It didn’t take long, once his symptoms began, for Mike Sutton to theorize he had contracted Covid-19.
The 40-year-old president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity for Pinellas and West Pasco Counties had his uneasy epiphany on the 13th of August.
“I started to get extremely cold, and then I was shaking uncontrollably,” Sutton recalls. “Which was really strange. And in the first 24 hours, I would be completely normal, with a 97.3 degree temperature – and then it would spike to 104. Then it would drop back down, and then spike again. I was battling a fever that was out of control, up and down.”
The next day, he dragged himself to the closest emergency room. “By then, I was having a hard time just standing and walking,” he says. “I couldn’t hold down any food or drink.” He was intravenously hydrated, his fever was brought under control … and he was tested for the novel coronavirus.
Sutton was released, but he returned to the ER at 4 a.m. At that point, “I had a pain in the backside of my head that was pretty severe, to the place where I couldn’t even hold my head up.”
Even before his test came back positive for Covid, the medical team had figured it out. Sutton’s oxygen levels were low, and he was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia. He was admitted to the Covid ward at Largo Medical Center.
Covid-19 is indiscriminate, Mike Sutton discovered.
“I did the contact tracing with the Department of Health, and we could not track it back to any particular situation or person,” he explains. “No one in my family, and no one I’m close to, has had it. No one in our office had it.
“They think I either picked it up at a grocery store, or at the gas station or something like that. Just passing somebody.”
This re-played in his mind, over and over, as he lay in isolation, attached to an IV drip, and monitors for his heart and his oxygen levels. He was mentally and physically exhausted.
The thoughts that swim inside a fevered brain …
“There was a 48-hour period when I was first admitted that the pain was so severe, and the symptoms were so severe … I lost 20 pounds over a period of 48 hours. During that time, I literally couldn’t even sip a glass of water, it was that hard to do.
“I was scared to death. Each time I would fall into sleep, there was a part of me that thought gosh, I can totally see now why people are dying from this. I kept thinking, Thank God I’m relatively healthy. That was my only saving grace at the time.”
No visitors were allowed, and the doctors and nurses who stopped by like clockwork were dressed head-to-toe in “Hazmat suits,” as Sutton came to call them.
“My doctor could walk by me right now and I wouldn’t have any idea who he was.”
On the third day, he received the first of five treatments of the anti-viral medication Remdesivir, which has been successful in beating down the fever and lung-scarring that accompanies a case of Covid-19.
Five days later, Sutton recalls, “I felt like a completely different person. It was almost an immediate response. My infectious disease doctor said that he hadn’t seen somebody bounce back as quick as I did.”
Remdesivir is not a “cure” for Covid-19. “The infectious disease guys are concerned, because they don’t know the longterm effects of it,” remarks Sutton. “I didn’t even give two thoughts about it while we were talking through that as an option.
“They’d given me a number of different things to read about it, and I just thought to myself look, I’m 40 years old, I’m relatively healthy – hit me with that stuff now, and we’ll deal with the side effects, long term, later.”
After seven days in the isolation ward, Mike Sutton is back home, non-feverish, with oxygen levels in the correct place. He’s been thoroughly checked and re-checked. He’s gone back to the office a few times, although he still tires easily.
“I’m a pretty hard-charging person, go, go, go,” he laughs. “That’s probably been one of the hardest parts for me, just to calm it down, and pace myself. It’s a matter of staying on that path, to make sure that I’m fully healed and fully recovered.”
Still … “it’s fun to be able to say I’m Covid-free, and that I kicked its ass.”