As Louis Meza lay in an isolation room at Marian Regional Medical Center with a 103-degree temperature and ice packed inside his shirt, he hoped and prayed that he would survive his fight with COVID-19.
Now at home after being discharged from the hospital on Saturday, with his wife, Melissa, who was also hospitalized, still fighting for her life, he is sharing his story in hopes that it will make an impact on others.
Meza, 47, who has worked as a chef and manager at the Hitching Post in Casmalia for 25 years, shared in a video posted to Facebook on Monday evening from his Santa Maria home how the virus caused him to be hospitalized in an isolation room at Marian for six days, and has left Melissa, who turned 43 on Monday and also contracted the illness, relying on a ventilator for oxygen.
"I feel like I have to tell you guys the stories that I had to go through at the hospital, so everybody gets the perspective, it's not just the common cold, it is worse," Meza said in his video, which now has over 30,000 views.
After breaking out in a high fever on March 14 that lasted for five days, Meza was tested by his doctor and diagnosed with influenza A. As his symptoms worsened, he was eventually put into isolation at Marian and confined there with COVID-19 and pneumonia.
While in isolation, Meza described having ice packed under his shirt and taking cold showers to lower his fever, some nights coughing up blood, and having difficulty breathing.
As he spoke from his home, where he is in isolation for two weeks following his discharge, Meza said he continues to have trouble breathing and awaits updates throughout the day from doctors at Marian about his wife's status.
While she is stable at this time, she continues to struggle severely, and doctors have had to increase her oxygen levels to help her breathe, he said.
Meza said he posted the video to inform people of the seriousness of COVID-19 and the importance of maintaining social distancing to prevent its spread. However, it was also important to him to let people know that the virus can be beaten.
"I wanted to get the word out there and make everyone aware that I have it and I'm still fighting through it and it's no joke. The only way we'll get through this is if we work through this together and social distance," Meza said. "I know everyone's bored ... but I did six days in a hospital by myself where the only people I could talk to were the nurses."
Meza said the staff at Marian were incredible, with many of them entering his room daily to check in on him, despite the risk of exposure to the virus. The level of care he received assures him that his wife is in good hands too, he said.
"I know she’s getting that proper care because I was there. She's getting the proper care from Dr. Ritter," Meza said, expressing his gratitude to Marian's infectious disease sub-specialist and Arroyo Grande chief medical officer.
Multiple Lompoc dispensaries have reported increased business amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the news hasn’t all been positive. Some shops have had to lay off employees and/or reduce staff hours, and some ancillary workers are losing out on opportunities due to the outbreak, but many of those within the industry have remained optimistic that the negative impacts won’t be long-term.
Meza said he only wishes that he and his wife had been admitted for care sooner, as they both visited Marian with symptoms twice before they were finally admitted, with Melissa being tested for the virus during their second visit.
When Melissa checked herself in on Saturday morning, the same day that Meza ended up being discharged later on, her oxygen levels were in the mid-50s and she was immediately put on a ventilator, Meza said.
"It took three times to get in, we were almost on our death beds before they took us in," Meza said. "I was in the isolation room [when she got there], and the nurse said they had to intubate her. I just lost it."
Meza said the experience has been harrowing. In the midst of staying home alone, he also had to put down his dog of 15 years after she developed severe respiratory issues.
"It’s been rough, and that’s why I put that message out," Meza said.
According to a Thursday announcement from the Centers for Disease Control, there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19, but it is still recommended that people sick with COVID-19 limit contact with animals until more information is known about the virus.
Despite the challenges, Meza said he is extremely grateful that his story has already reached thousands of people, with some commenting that they have changed their plans after hearing his story.
He has also received an outpouring of support from the community, including prayers and well wishes for him and Melissa.
"Everybody’s been calling me, texting me, a lot of my family and friends from work are dropping me off food, they're volunteering, anything I need. It’s been overwhelming, the generosity from everyone," Meza said.
Meza posted an additional video to Facebook on Tuesday to give updates on his wife's status. His main hope, he said, is that people take social distancing seriously and stay home so things can get back to normal for everyone sooner.
"I'm at home by myself watching TV and you see everyone out and about like it's not a big deal," Meza said. "There was nobody talking about how, 'I have the coronavirus, and we need to take our social distance.' If we don't sit here and talk about it, [people] don't realize it. They take it for granted."
Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.
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