Lonnie Haley began feeling sick in early April.
“For the first couple of days, I was extremely tired, couldn’t keep my eyes open, and I was sleeping a lot. I had no sense of smell and couldn’t eat anything,” Haley told Healthline.
As his symptoms worsened, he reached out to his San Francisco primary care doctor through a telehealth visit. After sharing his symptoms, his doctor told him he couldn’t get tested for COVID-19 and recommended he take cough suppressant syrup as well the antibiotic azithromycin, which he prescribed.
“I was so sick and didn’t know what was wrong with me. I’m in a high-risk demographic — a 48-year-old African American male who is prediabetic and has high blood pressure — all of the things that the CDC was saying put me at high risk for complications from COVID,” Haley said.
When Haley’s condition worsened, he contacted another clinic in the area that was conducting testing. After a virtual appointment, the physician he spoke to suggested he immediately go to a testing site located on the top level of a parking garage.
“My partner and roommate drove me there and they did a drive-up swab test. In under 5 minutes they came back with a positive test result. Immediately I had an anxiety attack and fainted in the car. When I woke up, I vomited because everything I had been hearing about COVID and my demographic and how people are dying from it hit me in the face,” Haley said.
His partner and their roommate also both tested positive for COVID-19, although neither had the severity of symptoms that Haley did.
Two days after his test result, Haley woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t breathe. His partner immediately drove him to the emergency room, where he was retested and confirmed positive for COVID-19. An X-ray showed he had double pneumonia.
“As I was being wheelchaired to the room, seeing all the staff suited up was really scary. I remember one of the nurses said, ‘A lot of people that we see go to the ICU resigned to the fact that they are sick and let their anxiety get the best of them, but I can’t tell you enough to get up and move around, because it’s those who are stagnant who we see advancement of COVID.’ That really stuck with me,” Haley said.
During times when he had trouble breathing, a dry cough, and his head hurt, he forced himself to get up, stretch, and move around the room.
“I didn’t want to resign to the illness, and moving helped with my spirits, too,” he said.
His partner, friends, and family frequently kept in touch through FaceTime.
“I was trying to stay positive all while in the back of mind I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever touch or see them again,’” Haley said.
In the hospital he was given hydroxychloroquine and medication for pneumonia, prediabetes, and high blood pressure.
“This host of cocktails felt like they were stripping the life from me whenever they would set into my stream, but it didn’t stop me from getting up and moving, even though I was dizzy and nauseous. I felt like I had to fight for my sanity and my health,” Haley said.
He was also woken up every 3 hours to have blood drawn and his heart monitored. After 4 days, he was released from the hospital because he had gone 2 days in a row without a fever, and his breathing improved.
At home, Haley took his temperature three times a day and continued breathing exercises for about a month until his lungs were fully healed.
“I still felt really tired during the recovery. And any cough or sneeze messes with my mind because I don’t want to go backwards,” Haley said.
He’s moved forward fully, though, and recently tested negative for COVID-19 and positive for antibodies. He lost 24 pounds and is back at work.
“Watching on the news how many people died from COVID gave me a greater appreciation for life. I’m grateful to be a person in my demographic who has recovered and healed and is able to tell my story,” Haley said.
How people cope after they live through COVID-19 is something of concern, says Hirsch.
“One patient explained to me that while he got beyond COVID after having shortness of breath, he has this sense of impending doom living through it. This isn’t just about post-traumatic stress, but the mind, body, spirit are part of a larger whole, and how people cope with things spiritually and emotionally will affect them after they recover,” Hirsch said.
Cathy Cassata is a freelance writer who specializes in stories about health, mental health, and human behavior. She has a knack for writing with emotion and connecting with readers in an insightful and engaging way. Read more of her work here.