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Winter 2021 - Critical Care

COVID-19: A Patient’s Perspective

A man shares his story about how he contracted COVID-19.

WHEN THE spiritual retreat he’d signed up for in March was rescheduled for early August, Philip Wagner was looking forward to a time of renewal and refreshment. The remote Texas ranch where the event was held hosted 16 men plus event staff, and although body temperatures were taken twice daily and facilities were disinfected, at least one asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier infected a number of the men who attended, including Wagner. 

BSTQ: Did the event center provide safety guidelines for attendees?

Wagner: When it started, they said we could wear face masks if we wanted to, but everyone chose not to. I hesitated but didn’t want to be the only one wearing a mask. I’ve since thought about how easy it was for me to give in in that situation. In reality, since we were all sharing the same air conditioning, it would not have mattered if I wore a mask or not. 

BSTQ: What were the facilities like?

Wagner: We were in a large retreat center that had about eight rooms with three beds in each room, a meeting area and an eating area. We were close to each other and did not practice social distancing. Clearly, at least one person who probably did not realize it was asymptomatic but contagious. 

BSTQ: When did you suspect you’d been infected?

Wagner: A week after I got back from the event, a few friends who attended told me they tested positive for the virus. A short time later, I suspected I had the virus when I began to feel pains and aches in my muscles similar to how I’ve felt when I had the flu. I also began to feel chills on my skin. I got tested, and the test was negative, but my symptoms continued to get worse. The nurses at the urgent care center suggested I retest, and the results came back positive. 

BSTQ: What were your other symptoms?

Wagner: I had pain in my muscles, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, brain fog and chills. I had a dry cough for a few days, but it didn’t last. I was sick for about 16 days when the symptoms shifted to my stomach and colon. The pain became so severe I checked into the hospital where I learned about 30 percent of COVID-19 patients have gastrointestinal, as well as respiratory, problems. 

BSTQ: What treatment did you receive in the hospital? 

Wagner: They gave me morphine several times during the two days I was there. They also gave me laxatives to help eliminate as many toxins from my colon as possible, and a medication to help relieve any gas-related pain.

BSTQ: Did you have risk factors for severe complications?

Wagner: I am 67 years old, and I have had immune deficiencies. For the last five years, I seem to have caught anything that’s going around. I had cancer, and after treatment, I’ve had so many sicknesses such as shingles, flu, colds, allergies and fatigue that eventually caused me to become semi-retired for health reasons. In 2020, I had not been sick for nearly seven months, my longest period of health since 2014. Then, I caught the virus.

BSTQ: Did anyone else in your family test positive? 

Wagner: When I was first diagnosed, I quarantined myself in our bedroom. My wife would bring some food or drink to my door and knock. I would wait until she left the area and then open the door to get what she left for me. She and I wore masks if there was any need for me to leave the room or to stand at a distance to talk. Unfortunately, after a few days, she started getting symptoms and was sick for about a week but recovered quickly. She did not have respiratory issues, but she did lose her taste and smell for a while. 

BSTQ: What was the psychological toll of being quarantined?

Wagner: During the sickness, I felt hopeless and isolated. Every day felt like the previous day for almost 30 days. I wondered if I would ever feel better again. The nights were the worst because the feeling of isolation increased. The social restrictions of the pandemic already were having an impact on all of us, so getting sick after a few months of isolation multiplied that sense of aloneness for me. 

BSTQ: How is your health today? 

Wagner: I still have low energy, and I struggle with concentration, attention span, information processing and short-term memory. 

BSTQ: What if any advice would you give to others? 

Wagner: I would encourage people to take COVID-19 seriously. It was definitely a type of illness I’ve never experienced before in my life. I highly recommend people wear masks, wash hands more than normal and practice social distancing. The important thing to remember is people can be contagious but asymptomatic. 

Trudie Mitschang
Trudie Mitschang is a contributing writer for BioSupply Trends Quarterly magazine.