With COVID Diaries, the Catalyst is putting a face on the novel coronavirus, telling the individual stories of Tampa Bay residents who struggle, or have struggled, with COVID-19 first-hand. If that’s you, or someone you know, we encourage you to contact us at Spark@stpetecatalyst.com.
For Martin Clear, this July 4 truly was Independence Day.
The 68-year-old retrired journalist was diagnosed with COVID-19 at the end of June and admitted to Advent Hospital in Tampa. After a week of isolation, constant monitoring and treatment for a couple of ancillary issues, he was sent home Saturday to self-quarantine for a week.
The first thing he did when he got home was take a shower. It had been eight days.
Despite his diagnosis, he says, “I don’t think I was ever afraid for my life; I was scared that it would be a long process and that it would get worse. It was scary, because I don’t know any more about this than anybody else.” There was no delirium, no excessively high fever.
It was Friday morning, June 28, when Martin Clear – a diabetic who also suffers from kidney disease – drove himself to the Advent E.R.
“I’d been extremely exhausted for about a week and a half, and just couldn’t deny it any more,” he recalls. “The day before, I slept 20 hours out of 23, and I was still too tired to get out of bed.”
His blood pressure was 70 over 40, dangerously low. His sodium levels were low, too. “I actually passed out in the examination room, and they admitted me right away. But they got my blood pressure up quickly and I was feeling pretty good by the next day.”
Early Sunday morning, his temperature read 100.9. The COVID-19 test was administered around 10 a.m.
“People are calling it a Q-Tip, but it’s a wire with something on the end of it, maybe a cotton swab,” Clear says. “They stick it way far up there and swish it around, and then they do it in the other nostril. It was really painful for a couple seconds, and then … you could still feel it for a while afterwards.”
That post-swab feeling, he adds, “didn’t hurt, it wasn’t uncomfortable, but you could tell something had been farther up your nose than things usually are.”
He fell asleep, and was jolted awake at 2 p.m. “I looked up and there were two nurses standing there in heavy duty, driving-through-plutonium suits. They got me on a gurney as fast as they could and wheeled me out of there. And got me into a COVID unit.”
As he was settling in to his quarantine facility – really just a private room with a flatscreen TV and a couch no on would ever sit on – the nurses recited what Clear assumed was standard operating procedure: “They were telling me that I would have to have two negative tests, a week apart, and that if they were both negative then I could go home. So I was thinking, another eight days, minimum.”
The Advent doctor assured Clear that his case was a mild one. Still, on Tuesday, he relates, he developed pneumonia. Treated with steroids, it was gone by the next day.
He was on an IV drip and an oxygen mask for much of the week, as the coronavirus was waited out. The nurses in “suits of armor” came by often. “They were unfailingly cheerful and helpful and as concerned with my mood as they were with my physical health,” he’d later write on Facebook.
Friends called frequently and monitored his bored and admittedly cranky social media musings; they also had clothes and books delivered.
Because of his diabetes and kidney issues, he received – after loudly complaining about it – a special diet.
By Friday, he was breathing fine without the supplemental oxygen. Things began to look up. “Once I started to see the numbers, and I was able to breathe without the oxygen, and the nurses all seemed really encouraged … my doctor said that because my numbers were so good, I wouldn’t have to take another test.”
Before the doctor green-lit his discharge, he was told to contact his primary care physician, and to self-quarantine for a week. He’s on Medicare, which he describes as “fantastic” insurance.
The long-delayed shower was Marty Clear’s idea.
So how did he get COVID-19? Clear has a job in a Tampa package store, but he wears gloves and a mask, and just two customers are allowed in at a time. “There’s no telling,” he says. “You can get it anywhere. I’ve been as careful as I could, going to the grocery store wearing masks.
“It’s just there, you know? It’s like ‘Who did you catch this cold from?’ It could have been anybody, if there’s a cold going around.”