A high-ranking official with the Greene County Sheriff’s Office — 49 years old, typically feeling healthy and always living a “clean lifestyle” — said he had to be hospitalized for COVID-19 this week.
The experience shifted his perspective on the pandemic, Major Phil Corcoran acknowledged.
He wouldn’t use the phrase “change of heart” to describe his experience, but in a social media post he made while getting care at Mercy Springfield hospital earlier this week, Corcoran said he used to be a “mouthy skeptic” about the disease. Now, that’s changed.
“What I mean by that,” Corcoran said in an interview from his home on Thursday, “is just having a locker-room or dinner table conversation with friends — and we’re talking about COVID like everybody in the world was last year, and still is — I was probably the guy that would say, ‘Well, you know, I think I’ll be okay.'”
He added, “I thought most people probably just had a mild reaction to it.”
Coronavirus: Two people with no underlying health conditions die of COVID-19 in Greene County
But his personal fight with COVID-19 showed him that “clearly the disease is undiscriminating, and it’s unpredictable,” Corcoran said. He said his message to other skeptics is to “take whatever precautions that the CDC, the medical people recommend. Do what you can to take care of yourself.”
He noted that he doesn’t want to express strong opinions about “whether masking works or hand-washing or locking yourself in a hole in the ground,” but that he thinks it’s wise to “take precautions if you’re able to do so.”
A wife’s words and a smartwatch sensor
Corcoran believes he was probably infected in the line of duty. Beginning roughly Jan. 1, he started experiencing fatigue. Later he had aches and pains, chills and a low-grade fever. By the first Tuesday of the new year, he felt “pretty run down” and got a COVID-19 test, which came back positive the same day.
He self-isolated and went through health department contact tracing while keeping the Sheriff’s Office and “all authorities” informed, he told the News-Leader.
“I thought I’d just ride it out in my house, in the basement away from my wife and stay isolated, and I would just get over it in a week or so,” Corcoran said.
But his symptoms didn’t cooperate. The fever never stopped.
“My wife became more concerned about it than I was, because she didn’t think I was taking positive turns,” Corcoran said. She encouraged him to get to the hospital.
More: Missouri to start vaccinating 1st responders, at-risk individuals for COVID-19
On social media, Corcoran said the tipping point came when his Apple smartwatch, which has a sensor for monitoring blood-oxygen levels, convinced him that he really was “in trouble.”
On Monday his family took him to the Mercy emergency department. He was later admitted to the hospital and stayed three days and two nights.
“When you’re dropped off at the ER,” Corcoran said, “you know you’re alone. And when you see that you’re getting admitted, it — it kind of hit me. I’ve read the stories with people my age and younger — and I know you have, too — with whole families who have been sick or whatever, and they end up going from zero to bad really, really quickly, and they’re on a ventilator and dying.”
“I had many hours to just sit in that ER and think about what was going to happen,” Corcoran added.
He felt a lot of uncertainty. He felt fear. On social media, he said he got “zero sleep” during his first night on the anti-viral drug Remdesivir. He lauded the Mercy medical staff for being “excellent” and “tremendously” attentive, but noted that they’re only human.
“Nobody can tell you that the next thing that’s going to happen to you is (fill-in-the-blank),” Corcoran explained. “Everything is so individual and unpredictable. It leaves you a little scared. You know, you’re not getting that answer from the doctors that you hoped for, which is what’s going to happen next. You just get more of the ‘We’re going to try this and try that because of your vitals.'”
He said just getting admitted and entering the clean, well-appointed COVID-19 unit was a bit of a relief: His treatment would begin. Corcoran said Mercy gave him oxygen, antiviral drugs, IV fluid and steroids. Two days ago, he said on social media that he began to feel hungry again for the first time in more than a week, his sense of taste and smell returned, and he was able to get off oxygen. He is now home and recovering with the help of steroids.
Related: Man in 20s among COVID-19 deaths in Greene County as cases, hospitalizations rise again
He said sometimes it’s hard to speak without coughing, though he made it through a 14-minute newspaper interview Thursday. Corcoran’s fever abated more than 24 hours ago, and he said he’s passed through the CDC’s recommended timeframe for isolation.
“I’m doing all right,” Corcoran said. “I’m not moving around the house a bunch, but I feel — I don’t have any aches and pains, I don’t have any fever, I have a little bit of night sweating, and I think some of that comes on with the hard coughing, but just (feel) generally run down. I don’t have any real complaints, other than the cough and knowing that I have pneumonia in my lungs I need to get rid of.”
How about his wife and family?
“They’re good,” Corcoran said. “My son, he’s a grown individual living in another area, so no exposure there, but my wife is fine. She doesn’t have it. She’s here taking care of me.”
Meanwhile, his smartwatch says his oxygen levels are “healthy,” he said in an email Wednesday night.
Reach News-Leader reporter Gregory Holman by emailing [email protected] Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.