QUEENS, New York — On Sunday night, March 15, I started feeling achy. By Monday night, I was achy all over. However, on Tuesday, I felt better, as I did all day Wednesday. On Thursday night, March 19, the aches returned. On Friday, I was sick: I had a fever, ached all over, was extremely lethargic, and lost my appetite.
That weekend, as I collapsed on my couch, President Donald J. Trump told journalists that he thought an anti-malaria drug called hydroxychloroquine might be a promising treatment against COVID-19. “I’m not saying it will, but I think that people may be surprised. By the way, that would be a game changer. But we’re going to know very soon,” Trump said about HCQ. “You’re going to see soon enough.”
Yes Mr. President, I did see.
The White House press corps immediately attacked Trump for pushing HCQ. As they slammed him, I dozed off. When I awoke an hour later, I heard NBC’s despicable, seriously woke host Chuck Todd still assaulting Trump for advocating what Dr. Todd mocked as some sort of snake oil. I thought to myself: This guy is so deranged, he hopes that HCQ fails, so more Americans will die — all to “stop Trump.”
All this while, I had dismissed the idea that COVID-19 had struck me. On Monday night, March 23, I walked up and down the stairs to my bathroom and first experienced shortness of breath. The next morning my wife Susan, God bless her, insisted that I go to urgent care.
As soon as I saw a doctor there, she said: “You have to go to the ER.”
“I’m not going to the ER,’’ I insisted.
She ordered a chest X-ray and a flu test. While the latter was negative, within 10 minutes, the X-ray revealed pneumonia in both lungs.
ER? What a great idea!
Because my Queens neighborhood is among the reddest on the COVID-19 heat maps, I knew that nearby Elmhurst Hospital was the epicenter of this pandemic. Fortunately, the FDNY EMS ambulance crew that whisked me away was extremely competent and accommodating. They agreed to speed me to New York Presbyterian Queens, which locals still call Booth Memorial. I had only the clothes on my back and my wallet. I needed my cell phone, but my family would be unable to bring it to me, as hospitals have become closed to visitors. Through complete serendipity, the ambulance made a wrong turn. As I sat inside the emergency vehicle, I noticed that we were going down my block. Since Susan and her sister were in hot pursuit in my sister-in-law’s Honda CRV, I asked the EMTs to stop at my house, so Susan could grab my cell phone and charger. They concurred, and we secured this vital communications link.
When we arrived at the hospital’s ambulance entrance, the stretchers were backed up to the door. We got the last spot inside the hallway before it spilled onto the loading dock. The EMTs were aggressive and assured that I got checked in and quickly transferred me to an emergency-room stretcher, down the hall and beyond the vestibule.
After about an hour in the ER hallway, an orderly moved me to a different open area that the hospital had transformed into a makeshift ER. Partitions, six feet apart, carved this space into temporary “hospital rooms,” each decorated with an easy chair. A nurse immediately tested me for COVID-19. At this point, I considered it a foregone conclusion that the vicious virus had struck me. Medics checked my vital signs, installed an IV, and put me on oxygen. (The nurse who inserted the IV, a veteran of America’s war in Southeast Asia, said that he survived a jump out of a plane in Vietnam, in which his parachute didn't open.) After a tense, 90-minute wait, doctors admitted me as a patient.
Next stop: The third floor, which seemed to be a normal intensive-care unit. This was where patients waited for proper rooms. I was lucky enough to get an alcove that was converted into a two-bed “room.” Lucky? I avoided the adjacent hallway, which was filled with stretcher beds, lining both walls.
At 10:00 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, while still in this waiting area, my doctors gave me the bad, but unsurprising, news: I had tested positive for COVID-19. Within an hour, they put me on hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, which appears to enhance HCQ’s therapeutic effects.
Thursday morning, March 26, the doctor confirmed that I was taking the anti-malarial HCQ and Zithromax together. “The Trump Treatment?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied. “The Trump Treatment.”
That night, doctors transferred me to a room. I already felt better, just 19 hours after I first took the HCQ and Z-pack. Once in the room, which I shared with another man, everything was calm, and the care went from great to excellent.
Friday morning, a nurse asked me how I was.
“I feel good! I got the Trump Treatment.”
He laughed and asked, “Is that what they’re calling it on the street?”
Later that day, the same nurse told me that he had to give me a blood thinner. “Why?” I wondered.
“Because you are lying around and doing nothing all day,” he said. “We call it the Obama shot!”
By Saturday, March 28, the Trump Treatment seemed fully effective. After three days on it, my fever and aches had vanished, and my appetite and energy had reappeared. I remained on oxygen, but at a low level.
I stayed in the hospital until Thursday, April 2, as doctors monitored my breathing. That day, my physicians released me with an oxygen concentrator.
The hospital ordered me a Lyft and put me in a lift. I left, lugging the oxygen device, a box of accessories for it, and my few belongings. I tried to find my Lyft, as my pants nearly slipped off of me. Perhaps the hospital food cost me a few pounds.
The hospital told me to expect a gray Toyota. One finally approached. The driver took one look at me and locked the doors.
A few minutes later, my ride arrived. It looked like “The Lyft Driver in the Plastic Bubble.” A plastic sheet separated the front and back seats, much as John Travolta was isolated from the world in the schmaltzy, similarly titled 1976 TV movie. The hospital paid for the Lyft, but I saw no way to give the driver a tip. “There’s a Twenty on the back seat,” I told him, as I climbed out of the reverse med-evac.
I am home now. Although I still am on oxygen, I feel great. I credit the Trump Treatment for my recovery.
Americans, especially my fellow New Yorkers, are sick at home with COVID-19. Some of them will die without ever reaching a hospital to get the Trump Treatment.
Maddeningly, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D–NY) has banned the Trump Treatment, except in hospitals. This must change. Why not treat COVID-positive individuals before they deteriorate sufficiently to require hospitalization? Treating such outpatients with HCQ and Z-Pack will prevent more serious illness and relieve inundated hospitals.
Novartis, Teva, and other drug companies have donated some 100 million doses of HCQ to the federal government. Please, Mr. President. Make sure that every COVID-19 patient and doctor who want it can get the Trump Treatment.
Charles Vavruska is a Queens-based school-reform activist.