Wilton resident Brian McDermott is used to being on the caregiving side of illness. As a long-time volunteer for the Wilton Volunteer Ambulance Corps, he’s a frontline healthcare first responder. But he just spent the last three weeks in a fight for his life, wrestling with what he calls a “beast” of a virus, COVID-19.
After winning that battle, McDermott shared his experience in a video interview with GOOD Morning Wilton, to explain to readers what he went through.
He felt first symptoms on Friday, April 3. “I was having dinner with my family, and all of a sudden I got the chills like you wouldn’t believe. And I’m like, ‘Something’s not right.’ You just kind of know it.”
Knowing his risk was high, as a volunteer EMT, he assumed it was COVID-19.
“So I immediately just isolated myself to the bedroom downstairs that’s separate from the rest of the house. That was really just night one. It was mostly just chills. I had a fever, but I didn’t really feel bad at that point,” McDermott described.
His next symptom was a headache that hurt well beyond anything he had ever experienced.
“People talk about sinus headaches and pressure headaches and things like that. This is times 10. I felt like my head was going to explode at any point and literally like, not even like a figure of speech. I really thought I was going to explode at that point. I think the fever was 102 still had the chills had a headache.”
He sought out a test, which came back negative. “I was kind of dumbfounded that it was negative given the symptoms that I had, knowing what the symptoms of the virus are, my patient contacts and all of that. The doctor called me with the result. She basically didn’t believe it. She told me that about 30% of the tests that get sent out come back as false negatives.”
The symptoms continued. “Severe headaches, nothing’s working. No medication–Tylenol wasn’t working. It would reduce the fever and take care of the chills, but nothing would alleviate the pain in my head. I don’t know if it was just because my body was contracting from shaking, but I developed pain in my chest, ribs, back. It was a nightmare. It took everything out of me.
Emotionally, the virus was just as punishing, starting with the loneliness of having to isolate himself completely.
“I’ve never experienced depression before in my life. And it got me. You go through this pretty much by yourself. Isolation is a prison sentence, solitary confinement. The loneliness got to me. This virus is a beast. It messes with you emotionally because you’ll wake up feeling fine one day and you’re like, this is it. I woke up…feeling good. Then middle afternoon rolls around and it hits you like a ton of bricks again. It was that back and forth for two weeks, where you think you’re okay, then you’re not, and then emotionally the loneliness gets to you.”
Also debilitating was the fear. The virus is unpredictable, and despite being a young, healthy person, he had to confront his mortality.
“I was day three, actually it was the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep and I said, let me get all my stuff in order and send it to my wife–the bank accounts, the policies that we have, just because I don’t know if I’m going to wake up one day and I’m going to be in the hospital and on a respirator and not come out of it. It turns out I wasn’t as bad, I was one of the fortunate ones. I have a mild case of this thing, which was not mild by any means. But yeah, I remember going through that process of like, ‘This thing’s killing people. I’m not 80, but I’m also not 20, who knows what can happen. It was all part of the emotional rollercoaster ride.
By day 11, McDermott hit the worst. “All of the symptoms kind of hit me at once again–the fever, the shaking, the chills, the body aches, the pain and headaches, and the depression. And this whole time I haven’t been sleeping. You don’t get a good night’s sleep when you’re going through this. I called my primary doctor. I was in tears–I just couldn’t do it anymore. And he told me to get to the hospital.”
His doctor called ahead so the Stamford Hospital emergency room would be prepared for McDermott’s arrival, and it was there that he had a second test–this time, it came back positive.
The medical personnel immediately treated him, putting him on an IV, medication for the fever and chills, and antibiotics. He felt better within a couple of hours. But it was also the supportive care he got that saved him psychologically.
“My nurse was a volunteer who had moved back to Norwalk for this crisis to help people in the Northeast. She lived in Virginia and she was there just working in the ER for free. And she stayed by my side pretty much the entire time. You hear how crazy these hospitals are that you would never expect that to happen. The doctor was basically holding my hand. It was the first human contact I actually had, and the connections are important. You don’t really realize it when you’re just kind of going through your everyday life,” McDermott said, growing emotional.
McDermott and his doctors decided that he would not get admitted to stay longer at the hospital.
“The treatment that they gave me there for just those [few] hours that I was there, I was a different person from when I came in. It could have been the morphine, I don’t know. But I didn’t want to stay in there. I know how busy they were. I know that they had so many other patients that were way worse off than I was at that point.”
Some of the other things McDermott shared with GMW were his thoughts about whether his family would get sick, how he decided it was okay to leave isolation after his symptoms eventually went away, and more.
But he also had a message for the wider Wilton community.
“You know, I still don’t know how I could have possibly contracted it. I assume it was with my activities with WVAC, but I don’t know that for sure. I do know that I was hypersensitive to wearing masks and wearing gloves even when I wasn’t on shift when I was out in public and when I was on shift. So how could I possibly have gotten it? That’s how easy it is to get. It’s really contagious and it scares me. Like when I see people out walking on trails and not necessarily maintaining the six feet social distancing,” he said.
“I can’t imagine restaurants and movie theaters. And I understand the airlines are flying full planes, packed shoulder to shoulder. I don’t understand it. To me it’s a recipe for disaster. I would never want anybody to go through it. It’s a small sacrifice to just stay home,” he said, adding, “Nobody wants to go through this, I promise you. I wouldn’t want to see it on my worst enemy.”
He also knows no one is immune. I’ve seen eighty-year-olds, I’ve seen 14-year-olds, with this disease, no one’s immune and nobody should think that they are. And even if you’re, not sick, you could still be asymptomatic and spread this thing to people that are far more vulnerable than you are or your family members. Nothing is worth it,” McDermott said.”I get that people need to go back to work. Businesses need to be open and you weigh the two things against each other. But when one can equal death and the other one does not, well, to me it’s a no brainer.”