COVID Diary: Dr. James Wood shares experience as a survivor

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Dr. James Wood is a retired orthopedic surgeon who tested positive for COVID-19 in August 2020 and survived. (Courtesy photo)

By Beverly Richards
Special to the AFRO

In August 2020, retired orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Wood, tested positive for coronavirus. He and his family have what he described as a “pod” of family members that interacted themselves. Whenever his son, who traveled frequently, came in town he would get tested for COVID and wait for the results before he came around the pod. 

His son came back on a Thursday, got tested and had a negative result. He went to the barbershop to get a haircut on Saturday. The shop was following all the CDC guidelines: social distancing, limited number of customers and mandatory masks. On Monday when his son came over to the family pod for dinner, he had a sniffle. The following Wednesday, he told his father he wasn’t feeling good. His son got another test and he was COVID positive. Then, by that Friday, Dr. Wood was congested and sniffling. He then tested positive for COVID-19. He believed this was how he and other members of his pod became infected.

The AFRO spoke with Dr. Wood as he was recovering from COVID-19 and now he said he is doing very well with “good stamina,” a healthy appetite and weight gain. “[It] took a while (three months) for my lungs to feel fully recovered and I took it slow before really pressing hard with workouts,” Dr. Wood explained. 

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AFRO: For those who have had the virus, what do you recommend for them, particularly in regaining their strength?

Dr. Wood: It depends on whether they are long-haulers and if they are still having symptoms eight to 12 weeks down the road. For me, I started steady and slowly, exercising to challenge my body to see what I had and what I needed to build back up to my level of fitness. I had a walking program and an exercise bike. Played some tennis and fast walking and running to see how my heart did. 

AFRO: What was your initial reaction when you discovered you were positive for COVID-19?

Dr. Wood: I’m a physician. So, I called my primary care doctor and she sat me down to discuss how we were going to manage this. I obtained a pulse oximeter to measure my pulse levels at home. I was checking my blood pressure and my temperature every three to four hours, as if I were in a medical facility. They isolated me in the house. 

There were several people in our pod tested positive. My grandson, my other daughter and her boyfriend tested positive. It was interesting, because my wife and daughter did not test positive. But on later testing, they both had antibodies of the HGG nature. So, they did have antibodies with negative tests. The question is, “Did they have an element of immunity before?”

AFRO: Do you think you had an advantage because you are a doctor, in terms of knowing what to do?

Dr. Wood: Yes, I think I had a very distinct advantage because I understood what was happening.  I also understood the metrics that were used to make decisions about my care. Of course, everything was being done virtually. I would speak to my primary care doctor in the morning and evening, and I would give her an update on what my numbers looked like, how I was feeling and what I was doing. And she gave me the criteria for when we should strongly consider when I should go to the hospital. Her admonition to me was, “Don’t wait to fall off the cliff. I want you to go beforehand.”  

There did come a time when we had to make that hard decision. She said she was feeling uncomfortable about me being home and managing this and I should strongly consider going to the hospital. But because I’m a doctor, I had the opportunity to argue back with her. I told her, “Let’s try the antibiotic and steroids now.” I didn’t want to start the steroids early because I wanted to go in that direction early because if I did have the infection, I wanted there to be a robust immune response before I started taking them. I was at that point where I was getting sick enough, the cough, fever and profound fatigue. 

The other piece was that I continued to eat and drink fairly normally. Those were good signs.  That I could continue to eat and drink and get nutrition and get fluids on a regular basis was critical because again, when you are running a fever you need to hydrate. If you are having trouble because of nausea or vomiting you are obligated to go to the hospital to get an IV to keep your fluids up. If I was able to eat, get the fluids in, expel my secretions, oxygenate my blood, that was a good sign that I could still manage it at home. 

AFRO: Did you have any distinct symptoms beyond the sniffling?

Dr. Wood: Oh yes, I was very sick. COVID goes through a cycle. You get the constitutional symptoms and I seemed to have followed the classic course. The sniffles progressed to upper respiratory and lower respiratory, coughing and shortness of breath. I had profound fatigue. I could get up and feel good for about 15 minutes and then feel like I got hit by a ton of bricks. I would have to get back in the bed. I had joint pain, shoulder and hips, and a terrible bursitis feeling. I was coughing. The good thing about my infection was when I coughed, I was able to expel my secretion. This was a critical piece. 

I didn’t develop a fever right away. It came later, about the sixth or seventh day. I spiked to about 103 degrees with significant chills and sweats. I drenched my bed clothes.

AFRO: When you say you were still able to eat, were you able to taste the food?

Dr. Wood: I did not have the loss of taste and smell. But things were dull. So, I didn’t lose it completely. I could still tell the texture, but it was not as sharp. Also, I could still smell, and I kept checking because everyone kept talking about it being one of the signs and symptoms. 

AFRO: What was the worst part of the experience?

Dr. Wood: You hit this fork in the road. You don’t know which way you’re going to go. Around the eight, ninth or tenth day, some people will hit that point where they will start to get really sick or they will slowly start finding their way to getting better. And you just don’t know what that will be with you. I kept looking closely at my parameters. 

People die with this disease and some die quickly. This virus attacks everything in its sight. Then you get quiet. Get into your faith and into your mental state and do what you need to do.

AFRO: How long did it take before you started to get better?

Dr. Wood: I had those three days of fever and night sweat and fatigue. It was around the eighth to eleventh day I realized I kept holding my objective findings: my pulse, blood pressure and temperature. On the eleventh day I hadn’t sweated and my temperature was down and stayed stable. We managed the temperature with Tylenol, which was God-sent. It really works with the muscle aches and fever.

AFRO: What advice would you give to those who have not had Coronavirus yet?

Dr. Wood: My clear advice is to strongly consider having the vaccine. I think as we look at the vaccine, we see a good safety profile. I think it takes you out of the host category where the virus is floating around a group of people. But when it comes to you, you won’t be a welcoming host. And you will have the ability to quickly recognize the virus when it gets into your respiratory system.