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From C-suite to a hospital room: A COVID casualty

Editor’s note: Greg Demetriou, a regular LIBN columnist and Long Island Business Hall of Fame member, is fighting COVID in an area hospital. He penned this column from his hospital bed, where he remains as of press time.

Certain elements of this tale are a bit blurry, probably due to shortage of oxygen, but I will call those out as we go.

Like so many of my fellow CEOs, I studied the November run-up to the tumult of the national election. Tensions were high, rhetoric and vitriol achieved new heights. With the ballots casts there still shows no end to the final battles. The COVID vaccine was around the corner and the stock market was flourishing.

Having been around long enough to have withstood the quadrennial upheaval on both sides, you change gears and ferret out the impact on your business. Of course, not an easy task when exacerbated by a pandemic, by the personal social restrictions, by restaurants losing their outdoor dining as the temperatures plunged. Families were limited to 10 at Thanksgiving. Small businesses were changing, trying to remain relevant and stay in business. Many have already succumbed.

So, with a full plate of consideration the days were busy.

And then I developed a headache, lethargy, and fever, which demanded I get tested. The very next morning I showed up 45 minutes early at the testing center so I would be close to the front of the line. How disappointing: the line was already extended to the back of the building. I was exactly 23 in line . . . standing in 38-windy degrees. If I weren’t sick before, I surely would be now.

Once inside the process was simple. Interview, swab and, in my case because of underlying conditions, an EKG and chest X-ray. I was told the rapid COVID-19 test was negative as were the other tests and sent on my way. I was mentally relieved. Still not feeling great but uninfected, I went home, showered, and changed and went back to the office. Out of an abundance of caution, I isolated myself in my office to avoid all personal interaction. I went back there over the next two days for very brief periods. As before, I completely isolated.

My condition worsened. I am not exactly sure about the chronological accuracy of these events. I reached out to my primary doctor for advice, left a message, but did not hear back. The following day, breathing was becoming difficult. It was Saturday, so I reached out to a hospital executive friend in the Northwell Health system who got back to me even though it was his day off. He insisted I go to the ER.

I was admitted, tested, monitored, and kept comfortable. The COVID-19 test was positive.

I didn’t receive any specialized treatment other than oxygen support. They kept me for two days and released me with instructions to follow up with my primary.

My condition was telegraphing that my full schedule of meetings, Zooms and calls would need to be canceled. Bad enough it was the short Thanksgiving week, informing the staff and trying to put a positive face on a bad situation was just barely within my ability to do. With that done, I had accepted my inability to lead at least “temporary.” I did hope that temporary was the operative word.

On Sunday evening I received a call from the Suffolk County Department of Health as a follow up to my original testing. As the conversation progressed, I was told the test was positive, but I was told verbally by the doctor it was negative.

Did I endanger people due to bad information when the first symptoms materialized? I seriously hoped not.

Since I received no special treatment in the hospital, I believed I would just have to rest and get through it.

That was not to be.

At home, I began to lose all ability to move about the room without being in danger of falling. Small exertions left me breathless.

A telehealth visit with my primary’s nurse practitioner on Tuesday was helpful. As I described my condition it was apparent that my blood oxygen was dangerously low. My wife made a quick run to the local CVS to purchase an oxygen sensor. Ordinarily a good oxygen level should be around 96-99%. My first reading was 88% which is borderline, and that crashed to 82% as I tried to put on my shoes. I was later told that was critically close to respiratory failure.

Back to the ER, admitted once again, in worse shape than before. All previous tests were repeated and a few added. None of the nurses or docs were happy. My brain was in “I’m scared” mode. This was the REAL COVID and I had it bad. Being prodded and pierced all happened in a virtual fog.

All the numbers we have heard day in, and day out now included me. The question in my mind was what category would I be in, what statistic was I about to become? When abstract and reality clash, uncertainty prevails.

My condition had deteriorated to the point that advanced medications were brought to bear.

Remdesivir, steroids and anti-inflammatories were among the drugs administered. As of this writing from the hospital, the outlook is positive, but the timeline is not quite known.

The business will be waiting. I just pray I can return to my old form.

God bless all the caregivers and health professionals. This virus is serious; don’t fool around. Stay safe.

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Greg Demetriou

Greg Demetriou

The author, Greg Demetriou is the CEO of Lorraine Gregory Communications, the founder of GregsCornerOffice.com and the host of the Ask A CEO video and podcast show. He can be reached at [email protected].To learn more about Greg, read Greg's full bio page.