Lying in his bed in the Covid-19 ward at Northside Hospital, Tim Piccarillo let his mind wander. “I only thought about death once,” the St. Petersburg marketing consultant remembers. “It was two days in, when I could tell the pneumonia was starting to escalate, and my breathing was getting heavier. My greatest fear of dying was drowning, where you can’t breathe, you feel death creeping into your lungs. Same thing.”
Piccirillo, 60, was otherwise in good physical shape. In addition, he believed in the power of positive thinking.
But he’d never felt as sick as this.
“I surprised myself that I was at peace with it,” he says. “I used to travel as a motivational speaker, 46 states, Canada, I spoke at NASA … I’ve experienced more than most people, so I was thinking ‘OK God, I’ve had a life well lived. You handle it now.’
“I either wanted to die or I wanted to get better, and I didn’t care which.”
What he didn’t do was allow himself to give in to fear. “I recognized a long time ago, I don’t have control past the end of my nose.”
In less than a week, he was off the hook and out of the hospital. But not quite out of the woods.
“My breathing is better,” Piccirillo reports. “The fatigue is still there, but I’m pushing a little bit every day. I’m coming along well.”
It was the fatigue – severe, bone-deep and constant, that provided the first clue back on June 7. Plus, his Tylenol-proof fever kept going up and down, he had a throbbing headache, and a nasty cough.
“I’ve had chronic fatigue before, but this fatigue was like nothing I’d never experienced. And this went on for a week before I went to the emergency room the first time. It wasn’t getting better. It got to the point where I couldn’t take care of myself any more. The fatigue just knocked me on my butt.”
So Piccirillo drove himself to the Northside E.R., where physicians ordered a small battery of tests – including the Covid nasal swab. If the results come back positive, Piccirillo was told, we’ll call you.
Back at home, the headache had disappeared, but he was still fatigued and feverish. Rather than wait around, he clicked through to the hospital’s patient portal and discovered his test had come back positive. “No one ever called,” Piccirillo reports.
On June 18, he was admitted to Northside, suffering from coronavirus and attendant pneumonia.
“It’s like a scene from Outbreak, that movie with Dustin Hoffman,” Piccirillo laughs.
“I slept in the ER until 3:30 that morning, until they had a bed available. There are 12 beds in the COVID unit. They’re building a second one now.”
His care, he says, was exemplary; his heart rate and oxygen were monitored constantly, and steroids were administered to fight the pneumonia. “It was the best bed I’ve ever been in. It’s an air mattress that contours to your body so you don’t get bedsores.
“You’re laying on your back in a Covid unit knowing there’s no cure and they don’t know what the hell they’re doing. Well, they do know what they’re doing – but they’re taking care of symptoms. They can’t get rid of the virus. The virus, your body has to take care of.
“But they do a stellar job. My followup caregivers have told me they’re starting to get a better handle on taking care of symptoms, they’re cutting down the time of the illness, as well as hospitalizations. They’re honing in on it a little bit.”
Perhaps it was the motivational speaker in Tim Piccirillo (he’s also a “comedy magician” who often performs in public) that caused him to chronicle is Covid experience in a Facebook video.
“I knew I had to do it,” he explains, “because people don’t know what this is about. The first video got 24,000 views. I got so many messages saying ‘Is this real?’ Because they think it’s a hoax, there’s so much misinformation.
“And I’m like ‘Yes, this thing’s real. You can die. You probably won’t, but you’re going to want to die in the meantime, until you get better.’”