DENVER, COLORADO — Luke Wignall, who’s recovering from the coronavirus, has a simple message: “This thing is no joke. It tried to kill me. Don’t get it, don’t spread it, and be safe.”

Luke Wignall of Denver, who attended Mt. Blue High School in the mid-1980s, is recovering from the coronavirus. He is seen during his hospitalization in March. Submitted photo

In a phone interview Tuesday, March 31, Wignall, a technical product marketing director and former EMT, said he attended Mt. Blue High School in Farmington in the mid-1980s and also went to the University of Maine Farmington.

“We moved to Maine in the ’70s, spent most of my growing up years there,” he said. “I work for Nvidia. Anyone who’s a gamer probably knows the logo. It’s a very cool company, we do a lot of cool stuff.”

Wignall works remotely from home. He began showing COVID-19 symptoms a month ago, tested positive, spent four days in the hospital, and is now recovering at home.

He recently shared his story on Facebook “to provide perspective and reduce fears,” he said.

Wignall said in his post that he’ll probably never know how he contracted the COVID-19 disease. The best guess is that he caught it flying through San Jose on a return trip from his company’s Santa Clara headquarters on Feb. 29. Around that time three TSA agents at the airport tested positive.

Wignall said he attended a dinner on March 4 where someone exhibited symptoms, but the person who sat between them is symptom-free, as is his family.

Luke Wignall shared his story about coronavirus disease to provide perspective and reduce fears. He is seen with his wife, Erin Wignall, and daughter, Greta Wignall, on Greta’s first day of first grade. Submitted photo

Wignall said after returning from California, his children, ages four and six, first one and then the other had coughs and low-grade fevers. They weren’t tested to know for sure.

Wignall traveled to China in December, Singapore and Tokyo in January, and made four trips to California in January and February. All those trips were too far in the past to qualify under CDC coronavirus guidelines.

Wignall first exhibited symptoms on March 8.

“I did a 13-mile fat bike race at high altitude on the evening of Saturday, March 7,” he said. “By Sunday and Monday, I had a low-grade fever of 99.4. I thought maybe I just pushed too hard, and that’s all it was.

“I still went to the grocery store on Monday and Tuesday. It didn’t occur to me that I could potentially have the coronavirus, because I hadn’t been around folks who looked even mildly sick. It had been 10 days since my last airline flight.”

Wednesday, March 10, Wignall’s fever was still below 100 and aches and pains started.

“I just felt like I had a bad bug,” he said. “I still sat through a ton of calls, feeling miserable but still got through the day. But by the next day, I woke up and made a pot of coffee and it tasted like ash, or like warm bathwater. And that was the first big clue.”

Wignall said the children were still being taken to school. He visited his 77-year-old father on the 8th, who is immunosuppressed and recently finished cancer treatment.

“I hugged him goodbye when I was most likely spewing virus cells,” he said. “Somehow he’s still symptom-free.”

By that weekend, Wignall and his wife were discussing the likelihood that he had COVID.

“She’s a nurse, a frontline worker, and I used to be an EMT,” he said. “We stopped pretty much everything at that point — including the kids’ school.

“Though I didn’t isolate myself from the rest of the family, my wife also remains symptom-free. She’s under quarantine for another few days. I’m under state-mandated isolation until I am symptom-free for 72 hours.”

Wignall said he woke up miserable on March 16.

“I called the doctor and got a morning appointment,” he said. “By then, my chest was tight, my fever was just under 101, and I was coughing horribly. The doctor’s office asked, “Do you believe you’re COVID-positive?” And ironically, I said I didn’t think so.

“The doctor’s office said to put on a mask when I got there. It was a surgical mask, which doesn’t have a great ability to seal itself. They also said repeatedly that they didn’t have any coronavirus tests, and made it crystal clear they couldn’t test me.

“By the time my primary care physician interviewed me, I was coughing, miserable as hell. The doctor, who was wearing a poorly applied gown and mask, disappeared for a long time. My suspicion is he called the CDC. When he came back, he was gowned up to the eyebrows, and looking at me like I might explode any minute. He had a test kit in his hands — the up till now “totally not available” test kit.

“It’s a swab in the nostrils. It’s not fun, it’s not comfortable, but you want them to really dig up there because you want them to get a good, accurate test result. It took two days for the test to reach the lab and another four days to get the results. By then I was in the hospital.

“They prescribed me heavy-duty antibiotics just in case. It also helps with the coronavirus cases that go rough, because although it’s viral, it causes something pneumonia-like, which can be bacterial.

“The doctor basically took me out the back door and said to call the ER if I got worse.”

Wignall said the weird thing about COVID is that around 8 to 10 days after symptoms appear, they tend to let up a little bit.

“Then you can decompensate rapidly, and that’s when the bad stuff happens, he said. “For a day and a half after my doctor’s appointment, I felt better. I was taking those antibiotics, and thought maybe I can fight this off, maybe it’s not COVID.

“But within a few hours on March 18, things took a huge turn for the worse. I couldn’t breathe, my fever spiked to 102, and things really began to unravel. But I was stubborn, and didn’t go into the ER until Thursday morning when I woke up panting for air.

“My blood oxygen level was between 83 and 85, instead of closer to 100. That’s extremely critical, requiring me to be on almost 5 liters of oxygen per minute. And an x-ray showed I had bilateral pneumonia. Lactate levels go up when you’re burning oxygen faster than you can breathe it, whether while exercising or when you’re sick. A normal person might have a lactate reading of 1. I was at 2.3. If this had gotten worse, my body was at risk of going into sepsis, and I’d die.

“They immediately stuck me in an isolation room and put me on oxygen, IV fluids, and hydroxychloroquine. I had to sign paperwork that said if I got worse, they could go ahead and decide next levels of care for me.

“I was in the hospital for four days. I was sent home Sunday with an oxygen tank to continue recovering from home, and told to come back right away if I took another turn for the worse.”

Wignall said recovery is way longer than he thought it was going to be. He had to stop during the interview Tuesday due to coughing spells.

Wignall said he hopes people know the difference between ventilation and intubation.

“I was getting four liters of oxygen through a nasal canula at first,” he said. “You can only go to five, then you go to a face mask.

“If you can’t breathe, that is intubation. You are put into an induced coma with chemicals, drugs, a tube put into the lungs to shove air in.

“Intubation will save lives but it doesn’t heal you. It keeps you from dying. The goal is to get off.

“The body rejects intubation, starts immune reactions. Old people rarely survive intubation.”

Wignall said he does regret not alerting people earlier and that more testing is needed.

“My wife could have been asymptomatic through it all,” he said. “It wasn’t immediately obvious. It wasn’t until several days in when my sense of taste changed before I realized.”

Wignall shared tips for those who start feeling sick.

“Hydrate like it’s going out of style,” he said. “You need your body totally hydrated to flush stuff out of your system. Be active in your recovery effort, tracking your oxygen levels and temperature.

“And just because healthcare systems are tight on resources, that doesn’t mean you should stay home and put yourself at risk by not seeking care when you need it. Don’t just sit back, go make sure you’re not critical.

“As I keep saying…This thing is no joke. It tried to kill me.”

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