A personal tale from the front line of battling COVID-19

Baseball is ramping up, and so is the coronavirus.

As fans anticipate baseball’s start next month, the acceleration of COVID-19 could still put a premature end to the 60-game season or even to the postseason.

The virus is nothing to take lightly. I know first-hand.

In 2020, I have battled two formidable foes while facing life-and-death situations: I knocked out a rare autoimmune disease that attacked my liver and gave me - at best - a 50-50 chance of survival. Before my treatments ended, I tested positive for COVID-19, the virus that is ravaging the United States with more than two million cases and a rising death toll that could reach 200,000 by this fall.

The disease and the virus were a punishing duo, which I assume was much like pitching against the 1927 Yankees with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

My rare disease struck on Jan. 13 and landed me in the hospital. Five rounds of chemotherapy knocked the disease into remission, and midway through my treatments, I tested positive for COVID-19. Before the virus left my body, it reignited the liver disease.

Overall, I was in the hospital for seven-plus weeks and in COVID-19 quarantine for 28 days.

On March 19, one of my final chemo treatments at Sibley Memorial Hospital in northwest Washington was called off because of a low fever and constant cough.

Two days later, after a nose-swab test in a drive-through tent outside Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, my wife, Lisa, delivered the news: “There’s no way to sugar-coat this. But you have COVID-19.’‘

It was shocking because we didn’t know how the double whammy of a virus with no cure and a liver disease with uncertain odds was going to play out. My doctor told me that my compromised immune system was strong enough to take on COVID-19. I kept telling myself that for comfort.

His instructions were to quarantine for 14 days and stay home unless I had breathing problems or a temperature of 103 degrees.

I was isolated in my bedroom while Lisa decamped to sleep in our office. My son, Emmett, 13, was doing online schooling. I could hear him going up and down the stairs throughout the day, but he couldn’t come into my bedroom. I talked to him each night on FaceTime. That was strange, knowing he was in his bedroom 50 feet away.

Lisa had COVID-19 symptoms, too. She struggled with coughing, fever and shortness of breath. At times, she couldn’t make it up our stairs without stopping halfway.

She’d have breathing issues in the middle of the night and would wind up calling a telemedicine doctor. She blew into a brown paper bag to keep her inflamed lungs open.

There was a period of several days when neither Lisa nor I could get out of bed, leaving Emmett and his mask-covered face to be the caretaker. He’d leave food for me at my bedroom door.

Lisa is still having episodes of periodic shortness of breath months later.

For me, the first few days of COVID-19 were uncomfortable, but not bad. It didn’t take long for me to feel as if I had been hit by a freight train.

I knew I had plunged into a medical world of uncertainty. My body ached. My throat felt as if I had swallowed pieces of sharp glass. I had triple-digit fevers daily and chills that lasted hours. I coughed constantly. I slept as much as I could, sometimes 18 hours a day.

I was dehydrated and my appetite was non-existent. I tried to eat, but food and water tasted terrible. Friends worried that I was going to have kidney issues if I didn’t eat or drink. The only food that tasted all right was Ensure, a protein drink.

Symptoms took turns attacking me.

I had night sweats and woke up each morning with a fever, sometimes dangerously close to 103. Tylenol relieved the fever and then the chills would start. I’d put on a stocking cap, a sweatshirt and an extra blanket and shake for three hours. After shaking so hard for so long, emergency-room doctors tested my heart for damage.

The fatigue was so miserable that just going to the bathroom - or turning over in bed - was a painful chore. I talked to friends on the phone, but after a few minutes, I’d be exhausted.

The most unsettling time was before going to sleep at night. I prayed that my temperature wouldn’t hit the danger zone while asleep. I hoped that I wouldn’t have chest tightening or shortness of breath in the night. Some nights, I had panic attacks and walked around my room to calm down.

One morning, I woke up and felt cool. Could this nightmare be over? Guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) said that if there is no fever for 72 consecutive hours, I could be through the worst.

Turned out I was, but the drama wasn’t over. I went to the ER more than once.

One night, when Lisa and I were watching TV, my heart started racing. I had a fever, started coughing and feeling short of breath. Lisa called the emergency room and was told to bring me in immediately.

As I lay in an ER bed, the doctor looking over my blood work said, “You are in a pickle.”

I tested positive again for COVID-19, but doctors weren’t sure if I really still had it, or if I had neutropenia, a shortage of white blood cells common in chemo patients. Symptoms for each were similar.

I was resigned to another week on the hospital’s COVID-19 floor, where nurses dressed in plastic gowns, gloves, face shields, head covers and miniature oxygen tanks that made them look like astronauts walking around my room.

Visitors were not allowed, not even Lisa and Emmett.

Doctors decided it was neutropenia, and I was able to rebuild my immune system with drugs and daily shots. It took six days for my white blood cell count to be at a satisfactory level. I was free to go home.

After my most recent chemotherapy treatment June 19, my lab work was back in normal range. My doctor reviewed my numbers on the computer screen and exclaimed, “NICE.’‘

At this point, I have one chemotherapy treatment left. I am building strength and hope that after nearly six months of sickness, I can focus on baseball numbers and not the numbers in my blood work.

The weirdest number will be the 60-game season. But the novelty is that baseball will begin in the heat of a pennant race, a sprint rather than a marathon.

That’s the best baseball can do in bizarre times. For me, I’m just glad I’m around to see it.