Jason and his wife Leslie and his mom Diane. (Courtesy photo)
Hello world! Back from the brink to try this living thing one more time. It will be a long road to recovery as I have lost 35 pounds – not in a good way – and have to learn how to build my lungs to breathe normally again so standing doesn’t become a chore.
The outpouring of support from family, friends, co-workers, my school community, and random people was heart-warming and unexpected. I didn’t think I mattered or made an impact to warrant such support. There are going to be a ton of thank-yous as this story goes on, but I want to first start with my wife, Leslie. She was put in a super difficult position and stood up to the challenge by updating the world on my condition, notifying family, friends, and my school community about changes, all while being alone and under quarantine herself. She would work with my mom to get daily updates from the hospital, which I also have many thanks (more on that later). Even now, she takes care of me by helping dress the pressure wounds on my feet, taking out the trash, making dinner, going to the store – things I usually do for us but as of now, cannot. She has been a rock, and I am so proud of her.
What she did while I was in a coma was amazing, considering that on the day I went under, we truly did not say the kind of goodbyes that would have been memorable had things turned very grim.
On Tuesday, March 24, Leslie pressed me to go to see the doctor about my breathing. I appeared annoyed, not at her request, but at the fact, I still hadn’t shaken whatever it was. For a week I was muddling through fluctuating fevers, body aches, and nasal congestion. But then I started feeling shortness of breath. I moved quickly to get a chest x-ray per the doctor’s orders, and our parting was unmemorable. That could have been the last time my wife saw me alive.
My doctor sent me to one facility for an x-ray, but they couldn’t do it and suggested I go to the urgent care near the hospital. I told Leslie in a text message what was going on. No big deal. I didn’t call her because I could tell her later.
I went to the urgent care run by Frederick Memorial Hospital and immediately they saw something was wrong with me. After a quick check on the pulse oximeter (that little black thing they put on your finger), they rushed me into a room and gave me oxygen. They started calling in more people to look at me and eventually said I needed to go to the emergency room. I notified Leslie, who was clearly worried, but things were moving so fast, including the two-minute ambulance drive across the street to the emergency room, where I sat for an hour breathing in oxygen.
They put me in a room where a nurse began to set up me with an IV and all that jazz. But he kept looking at the monitor, then to me, and eventually started grabbing other nurses and doctors. I was then told the bad news: you likely have pneumonia, and we have to put you on a ventilator. It had only been four hours since I left home for the x-ray, and now I’m getting ready to be put under. I didn’t know it would be another 10 days before I would wake up. I didn’t know that only about 4 in 10 adults who were intubated during the coronavirus pandemic would ever come off the ventilator and/or survive. Had I known that, and if the doctors weren’t rushing to get started, I would have made my last words with Leslie more meaningful. She cried, and I tried to console her as best as I could. She didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to do – I was just as scared. God forbid that if I didn’t make it, our goodbye wouldn’t have been anything worth recalling. I must now always be mindful, whether I’m just running to the store or about to enter a medical procedure, goodbyes with my wife must be intentional and memorable.
Thankfully I’ve returned, and in my absence, Leslie stepped up and showed her mettle in so many ways. And so did many others who supported Leslie in my absence and gave me their love, hopes, and prayers on social media, emails and text messages (which I couldn’t read until I came home because they sent my phone home to Leslie). Those thank-yous will come later.
As I tell my story, I do want everyone to realize that COVID-19 is no joke. You can be lucky like Leslie, who also tested positive but her symptoms were mild, or you could end up like me. The virus snuck up on me. A week before, I had only some of the symptoms – fever, body aches, loss of smell/taste; yet, I could breathe. For a week I suffered what I thought would be just a flu-like illness, though I was tested the Friday before I turned for the worse. That last symptom, loss of breathing, came over a week after symptoms first appeared.
Hear my story over these next few days and take it as a lesson in love and a warning of what could be if we think our stock portfolios are more important than staying safe from this virus.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of a five-part series that Jason Flanagan penned on Facebook and granted permission for us to re-publish. You can read Part 2 and 3 here. Please read our stories on Jason’s fight to survive:
Jason Flanagan has been a journalist for nearly 12 years. At the age of 19, he began working for The Prince George’s Journal covering sports and later covered crime and education. A graduate of the University of Maryland-College Park, Jason worked as a reporter and editor at The Diamondback and was recognized for his spot news coverage of the Beltway sniper in 2002. He has also worked at The Prince George’s Gazette, where he covered local and county governments, and most recently at The Baltimore Examiner, where he covered local and state governments as well as the military. Jason, a father of two daughters, is an English and journalism teacher and girls soccer coach at a high school in Maryland, where he constantly annoys students by correcting their writing and quoting long-since-dead authors. Follow Jason on twitter at @flanglish