Wellness Wednesday: How the Fitness Habit Helped One Journalist Recover from COVID

My devotion to fitness aided in my recovery.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021

I recognized the gratitude in these words. My exercise teaching experience gave me a whole lot of helping hands when I pulled myself up from post-Intensive Care syndrome following my lengthy hospitalization in 2019. Although my illness pre-dated COVID, I felt a sort of kinship with Jorge Milian’s experience. I wanted to find out more.

Here is what I learned in my research, including a telephone conversation with Jorge a few weeks ago.

Palm Beach Post reporter Jorge Milian

In his coverage of the COVID pandemic’s impact on his beat of Lake Worth Beach and Boynton Beach, Palm Beach Post reporter and journalist Jorge Milian has written tributes to fallen community leaders and other victims of the virus, stories on the verbal attacks on the city’s Central American migrants, and articles on the eviction moratorium. What he never expected to write was a story on his own hellish encounter with COVID-19 at the end of January.

Hellish month

I had a raging fever, my head felt like it was on the verge of exploding and each of the 206 bones in my body ached.

That began around 4-5 weeks of unpleasantness that, at its worst, had me wondering if I would wind up like some of the people I’ve written about since last March in the Palm Beach Post who died after getting COVID-19 (and if would I have time to alert the Post’s editors not to use the headshot that makes me look 20 pounds heavier in my obituary?)

I can joke about it now. But there’s nothing funny about running a high fever for days and feeling like you are trying to breathe under water while your doctor is wondering aloud whether you should check into a hospital – a thought that terrified me even more than the unexplainable nightmares and hallucinations that dogged me for around 10 unrelenting, miserable days and nights.

Walking from one side of the house to the other seemed like a marathon. The worst of it was at night when I would wake up gasping for air, almost as if I had forgotten to breathe.

Fatigue was another big issue. For around two weeks after getting sick, I would sleep for 10 hours then spend the rest of the day feeling like I needed a nap.

My doctor told me I should seriously consider going to the hospital if my oxygen level fell below 90. My oxygen level never dropped under 92, but still low enough for thoughts of ventilators and doctors in space suits to cram my thoughts.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021

Exercise habit

In a recent conversation, Jorge told me that before being bedridden by COVID-19 for 15 days, he had not been sick in his 26 years with The Palm Beach Post. He is an active 61-year-old, a diligent gym-goer (“a little bit of a maniac”), and former runner. He credits his lifetime fitness habit with his quick comeback.

As sick as I got, I still feel kind of lucky. My devotion to fitness aided in my recovery. [Still], it’s only been in the past couple of weeks that I can go for my hour-long bike ride or complete my daily strengthtraining routine without stopping every 15 minutes to catch my breath.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021

His body struggled though what had been comfortable workouts.

When I returned to the gym, it felt like a fever would suddenly rage through my body, heating up like crazy, although my temperature would be normal. But my muscle memory was there to see me though.

Jorge Milian, reporter and journalist

Fitness advice

Jorge is happy to be on the other side of his COVID-19 illness. He is not a long hauler, having been able to resume his full activity routine. And what does he recommend to help others build up their strength?

Find something you like to do and do it. Every day. Consistently. Work up to being active for an hour a day.

Jorge Milian, reporter and journalist

Staying well

Follow the public health recommendations: get vaccinated, wear a mask, and practice social distancing.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying that contracting COVID-19 was no worse than catching the flu, but the virus put this 60-year-old through a physical and mental wringer like I haven’t experienced before.

What I had, you don’t want.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021
Reporter Jorge Milian, photo Thomas Cordy, The Palm Beach Post

Family Friday: When COVID Hits Home for a Reporter

Micaela Watts has spent the year of pandemic tracking the mounting data for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, part of the USA Today Network of newspapers of which my daily, The Palm Beach Post, is part. Her work meant understanding the virus better she ever wanted to know and listening to more heartbreak than she ever wanted to hear. Then, it came for her 100-year-old grandmother, and Ms Watts’ own heart broke.

The two worlds I strive to keep separate came crashing together: my job and my family. I was face to face with COVID-19, a set of genetic codes contained in a virus strand that brought the modern world to its knees. And now it had my grandmother, my Mimi. I had dutifully avoided seeing her for a year, even as I worried it would be her last. She was, after all, 100 years old.

Micaela Watts, Memphis Commercial Appeal

Here is a portion of the article Micaela Watts wrote about her grandmother’s final hour. I found it so touching that it needs no more words from me. Please read through to the end, as the final line broke my heart, too.

The COVID-19 unit was bright and clean. And though Brett had warned me I might hear a lot of different alarms and beeps, it was eerily quiet.

As my gaze moved toward the top of the bed, I first became aware of the dull roar of her oxygen supply. It reminded me of the closed-air system on airplanes, the hiss they make when planes are idling on the runways. I went up to her. Underneath the oxygen mask, her lips were dark. She took a ragged, gravelly breath. I heard her drowning in her own body.

The palliative care doctor, Dr. Blair, placed a hand on my back. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “We’re doing everything we can to keep her comfortable. She won’t be in any pain.” I burst into sobs. I looked over at Dr. Blair. To my surprise, I saw her eyes fill with tears. After a year of the pandemic and her career in palliative care, she was still moved by a granddaughter saying goodbye.

“If this is too hard, and you need to leave,” Brett the nurse said, “I’ll stay with her. I promise you, she will not go out alone.”

Over the next hour and a half, I held her hands and talked, loudly. Between her faulty hearing and the whoosh of the oxygen, I knew I needed to shout. I wondered if anyone passing outside her room could hear me yelling Psalm 23. “I love you,” I yelled. “I love you and it’s OK to go now.”

I watched as a single tear started to spill out of the corner of each of her closed eyes. She tried speaking, tried sitting up. She was already halfway gone. At 100, time was already coming for her, that was true. But did that make watching your loved one die any easier? Not for me.

When Brett next entered the room to administer her next shot of morphine, I knew it was time. “Brett …” I began, turning toward him. “You can turn it off now.” Brett nodded and pivoted toward the control panel for her oxygen. The hissing stopped. The silence that followed was the loudest sound I ever heard.

“She’s going to go quickly now,” he said. I nodded and kept Mimi’s small hand in my grip. She gripped back, hard. I watched her draw fewer and fewer breaths until there were none noticeable. Her grip went slack. I felt a hand on my back again. It was Brett. I looked at him, and he nodded. He didn’t have to say anything.

I slumped over in my chair, and he folded me into a hug. He reassured me that, since there was no intubation, no drawn-out fight, Mimi’s passing was one of the most peaceful he had seen in a solid year of watching people die.

At precisely 10 a.m. that day, the health department sent out their customary tweet with the day’s COVID-19 numbers as well as the daily press email. I opened it up.

There was one new reported death due to complications from COVID-19.

Micaela Watts, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Micaela Watts and her grandmother, Evelyn Watts