- The overall cumulative COVID-19 hospitalization rate is
82 per 100,000.
- After being released from the hospital, COVID-19 survivors may still experience symptoms.
- Survivors of COVID-19 may experience emotional effects in addition to physical effects.
Over the next 4 weeks, it’s predicted that more than
What lands people in the hospital due to the virus varies, says Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York.
“Different people have a variety of severity, and it’s amazing how different each person is in terms of their response to this virus,” Hirsch told Healthline.
Healthline spoke with three people whose battle with COVID-19 became so severe they were hospitalized.
Now that they’ve each recovered, they’re sharing their personal experiences help raise awareness of the seriousness of COVID-19.
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.
Joe Biasi is a 35-year-old firefighter and paramedic in Illinois. When early cases of COVID-19 were being reported, he knew the nature of his job put him at increased risk for contracting the virus.
However, when he became sick, he was surprised.
“As a paramedic I take precautions all the time. I wash my hands and practice proper hygiene. I work out every day and eat pretty well. I’m young and thought I wouldn’t get it, but when it hit me it made me realize that it was a lot more serious than was being said,” Biasi told Healthline.
On March 14, Biasi began having chest tightness, a dry cough, and some stomach pain. He didn’t think anything of it until 2 days later when he came down with a fever of 102.5°F. He called his doctor, who thought it might be the flu.
“I had the flu before, and my body felt different,” Biasi said.
Still, his doctor gave him Tamiflu and suggested he go into isolation. Biasi stayed upstairs in a room isolated from his wife and their 19-month-old son.
“I had a fever for 11 days. It broke two or three times, but would come back every night. That week I got more chest tightness and shortness of breath. My wife was cooking food and leaving it by the door. My favorite steak tasted so bland, so I told her just to give me rice,” he said.
He attempted to get tested for COVID-19 at a few immediate care centers and was told he was too young and healthy to qualify for a test.
After a week of trying, he finally forced himself to find the strength to drive 30 minutes to a hospital, where he tested positive for COVID-19.
After staying in isolation for 4 more days, Biasi started coughing up blood. He sent pictures to his doctor, who suggested he visit a COVID-19 clinic.
At the clinic a chest X-ray showed that his lungs were infiltrated with fluid. Because he was too fatigued to drive to the hospital from the clinic, he was taken there in an ambulance.
During his 5-day stay at the hospital, he received medications, including hydroxychloroquine. He also received a pneumonia diagnosis. When he was discharged, he wasn’t given much direction except to let the virus run its course.
At home, he still experienced shortness of breath and low energy.
“After all my symptoms went away, I was still fatigued, so I started to walk around the block. Just walking one block made me really exhausted. Eventually my symptoms went away and I got cleared to go to work after being off 5 weeks,” Biasi said.
Before going back to work, he got a chest X-ray that showed his lungs were healed.
“I was worried that I might have permanent lung damage, but I didn’t,” Biasi said.
He’s grateful his wife only had some symptoms of fatigue and shortness of breath that didn’t last long, and that his son only had a runny nose. A few of his co-workers tested positive and were quarantined, but none ended up in the hospital.
He plans to get antibody testing and donate plasma to the Red Cross to help others.
He hopes everyone helps by doing their part, too.
“This is serious. I lived through it. Wear a mask, try to social distance, and take it seriously, even though we have to go on with our lives,” Biasi said.
Kathleen Ronan took her 15-year-old daughter to an ankle specialist from their New Jersey home to New York City several times from the fall of 2019 through March 18, 2020.
The last week in March, 51-year-old Ronan and her daughter both developed a dry cough.
Her daughter felt better after a few days while Ronan got progressively worse. On March 28, she developed a 100.4°F fever. She sweat all night and couldn’t sleep.
The next morning she poured herself coffee and was shocked when she couldn’t smell it. Her cough became more intense, and she lost her appetite.
The next day she had a virtual call with her family doctor, who informed her she most likely had COVID-19, but that there was no location for her to get tested.
Her condition worsened. On April 1, she called 911 and was driven to a nearby hospital where she stayed for 4 hours.
“I was in tears and telling them, ‘I’m so sick.’ I told them they were sending me home in care of a 15-year-old kid. But they still did,” Ronan told Healthline.
At home, her fever reached 104.5°F. Her years of experience as a nurse told her she needed serious help.
She called her family doctor again, who told her if she could drive an hour to the hospital he worked out of, he would admit her. When she arrived, she was immediately admitted to the ICU.
In the ICU she was nauseous, vomiting, and soiling herself from coughing so hard.
“It was a scary time. I was convinced I was going to die,” she said.
Though she never went on a ventilator, Ronan was on 4 liters of oxygen.
“What I understand now is that when you get 6 liters of oxygen, that’s when they make the decision to intubate,” Ronan said.
She was given hydroxychloroquine, which made her vomit.
After 7 days of treatment, Ronan’s symptoms were under control and her oxygen level reached the required 92 percent to be released from the hospital.
While she was told to mo
nitor her oxygen levels at home, she wasn’t given the proper equipment to do so.
“I wasn’t given a discharge plan, really. All they told me was that I should see a pulmonologist and get a follow-up EKG,” Ronan said.
The entire week after she got home, she says she was so weak she didn’t have the energy to do much.
“I barely managed to get from my bed to the bathroom, and a trip to our living room was like climbing Mount Everest,” she said.
From her time as a nurse, Ronan had some knowledge about home care.
“If no one thinks about what you need when you get home, it’s a hard place to come home to because you’ll be exhausted, and you won’t be able to get around even if you don’t end up being intubated,” she said. “I was home a week before I could have energy to shower.”
Hirsch says his hospital has put together a specialty group that follows up with patients once they’re released from the hospital.
“They help the patient manage different types of symptoms they continue to have, such as respiratory. However, in general, it’s the primary care doctor who is following up,” Hirsch said.
Ronan’s lung functioning is close to what it was before, and she’s able to take walks. However, she still has lasting effects from COVID-19, including fatigue, a slight cough, occasional headaches, and some neurological effects she believes are caused by the virus.
“I mix up words from time to time, and that didn’t happen before all of this,” she said.
Ronan hopes to get antibody testing done soon and plans to keep monitoring her symptoms.
“There’s no telling if I’ll have long-term issues. That could be a cost of care we can’t predict,” Ronan said.