My COVID-19 near-death experience

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Image of an ambulance

My name is Bill Vajda, and I am a COVID-19 survivor. My story is a race against time – not unlike the challenges that face leadership at all levels of government across the globe.

At the onset, I was fine one day, and almost completely debilitated the next. While teleworking from home, the virus attacked with the speed of a light switch. Overnight, I went from normal temperatures to fevers of 102+ degrees. I lost control of my ability to regulate heat; I endured excruciating headaches – the worst of my life.

My mind was slipping into delirium from the pain, when the next set of symptoms set in – fully body agony, with particularly strong pain in my abdomen – the feeling like a knife was rubbing across my body for days. It was at this point that the full-body convulsions set-in, and with each one, I felt a little more of my life force slipping away, I knew that I was dying.

At this point my wife called the hospital, and an ambulance took me immediately to the ICU. The impact to healthcare facilities is enormous -lots of ad-hoc adjustments to creating quarantine barriers, full moon-suits for staff, field morgues – many new processes under tremendous pressure. I was stabilized, and within a day had the test results confirming I was COVID-19 positive.

The attending physician was candid when sharing the results: They had done all they could for me, and I wasn’t getting better. To stay at that hospital would be a death sentence, and they needed to transfer me to a bigger facility with greater potential for the expertise my care required.

I was transferred to Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, where teams of healthcare professionals stabilized me, and bought my body the time it needed to fight the disease. They treated the symptoms, easing the pain and nausea, allowing me to sleep, and eventually to digest solid food. As a new virus, I was part of a multi-pronged test using every drug in the arsenal.

It became clear that existing vaccines are only partially effective – and the race to find a cure takes on new urgency every day. While in the hospital, I became disturbingly normalized to hearing “Code Blue” about once every two hours – recognizing that another victim had succumbed to the virus.

Eventually, the medical team bought me enough time to recover. After three weeks, I remember turning the corner, the first day without pain, and finding within me hope for the future again. There were a few early days where I knew my continued existence was touch and go.

I am grateful to be alive. I am extremely thankful for my beautiful wife (also a COVID-19 survivor) and family, who bore a terrible burden during this period, living with the stress of watching my hospitalization from a distance, not knowing if they would ever see me alive again. I am grateful for all my friends who checked in – from all over the U.P., Michigan, and the Globe – for keeping me in their thoughts and prayers.

As I recover and rehabilitate, I reflect on the experience. Early action requiring quarantine and social distancing bought me time. Early attention to preparing medical facilities and medical staff bought me time. Early attention to preparing my family for life in quarantine bought me time. Every leader at all levels of government who correctly identified the threat early, and took immediate steps to mitigate attendant risks bought me time.

When I was finally diagnosed and treated, the best preparations had been made, and allowed me to cross the finish-line before the virus prevailed.

For leaders and decision makers at all levels of government, the lessons learned are straight forward: Take the risk seriously. Mitigate the risks as quickly and effectively as possible. Use every tool at your disposal, and use the best judgement possible with the information on hand.

In the US, a country of 360,000,000 million people, we have suffered at this writing over 500,000 infected, and over 22,000 deaths – approximately the same population as my hometown, Marquette Michigan.

The virus doesn’t differentiate between urban and rural, and the response shouldn’t either. The lessons learned at all levels of government are the same and scale down to every life lost to the scourge of COVID-19. Early action and sustained vigilance will surely enable all of us to share the light at the end of the tunnel together.

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William Vajda

Bill Vajda was raised in Marquette and attended Marquette schools for his K-12 education. He went to the University of Michigan for his undergraduate degree and studied at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan for his graduate work, where he received a Master of Public Policy degree. Bill served as the Marquette City Manager and has over 40 years of experience working in international organizations and in positions at the federal, state and local levels.

14 Comments

  1. Avatar rose moreau on April 16, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    thank god stay healthy!!!!

  2. Avatar Teri Arseneau on April 16, 2020 at 5:01 pm

    Bill and Simone – I am so profoundly grateful that you have both survived this horrible virus and give thanks for the talented medical professionals who did their best work to help you! I sincerely pray that your story will encourage the citizens of the Upper Peninsula to take this seriously and stay home and stay safe! Bless you both!

  3. Avatar Joe LaPorte on April 16, 2020 at 5:26 pm

    Hey Bill happy to hear you made it though…yooper strong.

  4. Avatar David Scott Stobbelaar on April 16, 2020 at 5:35 pm

    Glad you are still with us Bill! Thanks for the detailed story of your journey. All the best to you and your family. Fortunately we still up here in the UP are in a less crowded environment, but we still have to follow the rules. The repercussions of virus are going to be felt for year to come. Take care friend.

  5. Avatar Roxanne Burns on April 16, 2020 at 5:51 pm

    Oh Bill,so sorry to hear you were a victim of this raging virus. Glad you were able to fight it off in spite of horrendous symptoms. Thank you for sharing your story and it’s devastating effects. Please give my love to Simone. I miss you both and wish you rapid recovery. The population in the U.P. keeps our numbers down. I’ve been isolated at home for a month and grateful to be here. Technology and social media helps. Hang tough, Yooper!

  6. Avatar Kirk Schott on April 16, 2020 at 9:27 pm

    Good to hear your story, and the good result. Take care

  7. Avatar Corey lennox on April 17, 2020 at 1:26 am

    I’m so happy you are safe and well

  8. Avatar Sherry Hatch on April 17, 2020 at 2:36 am

    Every one of us is vulnerable !! This is not a time for challenging science nor history. I believe it is smart not to tolerate the antics of behavioral tantrums relative to disgruntled others worried about ‘unacceptable’ time out like restrictions and distancing. We ARE all in this together and selfishness and defiance does NOT foster a good course that is crippling and killing. The virus does not need other to empower its potential for harm so . . . BUCK up rule breakers and nay sayers. Thank GOD for hard decisions made for the OUTCOME of LIFE. Thank you for sharing and vigilance. . . . we don’t want new events nor repeating events ! Thank you to our life enablers.

  9. Avatar Lyle Perry on April 17, 2020 at 10:10 am

    I had heard from Lucas through Chace that you had contracted the disease and had started to get better. A very scary story. So happy you survived. If you are willing, I for one would like to hear more in the future about any lingering aftereffects, if any.

  10. Avatar Kathy C. on April 17, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    I was shocked to read about your ordeal this morning, and it brings it a bit closer to home for me. I hope you and your wife are doing well and are not suffering from the after-effects I have been reading about. Perhaps by sharing your story, you will help others do whatever it takes to delay and hopefully avoid the worst. I live in Northern Wisconsin with barely 34 ICU beds and 30 respiratory specialists in four counties, yet people act like it isn’t going to happen to them.

    Thank you for your bravery to relive such a horrific experience to help others.

    Let’s hope a vaccine and herd immunity kicks in soon. Probably not in time for our 40th class reunion, but in less time than predicted.

  11. Avatar MaryAnn Fry on April 17, 2020 at 8:09 pm

    Bill, I’m in awe you have the strength and clarity to write this. You’re in my heart, as is your family. Thank you for such a powerful, clear message.

  12. Avatar John Vajda on April 19, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    Bill, thanks for sending the link to this post. I had no idea that you even had COVID-19 until I read the blog. This was clearly an agonizing experience and was hard on your family as well.

    I’m glad you published this as I think people become somewhat detached by hearing mostly about the dry statistics while actual stories of experiences like yours are under-represented in the news and social media. Your description of your personal experience of the dire circumstances makes the seriousness of this threat so much more relatable and understandable.

    I’m very grateful you have pulled through and are now able to share your experience.

    Lots of love to you and Simone.

  13. Avatar Rev. Linda C. MacDonald on April 20, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    Bill, I do not know you or your wife, but I read a portion of your experience through Bridge then found the full story on this site. You really have lived to tell the tale of what SARS-CoV-2 (as it is known in Europe) is capable of doing to people. Thank you so much for telling your story. I assume that recovery is not a one day thing but will happen over many days. I wish you and your wife well on the journey toward recovery. I do wish there were some way your story were available on other social media apps. I did send your story to a friend who works in Senator Gary Peters office and is based West Michigan. Thank you again and may healing blessings continue.

  14. Avatar Jerry S on July 31, 2020 at 10:49 pm

    I have known Bill forever. He worked for me several years, I had stayed In contact until the past maybe ten years I have marveled at his career, his great capabilities and his Joyous approach to difficulty, some of which I am knowledgeable. I attended his wedding to Simone at Heidelberg Castle. The guy has class. He is one of few friends of the past who I need to set down with before I pass. Knowing what he has gone through, I am glad I did not know. I would have been truly distraught.
    I will have that discussion.

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