“Jeffrey, unfortunately, your test came back positive for the coronavirus.”
Hearing those words from the doctor, March 27, shook me to the core.
Was that a death sentence for me?
Was it a coincidence that my mom years earlier had died in the same month of March?
Was this really how my life was going to end?
The news reports I had been watching and reading reported dire results relative to those who had contracted the virus. Death tolls were rising. Governors began searching for beds and ventilators for people who were being impacted by this virus.
Honestly, I felt like the odds were stacked against me.
The journey for me started with a very slight cough. On March 17, I started experiencing internal digestive symptoms that I initially assumed was a result of me not eating anything that day. It was a Tuesday, which meant it was Press Day at the Houston Forward Times, where I serve as the Associate Editor. Now, it wasn’t uncommon for me to skip breakfast and skip lunch in order to remain laser focused on getting the newspaper done. However, when I started feeling faint, I decided to get something to eat.
I made my way down to the Reggae Hut around 5:30 p.m. and ordered the oxtails, rice and peas and the vegetables, along with a beef patty and a Kola Champagne to drink. I made my way back down to my office with my plate and I ate a little bit of the rice and peas; a little of the vegetables; and barely ate one of the oxtails, before closing the container and putting the plate in the refrigerator. That was the last time I saw that plate or my office.
The next day, I not only had a continuous loss of appetite, I also had stomach pain and was experiencing heavy and unusual bouts of diarrhea. I even had an episode where I went to the bathroom and while on the way, I passed out and was disoriented. I woke up lying on the floor in a sweat, trying to figure out what happened to me. I drank lots of water, tried natural remedies and ceased all of my normal activities. None of that worked or changed my situation.
I self-quarantined and self-isolated for eight days — from Tuesday, March 17 to Wednesday, March 25. During that time, I contacted my primary care physician, who informed me that continuing to self-quarantine was probably the best option at the time, considering the symptoms I was experiencing.
I decided to reach out to my good friend, State Representative Ron Reynolds to express my concerns about my health status, as well as get his advice on whether he thought I should go through one of the drive-thru testing sites that had recently opened. I desperately wanted to get tested, primarily for my peace of mind, but also because I was concerned for my family. They were still living in the same house as me.
I saw the news. I read the media reports online and on social media. It was clear, based on those reports, that I was not displaying the type of respiratory symptoms that the majority of COVID-19 patients were reported to have been experiencing, such as shortness of breath or having a heavy cough. There were also reports that the only way a person could be tested was if they were elderly or a first responder. I was deeply concerned.
A few days after my call with Rep. Reynolds, I received a call on my cell phone from U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee on Wednesday, March 25. She had heard I was experiencing a health challenge and asked me some questions. Congresswoman Jackson Lee then immediately informed me that she wanted me to come down to United Memorial Medical Center (UMMC) on Tidwell to get tested right away. I wasted no time. I asked the Congresswoman for the address and immediately got dressed to make my way to UMMC.
As I was driving to the hospital, Congresswoman Jackson Lee told me that she had already spoken to the Chief Medical Officer for United Memorial Medical Center (UMMC), Dr. Joseph Varon, and that he was prepared to receive me and administer the test.
I was so relieved that I would be able to get tested and get a definitive on whether I had contracted the COVID-19 virus or not.
I arrived to UMMC and was met by Dr. Varon. He walked with me inside to the place where I was to be tested, and he immediately tried to put me at ease. I was told by Dr. Varon that my test results would take anywhere from 24-48 hours to come back, so I waited patiently and eagerly.
As anxious as I was to find out the results on the following day, I decided to give it another day.
On that Friday, March 27, things took a drastic turn for the worse, as it relates to my health. I began to cough, and what I thought would be regular phlegm coming out, turned out to be a significant amount of bright red blood. As this continued to happen, I made the decision to call Dr. Varon and share my update. After hearing my status, Dr. Varon implored me to come to the UMMC Emergency Room (ER) immediately, which I prepared to do.
Before I got off the phone with him, however, he hit me with the update I was anxious to finally receive, but with some news I was definitely hoping and praying not to hear. Dr. Varon informed me that I had tested “POSITIVE” for the coronavirus.
I was shook. My family was stunned. I am a married father of three. My family is everything.
Upon my arrival, there were two large signs that said STOP. My wife, who had followed me to the hospital, was not allowed inside. I was met by medical staff and they ushered me into a room in the ER. She stood outside awaiting word. The nursing staff immediately went to work, initially drawing blood and then taking some vitals at the order of Dr. Varon.
As events would unfold, Dr. Varon would turn out to be one of the primary angels of medicine that made the difference relative to my Coronavirus recovery efforts.
One of the first things Dr. Varon ordered his medical staff to do with me upon my arrival to the ER was to do a CT Scan. For those who may not know, a CT Scan is more detailed than a regular X-ray, and allows doctors to see inside your body by using a combination of X-rays and a computer to create images of your organs and other things inside your body.
Of course, I didn’t know why a CT scan was being performed on me at the time, nor did I know what the end result would be. Let me just say that performing that CT scan on me was the best thing that could have ever happened to me, because it revealed something major that was going on inside my body that couldn’t be seen by looking at me from the outside. The CT scan revealed that my lungs showed a severe case of pneumonia, as well as other issues involving my vital organs that came as a result of the coronavirus.
It was decided at that moment that I needed to be admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) right away. It was then that I realized how serious things were, and it was the moment that I knew that I was going to have to rely on my faith in God.
I called my wife to tell her I was being admitted and informed her that I was not going to be able to have any visitation throughout my time in the ICU. I was on a mental and emotional roller coaster at this point. I didn’t know how long I would be in ICU, but more importantly, whether I would make it out alive. I could not help but think about the time in 2003 when my wife and I took my mom to the ER because she was ill. It was a life-altering experience for me.
After being seen by doctors in the ER, the medical staff informed us that my mom would need to be admitted to address her serious health condition, which turned out to be worse than believed.
My wife and I decided to stay with her, but my mom kept telling us to go home, get some rest and come back the next morning. We stayed anyway. They moved her in the wee hours of the morning to a different floor. It was then that I told her that I was not be going very far, as I chose to sleep at my mother-in-law’s house because it was closer to the hospital than my house was.
As reluctant as I felt leaving my mom at that hospital, nothing compares to the phone call I received from the hospital, no more than five minutes after I laid my head down on the pillow. The nurse on duty called to inform me that my mom had stopped breathing and had slipped into a coma. I mean, right after I left.
They told me that there was a shift change and that my mom had been given a specific medication, and by the time the new nurse on duty went to check on my mom, they became aware of the situation.
I was devastated. I felt guilty. I felt as if I was there, I could’ve possibly done something. Several months later, my mother passed away and I never forgot that moment.
As I was being prepared to go to ICU myself, I was reminded of my mom’s experience, and I was instantly bombarded with memories and emotions about what she endured. I also struggled with the mental anguish of worrying about a virus that reportedly has no cure or vaccine to fight it. I knew I needed to draw on something greater than myself to get through this ordeal.
On Friday, March 27, the journey toward fighting the coronavirus had truly just begun.
Not only did I have a severe case of pneumonia when I entered ICU, my liver and kidneys also needed to be protected from the virus; my heart rate was through the roof; my heart condition worsened and I was headed to the point of potential heart failure; my blood pressure was high; I had a sharp pain in my right side; I continued to have heavy diarrhea episodes; and I still had a loss of appetite. Things were not looking good for me and I felt horrible. I began to wonder if I was ever going to get better.
From the very beginning, I had to rely on my faith in God, as I continued to deal with the mental anguish of being in this coronavirus-specific ICU area, particularly knowing that there were people around with breathing issues and hearing machines go off all day and night, and as I regularly looked at the news and read reports showing the number of people dying on a daily basis as a result of the virus.
I needed a miracle.
Because I didn’t have any respiratory issues, just digestive issues, it caused the doctors to develop a treatment plan for me that was different than other patients they had been treating prior to my arrival to the hospital. Dr. Varon and Dr. Joseph Gathe, Jr. oversaw my care. They created a whole coronavirus cocktail, which included heavy doses of vitamin C, which was specific to my treatment. Per Dr. Varon, my case taught them that they must use high dose blood thinners on every coronavirus patient admitted to the hospital.
After several days, my symptoms began to subside, and my appetite came back in a major way. I longed for my breakfast, lunch and dinner, and couldn’t wait to eat it. Dr. Varon eventually informed me that all of my vital organs had returned to normal and that my blood work and vital signs were solid.
Finally, I felt like I was turning a corner and getting better. That was until a second CT scan was performed, which revealed more shocking and devastating news regarding my health condition.
When the results of my second CT scan came back, it revealed that I had been diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism in my right lung. A pulmonary embolism occurs when blood clots block the flow of blood to the lungs. A pulmonary embolism can be fatal and life-threatening, which is why Dr. Varon and his team promptly took the necessary steps to address the blood clot and reduce my risk of death. I was immediately placed on blood thinner medication.
I continued to follow the instructions of the doctors until I received that wonderful news that on Sunday, April 5, I had made significant and miraculous improvement, and subsequently was being discharged to go home to my family. I was so thrilled, yet still deeply concerned because I still didn’t know whether I was still “POSITIVE” with the coronavirus.
I was concerned about my family and praying they would be fine. Prior to being discharged, I had another COVID-19 test done and was awaiting the results. I self-isolated once again, until I got my second test results. After several days, I got the results and tested “NEGATIVE” for the virus. Because I wanted to be completely sure before interacting with my family again, the doctors administered another COVID-19 test and those results came back “NEGATIVE” as well.
This was a long and faith-filled journey, to which I still am slated to have to deal with this blood clot in my right lung for the next six months or so. I will continue to fight and do what I am supposed to do. In the meantime, I am encouraging everyone, especially my African-American brothers and sisters, to get tested. I believe everyone should be tested immediately, regardless of whether you have symptoms or not.
This is NOT a drill.
This virus is unrepentant and aggressive and can spread quickly to anyone who comes in contact with it. Listen to your local leaders and medical professionals to help stop the community spread.
I am a living witness that you can contract this virus and how it impacts you. Don’t ignore your symptoms and don’t ignore the seriousness of this virus. Don’t be selfish and just think about yourself. Think about your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, loved ones and those you don’t know. Stay safe!
Giants can be intimidating. The fight can many times be tough. Sometimes we lose. Sometimes we win. The common thread in winning versus losing is giving it all you have when you are in the midst of a fight. In the Bible, David showed us that giants can indeed fall. This was my journey, and this is my testimony.
I am forever grateful to God and to everyone who uttered a prayer, shared an encouraging word, providing any resources or sent positive energy my way.
My family and I greatly appreciate each and every one of you. God bless you, and let’s do everything in our power to defeat this horrible and vicious COVID-19 virus.