When COVID-19 first started spreading I didn’t believe it was a real threat.

I thought people were exaggerating the numbers and I didn’t think the illness would be that serious for the majority of people. I was against wearing masks because I believed it infringed on my rights. I only wore one if I had no choice, and when I did, I chose one that said: “This mask is as stupid as my Governor.”

I never imagined COVID-19 would have any personal impact on me. I’m a 31-year-old fitness trainer who is in great shape and has no pre-existing conditions. During the day, I ran 4 miles and bench-pressed 395 pounds and at night I partied, drank with friends, and hung out with anyone I wanted to, never once considering social distancing.

My politics had a significant impact on my perceptions of this virus. I was a conservative before I got COVID-19 and I still am. But I’m starting to see things differently now. For me, this virus changed everything. My roommate became ill first and I didn’t think it was a big deal. He had a fever and wasn’t feeling well, but it didn’t appear to be anything serious. Nonetheless, I moved out of our apartment and back home with my parents to get away from him. A few days later, I started to feel uneasy. I thought I was hungover at first, but when I didn’t feel better after two days, I began to wonder. Then I went hiking and came home with the worst leg pain I’d ever had. My legs felt as though they were on fire.

Following that, things moved quickly! I then got the worst headache I’d ever had, followed by a 40-degree fever that I couldn’t break even with medication. Over the next few days, I drove myself to the ER three times. Each time, they gave me IV medication to reduce my fever and then released me. On my first visit, they performed a COVID-19 test, which came back positive, but my case was not severe enough to warrant admission at the time, so they continued to send me home to rest. Then the breathing issues began. To be honest, that was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced in my life. It’s terrifying to want to breathe but not be able to, no matter how hard you try. I passed out after a friend called an ambulance for me. I have no recollection of the ride.

I awoke in the hospital, where I’d been admitted with dangerously low oxygen levels and COVID-19 pneumonia in my lungs. I had faith in the virus by that point! But it was too late to change anything. Things worsened and after three more days, I was on supplemental oxygen, the maximum amount the machine could provide, and it wasn’t enough. Doctors advised me that I needed a ventilator. That necessitates the signing of some release forms, which I did, and to be honest, I didn’t care what happened at that point. I texted my son and parents to tell them how much I loved them. I was hallucinating and seeing angels and demons, and I was convinced I was going to die. That was fine with me as well. I just wanted the pain to stop. But there were no ventilators available, the pulmonologist said we would have to wait for one to be available and miraculously my breathing started to improve slightly over the next 2 hours. That morning I had received my first doses of Remdesivir and convalescence plasma, maybe that’s the reason. I don’t know if I’ll ever find out, but after that, I slowly began to improve. I ended up in the intensive care unit for 9 days and in the hospital for 12 days.

The nightmare didn’t end when I was released; I spread COVID-19 to my entire family at that time. My brother and sister were asymptomatic. My mother, who is 67 years old and has some underlying illnesses, also contracted it. Fever for 3 days and it wasn’t a big deal. That’s the strange thing about this virus. It’s a die roll.

There is no rhyme or reason for who will be hit hardest. It will take a long time to get back to normal. I blame myself every day. And I should. I am responsible for that. I can’t change anything for my family now, but maybe I can for yours. So I started telling my story. Everything is so polarized around this virus and now I realize how dangerous it is.