Mike Williams, 73, of Frenchtown Township, tested positive on April 5 for COVID-19 coronavirus. He now asks others to stay home and prevent the spread of the virus.

“Are you having any trouble breathing?”

“No, not any more than usual,” Mike Williams asserted from the comfort of his living room couch.

“Have you checked your blood sugar today?”

“Yes, this morning. It was 155,” the 73-year-old explained to his home care nurse. It was a bit high, but it might have been from the peanut butter cracker he ate that morning.

“Have you had a fever?”

“No, not for a while,” he stated proudly.

They seemed like easy questions, but his freedom was riding on those answers, along with successful vital sign readings. After nearly a month of illness, he was ready to get the “all-clear” nod from doctors.

Watching Williams kicked back on his couch, stroking his wiry, white beard and making the frequent grandpa-style joke, you’d never guess he had tasted death just three weeks ago.

You might even consider his recovery a miracle.

On April 5, Williams tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. With pneumonia inundating his lower left lung and asbestos dusting the remainder, Williams assumed the diagnosis was a death sentence – without even factoring in a number of other preexisting health conditions.

“What I thought was, ‘If I gotta go, I gotta go,’” he told The Monroe News from his Frenchtown Township home. “But I didn’t want to die gasping for breath.”

After a long month spent partially in the hospital and under home quarantine, Williams underwent his final check-up Wednesday afternoon. ProMedica Monroe home health care nurse Andrea Tocco officially discharged him as a COVID- 19 patient and his quarantine requirements were lifted.

“I’m so proud of you,” Tocca said. “You made it. I told you we will get through this together. This was both of our first times doing this.”

The moment was surreal for Williams who couldn’t help but think back to being trapped in a hospital room, alone, with few hopes for survival. For now, he’s keeping his breathing machine, continues to battle renewed bouts of anxiety and has fears about leaving his house again, but Williams is alive. There’s nothing he could be more thankful for.

“A big weight has been lifted,” he said. “I don’t ever want to go through something like that again.”

THE DIAGNOSIS

Beginning in early April, Williams wasn’t feeling like himself. At first, it didn’t exactly feel like sickness, he said, but something definitely was off. “We were sitting there, and I kept saying that I was acting goofy,” he said, while his son, Mike Jr., 34, nodded in agreement. “I didn’t have pain or anything, but I knew I wasn’t feeling right.”

About a week went by before more noticeable symptoms began to arrive. The only way to describe it, he said, was like the flu. He had a low-grade fever, achy joints – achier than normal, that is – and started getting the shivers.

But it was his self-identified “goofiness” that really began to worry him, so he went to the emergency room at ProMedica Monroe Regional Hospital. They sent him straight to the X-ray machine.

Results showed that Williams had pneumonia, a lung infection that was coating the left-lower side. Doctors were prepared to prescribe antibiotics and send him on his way until some of his symptoms – like loss of taste – seemed to scream something other than pneumonia, he said.

They ordered a COVID-19 test. With a long swab that’s stuck up the nose, Williams called it the worst medical test he’s ever endured. And due to an initial error, he had to take it twice.

Two days later, the test came back positive. That’s when the panic set in.

After 70 years, Williams has created quite the laundry list of health conditions that would make him particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 respiratory virus, including age. There’s the pleural plaque in his left lung, a disease caused by asbestos from serving in the U.S. Navy from 1965-69.

He’s also a diabetic with heart disease, and most recently, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“A lot of people were dying, and I’m like, ‘Why? Why am I still here (alive)? Someone must have messed up somewhere,’ ” he said.

Williams was monitored on the third floor, which was designated for COVID-19 patients, where he was kept in an ominous, empty room with a plastic sheet blocking his bed from the doorway.

When health care workers entered the room, they usually stayed six feet away unless providing direct medical attention. They wore what he described as “space suits” – full personal protective equipment with helmets – which scared him even more.

Visitors weren’t allowed, just phone calls, which at times were difficult because he spent much of his stay on a respirator, as both the virus and pneumonia made breathing difficult. Basically, he was alone, except for his nurse, Erica, whom he expressed endless gratitude for.

“That’s what drives you up the wall, not talking to anyone,” he said. “And they won’t tell you anything … You could just hear people in the next room hacking away … You sometimes hear nurses talking, and I know at least two people died while I was there.”

THE RECOVERY

After five days in the hospital, Williams was cleared to return home but certainly not OK’d to return to normal life. At this point, he was feeling better, but not completely healthy again.

He was among the experimental group given hydroxychloroquine, a prescription drug approved decades ago to treat malaria, but it’s unknown if the medication can be attributed to his recovery.

He was ordered to self-quarantine at home for a minimum of 14 days, with Tocco, his at-home nurse, visiting twice the first week and once the subsequent weeks in addition to telehealth visits. His quarantine eventually was extended to 20 days.

Although he was on the mend and nurse visits usually consisted of simply checking his vitals, the experience brought back memories of caring for his late wife as she underwent chemotherapy before dying of cancer. Between the flood of unpleasant memories – and nearly meeting death himself – the diagnosis has reintroduced anxiety issues he hasn’t experience in years. “My anxiety has been elevated at night, so (Mike Jr.) would bring his video games out (to the living room) at night, so I could just be by another human being,” he said.

Since returning home, Williams also has been catching up on the specifics of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order. While he applauds the governor for making the tough calls, he’s been floored by the opposition to self-isolation and business closures.

He said he’s disheartened by those toting guns to the state Capitol, potentially blocking traffic to local hospitals and arguing for personal freedom, rather than the lives of residents who, like him, have been fighting for their lives.

“When I see people protesting (on the news), I want to take a baseball bat to the TV,” he said. “They don’t know what this is like. If you keep going out, you are putting yourself and your children in danger.”

“It is very serious, and if you continue to go out, you are an idiot,” he said matter of factly.

Even after being cleared, Williams said he still doesn’t plan to go out much himself unless absolutely necessary. Health care workers are encouraging him to get out for mental health purposes, but if he does, he plans to wear a mask and gloves.

From his perspective, he believes it would be best to reopen the county and state in phases, rather than suddenly flood offices, restaurants and stores after the “Stay Safe, Stay Home” order expires, mostly to protect from another wave of infection.

As The Monroe News packed up to leave his home, Williams asked if he could leave five parting words, hoping they might stick with people who read this article.

“Keep your a— at home,” he quietly, but firmly, pleaded.

***

This is among the news and features The Monroe News is making available for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. You can find other news and announcements at our coronavirus special section.

Please support local journalism with a subscription to The Monroe News. 

***