive, to work together and support all efforts to help prevent infection and treat everyone affected by COVID19. He admits he never thought that his story would be shared so many times. “If I knew that,” said Dr. Stanford, “maybe I would have looked for a second editor for review and rewrite. That’s hard to do when you’re in quarantine. People said I bashed Trump. Do they know I voted for him? Well, I said what I said- can’t be undone.” He admits his message may have been more effective to more people if he stayed on track with his message- to be unified. He hopes people can still hear his message’s intent through the static he created himself.
6) Things will get better, but only after they will get worse. A lot more people are going to get sick. You may even know someone who is going to die. Do whatever we can to lower the chances. Our president is polarizing. Some people can’t stand him. Now is not the time to be partisan. His ego is not going to change. He will never be referred to as “The Great Communicator.” Trump will always say what he wants to say without filter and be cringeworthy. Roll your eyes and move on. Accept that the US people, government, and economies have been dealt a very disabling blow and the executive branch is working hard and fast to remedy the situation. They are doing a good job. Take the $1200 and donate it to the Red Cross or some other relief fund if you disagree with the president. Don’t toss the bones back at the person that served you a Thanksgiving turkey leg.
7) Practice thanksgiving and appreciate what you have. Appreciate those around you and be nicer to people. Appreciate your faults, search for some internal reconciliation and move on. Rekindle relationships- safely. Rekindle the relationship with your God. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Pray you don’t sweat the bed.
8) Stay healthy. Share this where you want.
Optimized Life continues to prey for Dr. Stanford’s recovery.
For the first time in a very very long time, we are all going through the exact same situation at the exact same time. This virus doesn’t discriminate. We are all in this together. Stay home!