After several weeks full of unwelcome surprises, Mike Minjares finally got one he could smile about when he turned the corner onto his San Carlos street and found the sidewalks full of his neighbors cheering his return.
Minjares, 54, had just spent 5 days inside the Kaiser Zion ICU and hopes his story helps put another face to the disease crippling the world.
He first noticed symptoms the evening of Tuesday, March 24, when he didn’t feel well and excused himself from the dinner table.
He took his temperature which read 100.7 degrees. He would spend the next 10 days battling a fever with increasing amounts of fatigue and shortness of breath before going to the hospital.
“It was a shock to me cause I had no idea how I would've contracted it in the first place, and I really didn't feel that bad, it was just this darn fever I couldn't shake," said Minjares.
An employee of the Chula Vista Elementary School District, Minjares had already been working from home for about a week. He hadn’t spent much time outside other than a quick trip to a couple of ATMs.
On Thursday, April 2, 11 days after his first symptoms, Minjares called his doctor at his wife’s request because things seemed to be getting worse and the doctor could hear him struggling for a breath.
She ordered an immediate chest x-ray, and although Minjares still planned to tough out the symptoms from home, he went in for the imaging.
The x-ray turned out to be a critical point in his journey.
Hours later his doctor called him with bad news. Not only had his COVID-19 test from days earlier returned positive, his lungs were failing.
Minjares says his wife wasn’t able to get home quickly, so he called 911. The dispatcher instructed him to wait in his front yard for paramedics.
The ambulance took him to Kaiser Zion where he went straight to an isolated room in the ICU. For the first time it hit him, he may never get to see his wife or kids again.
"Yes, I was alone, yes I had some difficult thoughts that came through my head,” said Minjares, but he remembers telling every nurse who’d enter his room about his family, his future plans, and his desire to get well.
Doctors gave him several drugs including the much talked about Hydroxychloroquine, which was presented to him as being “experimental”. He was up for anything and everything to get home to see his family.
Minjares doesn’t know if the drug was a game-changer, but his inflammation markers dramatically reduced over the next few days.
One thing he believes in whole-heartedly is the power of prayer and he said he could feel the prayers of loved ones lifting him up during his time in isolation.
Because COVID-19 patients can’t have visitors, and medical workers have to “gear up” just to enter their rooms, Minjares remembers being shocked at how alone you feel at the hospital.
Despite the shocking amount of energy it took to just lift his phone, he says the messages on social media and the pictures on his phone brought comfort.
Videos of his son’s choir singing brought him peace.
He would now tell anyone who is thinking of admitting themselves to the hospital for COVID-19 to bring a phone, charger, and wireless headphones.
On Monday, April 6, Minjares got the all-clear to go home and the nurses gathered around.
“And so when they wheeled me out of my room, they were cheering, they were cheering for me,” said Minjares.
The cheering wasn’t done yet, because his neighbors were also waiting.
“There were moments when I felt like this was happening to somebody else, but when I pulled down my street and could see people welcoming me, it, me this happening to me, this is my experience,” said Minjares. “There’s certainly much more I need to accomplish. There’s so many more things I need to give back to people, I’ve been humbled.”