Conquering COVID-19: Juneau resident Charlie Paul’s story
Born and raised in Juneau, Charlie Paul has a bright smile, a shock of black hair and a relaxed, friendly demeanor. When Charlie, 37, felt like he was coming down with the flu, he wasn’t worried about COVID-19. “I didn’t think anything of it,” he said. It was mid-April and the start of his busiest season.
For years he has worked as a professional roofer. In 2017, Charlie started his own business, Jo Jo’s Roofing, the name inspired by his young son. “I was scheduled to start on a roof that weekend.” But then, several symptoms of COVID-19 started kicking in – sweating, chills, high fever, and coughing. “I was having a hard time breathing,” Charlie recalls. “I felt really weak.”
On April 12, he drove to the Capital City Fire/Rescue Drive-Thru COVID-19 testing facility for a nasal swab test. Then he paid a visit to the graves of his father and grandfather. He asked his ancestors for the strength and confidence to fight the virus. “I was crying, I was scared. People didn’t survive. They were dying from it,” he says. He remembered what his grandfather told him when he was growing up. “He said there is no excuse to quit. To never give up on something you want to achieve. And it just stuck with me.”
On April 14, he got notice that his test was positive. By then, Charlie’s symptoms were much worse. “I had the runs, couldn’t keep food or even water down,” he recalls. His whole body was in pain. “When I cried there were no tears. I couldn’t taste anything. I couldn’t smell anything,” he said. He had shortness of breath, and was hyperventilating at the same time. “It felt like my rib cage and my lungs were in a vice, like I was just getting squeezed.”
Charlie says he’d never felt that sick in his life. He’d ridden out colds and cases of flu. But nothing compared to this. “Doesn’t even come close,” he asserts.
Then, Charlie collapsed at home. His wife called 911.
An ambulance brought Charlie to the Bartlett Regional Hospital Emergency Department. “It hurt to cough, it hurt to sneeze, it hurt to cry. I was struggling to breathe on my own,” he says. Charlie was diagnosed with viral pneumonia in both lungs. A chest x-ray and lab work confirmed he had contracted a severe case of COVID-19.
Charlie was admitted the Critical Care Unit. At that point, Charlie was one of a handful of COVID-19 patients admitted to the hospital since the start of the pandemic in March. Hospitalist Steve Greer, MD was Charlie’s doctor for his stay. “He was really quite ill,” recalls Dr. Greer. His kidneys and liver were affected. He was not able to get enough oxygen to his lungs.”
He says Charlie’s coughing fits were some of the worst he’d witnessed in his long career. Wearing full personal protective equipment including face shields, goggles, gloves, gowns and N-95 masks, nurses spent long hours with Charlie, helping him recover from hard bouts of coughing, feeding him meals and helping him to the bathroom. “They put on their battle gear and went to war,” observes Dr. Greer. “They took care of this guy and he got better.”
Due to his contagious condition, Charlie was not allowed visitors. “It was lonely,” he says. Charlie thought of his late grandfather, and their last conversation. His grandfather was an iron worker who raised nine kids. “He was happy that I had become a father. He said I had a big responsibility. And that there was no excuse to not go to work, even being sick.”
After five days of nasal oxygen administration, Charlie was able to breathe normally on his own again.
A week after he was admitted to Bartlett, Charlie recovered from COVID-19. He was discharged and went back to work. For the first two weeks after his discharge, he could only watch his crew work. By late spring, Charlie felt back to himself and was back working long days, replacing roofs in Douglas and Juneau.
This story is written by Bartlett Regional Hospital Community Relations Director Katie Bausler and appears in the Fall 2020 House Calls, a BRH publication.