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‘Scared to death’: Former Brainerd resident feared for life during coronavirus hospital stay

Greg Young said his experience with the coronavirus will forever shape how he interacts with others.

Greg Young (right) and significant other Nancy Bishop pose with a dolphin during a trip to Florida in February, weeks before both tested positive for COVID-19. Young spent nearly a week in the hospital and said he feared for his life. Submitted photo

A big helping of scrambled eggs is the best thing Greg Young ever tasted.

Unable to keep food down for 11 days, the 63-year-old former lakes area resident said the hospital-issued plate symbolized a turning point in his fight to overcome the coronavirus attacking his body.

Now living in Lewiston, Maine, Young called Brainerd home for nearly a decade — working for local companies Greg Larson Sports and Ascensus — until he moved in 2009. He shared his story of surviving COVID-19 with the Dispatch April 8, almost three weeks after he first began to feel sick. Those weeks ended up as one of the most harrowing time periods of Young’s life.

“I’ll tell you what. I was scared to death that I was going to become a number. I was, and I’m not scared to admit it,” Young said during a phone interview.

March 20 began as a typical Friday for Young. By the end of his workday, however, he felt significantly worse — racked with body aches, chills, a dry cough, an upset stomach and a low-grade fever registering at 99.5 degrees. Along with those symptoms came a feeling of dread. Afflicted with Type 2 diabetes, one of the underlying conditions shown to increase one’s chances of more serious consequences from the disease, Young immediately suspected he’d been infected with the novel coronavirus ricocheting across the planet.


He woke up the next morning feeling much the same, so he called his doctor, who determined Young’s diabetes coupled with his age warranted a COVID-19 test. Sunday, things got worse.

“Those symptoms had all gotten to the point where probably by Sunday, my day was 90% in bed,” he said. “And they called me Tuesday and said that I was positive.”

Armed with confirmation of his fears, Young informed his employer, who then asked him to make a list of every person he’d come into contact with recently. Those employees were asked to quarantine themselves, he said.

As the week wore on, the situation grew increasingly dire. Young’s gastrointestinal symptoms continued unabated. Even water wasn’t agreeing with his stomach, and he hadn’t eaten since lunchtime Friday, the first day he felt sick. He kept trying to find something to provide nourishment, but instead, he vomited up to 10 times a day. Small sips of ginger ale were the only thing he managed.

“That got so bad, just even trying to keep that down — and I was still throwing up even though I tried to drink a lot — it got to the point where Friday the 27th I was admitted to Maine Medical Center,” Young said. “I called 911 and they came and got me. They indicated I had dehydration and I had pneumonia.”

Further evaluation at the hospital in nearby Portland led doctors to believe he suffered from two different types of pneumonia leading to acute hypoxemic respiratory failure. There was not enough oxygen in Young’s blood. He was placed on a respirator and an IV. Doctors began a five-day antibiotic regimen alongside treatment with anti-nausea medication and hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug that’s been the subject of some controversy over its efficacy in treating COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has since removed the drug from its list of therapeutic options.

Saturday, Sunday and Monday came and went. While he’d been able to keep liquids down, Young still hadn’t eaten. By suppertime Tuesday, he felt well enough to make an attempt at eating the blandest, most inoffensive thing he could think of: scrambled eggs. That and some orange juice to bring up his blood sugar led Young to release some of the fear about his outcome.

Two more days and a few meals later, the hospital discharged him April 2. His significant other Nancy Bishop came to pick him up — possible because she also tested positive for COVID-19, suffering through her own experience with the disease. The 59-year-old had a somewhat milder case, but it still made it impossible for her to eat for a week, coupled with a bad headache, congestion and body aches. Nausea finally drove her to the emergency room, where tests revealed her lungs contained fluid consistent with the disease caused by the coronavirus. A test confirmed her presumptive case.


Although Young was well enough to no longer require hospital-level care, he still felt very ill.

“When we come home, we have to maneuver two sets of five stairs. I couldn’t do it,” Young said. “As a matter of fact, the second set of five, I was crawling up them, and she had to help me.”

The first few days back he spent nearly all of his day in bed. He learned he’d lost 23 pounds.

“Even when I got home, the first couple of nights, I was scared to death,” Young said. “ … I was just afraid to go to sleep. And figure that, you know, when you get a hospital thing where they tell you it’s respiratory failure, you never know what could be going on when you try to wake up in the morning.”

Almost a week after leaving the hospital, Young still regularly needed Bishop’s help to move around.

“She has to help me get from the bed to the couch because my legs are so weak, it’s very easy to lose my balance,” he said.

While neither Young nor Bishop know for sure how they contracted the disease, they suspect it might have occurred at some point during a vacation to Florida Feb. 22-29. That means even if Young was exposed on the day their flight returned, he didn’t exhibit symptoms for almost three weeks. He said otherwise the couple was very careful, taking precautions the world has become all too familiar with in recent months. Even so, it’s impossible to pinpoint the moment the virus entered his system.

“Touching the little machine at the (grocery store) checkout — you never know, there could be the virus on that. There could be on anything that somebody has just touched in an aisle. … There could be anything like that, you have to be so careful,” he said. “And, you know, we were careful, and we’ve both come down with it. It’s taught us a major lesson, because we weren’t expecting to get it here in Maine. So for those people — and I’m sure Minnesota’s got them as well as Maine does — that think, ‘It won’t hit me,’ well, good luck to those people.”


Young said his experience with the coronavirus will forever shape how he interacts with others.

“There’s probably no need in today’s world to be up close to people. … I would say, stay clear. Give space,” he said. “But it's so easy to just forget about it when you're talking with a friend or something like that. … You get closer than 5 or 6 feet, and there's no need to be. I’m going to make sure that I adhere to that in the future.”

He’ll most likely never take a plate of eggs for granted again, either.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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