Health

Virus Chronicles

Longtime resident shares what it’s like to battle COVID

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S. David Long keeps a list of dates in his portfolio folder.

The timeline helps Long keep track of his battle with COVID-19. Meticulously updated by his daughter, it begins at the end of September when the first symptoms appear. It ended 27 days later when he was discharged from a two-week hospital stay.

“At times, you get foggy with it,” said Long, 76, describing his hospitalization, which included a stint in intensive care.

Coming home was not the end of the battle. Long still has to use oxygen and continues to receive physical therapy — a reminder of the struggle facing people who’ve survived a serious illness from the disease caused by the coronavirus.

On a sunny morning a week after Thanksgiving, the longtime community volunteer is sitting in a booth at a popular breakfast spot nursing a cup of coffee.

His oxygen tank sits next to him on the floor. He occasionally fiddles with the nasal cannula to keep it in place.

Doctors do not yet know the extent to which the virus damaged his lungs. So the oxygen travels with him wherever he goes, at least until his next follow-up visit with the pulmonologist. The tubes are long enough to snag on things at home.

“There’s no guarantee I won’t be on it forever, but we won’t know that for two months,” Long said.

It began with a cough and fatigue on Sept. 25. Two days later, Long went to the Montgomery County Health Department to get tested for COVID-19, and the result came back positive.

“They said, ‘You just go on home and let us know how you feel,’” Long said.

By Sept. 30, when his fever had climbed to 104, Long went to the emergency room at Witham Health Services. Doctors took X-rays, which confirmed Long had the virus, and sent him home.

Nearly a week later, on Oct. 6, Long was at the doctor’s office to get some stitches removed when his oxygen levels read too low. He was sent to Franciscan Health Crawfordsville for more X-rays and ended up being admitted to the COVID-19 ward, where he was placed on oxygen.

Long was fully vaccinated, but hadn’t yet received a booster. (He plans to receive the additional dose next week.) Vaccines offer strong protection against severe disease from COVID-19, and public health experts urge people to get boosted.

Long’s doctors said despite being in good shape otherwise, he would have died if he had not been vaccinated.

In September, the risk of dying from COVID-19 was 14 times higher for unvaccinated people than for fully vaccinated people in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Long said he had been masking, except around people he didn’t know, and most of them had been fully vaccinated. He doesn’t know how he became infected. Long’s wife was infected at the same time but recovered in three days.

The CDC encourages people who are fully vaccinated to wear a mask indoors in public in areas of substantial or high transmission of COVID-19. Indiana currently has high community transmission, according to the CDC’s COVID data tracker.

After spending three days in Franciscan’s medical-surgical unit, Long was moved to intensive care. He soon learned he may have to be transferred to Franciscan’s Lafayette hospital, where he feared he may have to be placed on a ventilator.

He and his daughter began planning his funeral.

“When you’re down to the point of naming your pallbearers and who you want to speak — it kind of brings you home,” Long said.

Doctors eventually determined he could receive the same kind of treatment in Crawfordsville and transferred him back to the COVID-19 ward. Long was allowed to have the same two visitors in his room during the entire stay.

“That made it a lot more bearable,” Long said.

Doctors said the virus didn’t affect any of his other organs. He was released on Oct. 21 with oxygen and home healthcare. In a letter to the editor, Long later praised the hospital for his care.

“A myth I’ve heard forever and it’s now fostered by local social media posts, is that our local hospital doesn’t have the facilities or staff to properly care for patients,” he wrote. “For the vast majority of issues, that’s just not the case.”

Back home, Long is gradually regaining his strength through physical therapy and has been able to cheer on his granddaughter at basketball games.

He misses covering events in his role as part-time contributor to the local radio stations, and jokes that lugging the oxygen tank would make it difficult to run the bases when the next softball season rolls around.

Long said he wishes people would follow the advice of public health officials to prevent spreading the virus.

“I just wish people would pay attention to the science. You only get one chance.”

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