Virginia COVID-19 survivor had 'paralyzing' pain, 'feeling of suffocating'

'Someone standing on your chest not being able to breathe... People don’t understand'
Posted at 8:22 PM, Jul 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-13 02:00:02-04

MIDLOTHIAN, Va. -- As Virginia saw a jump in COVID-19 cases over the weekend, a survivor of the virus and an infectious disease epidemiologist warn the pandemic is far from over.

Thomas Bryan spoke Sunday from the comfort of his Midlothian home -- a place just a few months ago, he wasn't sure he would ever see again.

"I was already starting to hear stories of people going to the hospital and not coming back, and so I tried to make preparations here and I started thinking about what would happen if I didn’t come back here."

Thomas Bryan
Thomas Bryan

Bryan contracted COVID-19 on a business trip to San Francisco in March, and after being discharged from a California emergency room without a COVID test, he flew back to Virginia. Only to find himself back in the hospital two days later. This time at Johnston Willis ICU.

"Incredible physical pain. Just huge amounts of unbelievable blinding, paralyzing back pain. It just hurt a lot," Bryan said. "And that combined with a really high fever."

As his conditioned worsened, Bryan said breathing got harder. It nearly took his life.

"The feeling of suffocating -- someone standing on your chest not being able to breathe," Bryan said. "I think people don’t understand that they are risking being as sick as that."

Over the weekend the Virginia Department of Health reported ajump in COVID-19 cases with a total of 70,670 cases Sunday -- up 888 from Saturday.

Infectious Disease Epidemiologist Richard Wenzel said now is the time to be cautious -- especially when it comes to indoor activities.

"The risk of infection indoors is probably 20 times -- and in some studies in Asia -- 30 times greater than outdoors," Wenzel said.

He said wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and good hygiene, and staying outdoors is the best way you can protect yourself.

"It literally takes one mistake to change your life and your family’s life," Bryan said. "People are done with COVID. They’re tired of being home. They’re tired of being locked away in quarantine or isolation. But COVID is clearly not done with us. And we have to get our heads around the fact that we have to play by its rules. It has no intention of playing by ours."

Bryan said he was successfully able to donate convalescent plasma on June 4, which was used to benefit two patients in Winchester.

"Which was incredibly heartening and encouraging to me that after all I'd been through, that I would be able to do something to help people who are currently as sick as I was at the beginning of this," Bryan said. "It seems like the least I could do after everything I've been through -- if I could spare those patients and their families the pain that I had been through in any way, than it was worth it."

Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia Emergency Support team planned to hold a press conference on Tuesday at 2 p.m. to provide updates on Virginia's COVID-19 response.

Depend on CBS 6 News and for the most complete coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Precautions

Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.