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Dispatches from a Pandemic: ‘I’m not going to lie, it was a nightmare’: A recovered New Jersey coronavirus patient urges caution — and hope

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A New Jersey breast-cancer survivor and marathon runner who pulled through coronavirus wants to spread hope that there can be life after COVID-19 — and urge people to stay home until the pandemic is over.

“It is scary. I’m not going to lie, it was a nightmare,” John Mormando, a 53-year-old commodities broker from Oakland, N.J., told MarketWatch of his weeklong hospitalization last month. “But just knowing people are getting through this, there is hope.”

In the four days that followed, he went to work, took New Jersey Transit with his ‘train buddies,’ spent time around his wife and 20-year-old son, and even went bowling again.

Mormando, an avid bowler, believes he caught COVID-19 from shaking a friend’s hand while subbing in on a Sunday night bowling league March 1. In the four days that followed, he went to work, took New Jersey Transit with his “train buddies,” spent time around his wife and 20-year-old son, and even went bowling again. In hindsight, he said he was “100% confident” he didn’t get anyone else sick during that time.

But on March 5, Mormando came down with his first fever and chills and decided to self-quarantine in his family room, which has its own bathroom and a couch. His friend, who had thought he was coming down with a cold the night they bowled together and started feeling sicker a day later, texted that he was getting tested for COVID-19.

A day later, Mormando and his wife went to Hackensack Hospital, where staff took his temperature, gave him a chest X-ray, and tested for a range of other coronaviruses and influenza viruses, all of which came back negative. When he inquired about a COVID-19 test, the doctor noted he had only been sick for a day and hadn’t been out of the country. If his symptoms persisted, the doctor said, he should tell his primary doctor.

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“He was being smart and sensible, and I agreed with him at the time — I said, ‘I don’t think I have the coronavirus; I think I’m probably just sick,’” Mormando said. “Little did I know.”

Mormando went to his doctor in Paramus, N.J., on March 11, receiving a coronavirus test that he said would later come back positive. A day later, he woke up after what he called “a bad night.” “I was coughing uncontrollably and my wife just looked at me and said, ‘We’re going back to the hospital,’” he said.

This time, they went to the Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, N.J., with which his doctor was affiliated. A CAT scan revealed he had a mild case of pneumonia; that, along with his fever and chills, prompted the doctor to suspect he had COVID-19 and admit him.

Mormando spent about a week in the hospital.

Mormando remained in isolation for days, hooked up to an IV with fluids and medicated with fever-reducing Tylenol JNJ, -1.77%  and a cough suppressant with codeine. His fevers ran up to 102 and 103 degrees. He says he couldn’t breathe properly, and couldn’t get warm even under the weight of nine blankets.

Around March 15, Mormando said, his symptoms “peaked” and he summoned a nurse. Earlier that day, he recalled, he’d had a nebulizer treatment with albuterol, which is used to treat difficulty breathing. “I was having a real rough time; chills really bad. My lungs were basically spasming. I couldn’t breathe that well,” he said. “She just looked at me and said, ‘I’m calling in the respiratory team.’”

Mormando says he only received his positive COVID-19 test result toward the end of his hospital stay. ‘I was like, No kidding,’ he said.

As the team worked around him, Mormando overheard one person say, “I think we’re going to take him into the ICU and intubate him.” Mormando said he protested about being admitted to the intensive-care unit. “I just felt like if I go to the ICU, I’m going to die there,” he said. “I didn’t want to be sedated to have a breathing tube — I just said, ‘No, no way, no way.’ I said, ‘I’m going to get through this.’”

About 20 minutes later, he did. The chills subsided, his breathing improved, and he started feeling better. His temperature ticked down over the next couple of days, and his chills became shorter and less violent. His condition improved gradually, and the doctor said he could continue recovering at home. He returned home March 18.

Mormando says he only received his positive COVID-19 test result toward the end of his hospital stay. “I was like, ‘No kidding,’” he said.

Mormando, who in 2018 underwent treatment for breast cancer, which he said was related to his working near Ground Zero after 9/11. Despite that, he said that he tends to have a positive attitude. “When you beat cancer, you think you can do anything,” he said. But during the brief time when his coronavirus symptoms peaked, he said, he feared for his life.

“Even through all the chemotherapy and the radiation, I never had a problem where I thought I was going to die from that,” he said. “I never had trouble breathing — that was the big difference.”

Mormando now feels better and considers himself recovered, save for a lingering cough, which his doctor said might last a few more days. He’s working from home, walking laps in the backyard, and hoping he can resume training soon for his first full Ironman triathlon, which is slated for July 26 in Lake Placid, should it proceed as planned.

Mormando’s wife has joined him for TV time (at a safe distance) for the past few nights.

Mormando, who last slept in his own bed March 4, also tacked extra time onto his family-room self-quarantine out of an abundance of caution. He would feel guilty if he got even one person sick, he said.

He still wears a mask, consumes the food and drink his wife brings downstairs, and interacts with his son about once a day. His wife has joined him from a safe distance to watch television the past few nights, and last weekend, they celebrated her birthday over Italian takeout.

‘It really bothers me that we’ve seen people on beaches. It just bothers me that people are being so ignorant about this.’

But, he said, “this too shall pass.” “I’m just not taking any chances, and I don’t think anybody else should be either,” Mormando said. “It really bothers me that we’ve seen people on beaches. It just bothers me that people are being so ignorant about this.”

Mormando described himself as an outgoing person who did plenty of handshaking pre-coronavirus — folks at the bowling alley call him “the Mayor,” he said. And now? He said he would think twice before shaking hands until COVID-19 was eradicated, and a vaccine became widely available. He believes everyone else should, too.

He also urged Americans to listen to their local officials and follow social-distancing guidelines. “If you feel sick, do not go out,” he added. “Keep yourself away for as much time as you can.”

As for those who do contract the disease, Mormando stressed the importance of staying positive. With little to do in the hospital last month besides watch TV, Mormando recalled the grim feeling of seeing the COVID-19 death toll rise. As of Wednesday evening, New Jersey had 22,255 confirmed coronavirus cases and 355 deaths; nationally, there were 206,207 confirmed cases and 4,542 deaths.

“I thought, somebody needs to be a ray of hope out there and say people are living from this — it’s not all death,” Mormando said. “I’m a normal guy, a regular guy that got through it.”