January 15, 2021 by John Fernandez
Surviving the Coronavirus: A Personal Reflection
It’s cold, dark, and I am alone. My palms are sweaty and my skin feels damp despite the relentless shivers that take over as my body tries to fight the fever. I pull the bed comforter closer around myself hoping that its warmth will calm the shaking. I take a shallow breath and my lungs welcome the air. I look over thankfully to the oxygen machine that had been delivered just a few hours ago. I can hear the distant sounds of my wife and two sons from the kitchen, people I have not seen and a place I have not entered in two weeks.
On the nightstand, my phone pings with texts and emails. Through this illness, I have made it a point to continue my work as a financial advisor and be available for my team and my clients. It’s a difficult time in the stock market. The uncertainty caused by this virus has created a devastating reaction, and I have many people who rely on my advice, as much as I have come to rely on their connection. Although my health worsens, it is my work that continues to give the days meaning and purpose. It lifts my spirits knowing that others still need me in a world I can no longer physically take part of. It serves as a reminder of the life I lived just two weeks ago, and the life that will be waiting for me once I recover.
My journey with coronavirus started when I went to a dinner with five friends at a restaurant on Brickell Avenue in Miami. This was in the very early stage of the COVID-19 outbreak. Traffic on I-95 was bumper-to-bumper, people lined the streets in the city center, and stores welcomed unmasked shoppers. Looking back, the scene was one of naiveté, like the calm before a storm. At the time, I didn’t realize the danger and disruption that was on the horizon, waiting to strike and take me with it.
Two days after dinner, an unbearable headache and muscle pains forced me to take a trip to urgent care. It was odd and surreal. The usual bustling of patients, nurses, and doctors moving throughout the halls was nearly absent. The smiles of the hospital staff were gone, but it was also difficult to decipher their expressions beneath the cover of face masks. During the examination, my doctor could not give me the COVID-19 test, as they had limited inventory and I did not show many of the related symptoms. Instead, I received a flu test, which came back negative, a chest X-ray, which came back clear, and amoxicillin for possible pneumonia. However, I immediately quarantined myself to the master bedroom when I arrived back home.
For the week following that visit, I stayed in my bedroom, fighting through the worsening physical pain while witnessing the emotional pain of the quickest stock market decline in history. I worked to balance the concern of my clients with my own anxiety about having the virus. Managing my clients’ money is a responsibility I do not take lightly.
After seeing my steady decline, my wife insisted I go to the emergency room for immediate care. As she drove, with me in the backseat, I only could hear the wind whipping against the open window and the faint sound of distant sirens. I was astounded by how different the world looked after only a week. The emergency room was now a parking lot covered by tents, with lights hanging off wires. I could almost feel the confusion and uncertainty around me. My wife had to leave the premises, while I had my blood taken, another chest x-ray done, and was administered a COVID-19 test. The results would take some time, so I left the hospital with a more powerful pneumonia medicine and escalating anxiety.
That is when a friend introduced me to a pulmonologist who had been studying the impact of COVID-19 on the lungs. If angels walked on Earth, he would be one of them. He began to FaceTime me three times a day to continuously check on my health, while providing me with invaluable information and options.
When I started having trouble breathing, he encouraged me to obtain an oxygen condenser, which I could plug into the wall and attach a tube to my nose. He also recommended an oxygen saturation monitor, which clasped around my finger in order to monitor my fluctuating levels. This was a game changer. After being on oxygen for only a few days, I slowly began to feel better. It was quite possibly the therapy that saved my life.
I was three weeks into being a presumptive coronavirus case, when I finally received word back that my test result was positive. It was no longer relevant, because the damage had already been done. This virus challenged me physically and mentally in ways that I never thought possible. It also opened my eyes and made me grateful for my health, my family and their health, and for my relationships.
I now realize why I love my career and why I continued to work every day throughout this traumatizing experience. At first, I thought I was doing it because of habit or necessity. In reality, I looked forward to each day of getting to interact with my clients and my team via calls and emails. The love, support, and appreciation I received through these interactions gave me the sense that I was making a difference outside of those four walls of my bedroom. While this virus took me for all I’m worth, it has made me understand that having those personal connections is vital to our health and happiness.
As I write this, I am considered out of the woods but have yet to test negative. I am still quarantined from my family, still counseling clients, and still doing my job as a financial advisor. However, it remains a struggle as I deal with the residual symptoms. As a survivor of COVID-19, I feel lucky and thankful for my family, friends and doctors.
While looking for a way to give back to my community, I came across the need for COVID-19 survivors to donate plasma with antibodies to the virus in order to help other patients. The requirements for donating included a prior diagnosis of COVID-19, complete resolution of symptoms at least 14 days prior to donation and testing negative, or being symptom free for at least 28 days.
Unfortunately, I continue to test positive which makes me ineligible to donate at the moment. But I refuse to sit on the sidelines and witness as others fight the same battle.
Currently, I use technology and social media to coordinate efforts to connect sick COVID-19 patients with plasma donors. The responses I have received from other survivors is remarkable. Although we all struggled as victims, we came out alive on the other side. We now have the rare ability to help other COVID-19 victims fight this battle, and win. It’s inspiring and it makes me proud to be a part of this nation.
Andrew Menachem has been a Financial Advisor in South Florida for over 25 years. He was a co-founder of the Young Philanthropists at Baptist Health as well as a South Miami Hospital Board Member. This recent experience has led him to join the Founder’s Society at Baptist Health.
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