Feature: Two Americans' fight against COVID-19

By Xu Jing

CHICAGO, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- Joel Lerner living in U.S. Midwest state of Illinois did not feel well in late July. He had a sore throat and a mild fever. His doctor suggested he take a COVID-19 test. The result was positive at the beginning of August.

"I was surprised that I tested positive because I had been pretty careful regarding quarantine... being careful to mask up and wash hands," Lerner told Xinhua. But as a photographer, he needs to work outside. "Not everyone I encountered was as careful."

Lerner has a sister working as an ICU nurse, and therefore knows the unfavorable outcome COVID-19 infection may produce. He also has a couple of friends who have died from the disease, and some more that were put on oxygen and managed to get back to their lives. "I knew anything could be my possible outcome."

Though being concerned, he decided to wait at home until feeling short breath, which, luckily enough for him, never happened.

"After a couple of days of much sleep and not much of an appetite, my fever and body aches went away and the sore throat got better, but lasted longer," he recalled.

Michael Scholl, a 57-year-old social worker in Chicago, went further. After being sick for about a week with a low fever, Scholl went to a local hospital. "They took blood work and chest X-ray, they were all set to send me home, but my bloodwork came back indicating that my immune system was way off." The doctors gave him COVID-19 test.

The test came back the next day, showing Scholl was COVID-19 positive. It was in mid-March when the first wave of the pandemic began to sweep through the United States. "I was the second patient at that hospital to be treated for COVID-19," he told Xinhua.

"My oxygen level dropped significantly and I developed pneumonia in both lungs." Scholl was admitted into ICU and put on a ventilator. "They (doctors) told me there was a greater than 50 percent chance that I would not wake up."

"I called my wife Marie in a panic and let her know the situation," Scholl said. He also made about 20 goodbye videos on cell phone for family friends and work staff.

Luck in misfortune, Scholl gradually recovered after being on the ventilator for four days.

"It was quite a scene in ICU and I likened it to a 'MASH' episode because it felt surreal how many patients were being triaged." Scholl remembered vividly the scene in ICU after eight months.

Lerner is grateful for the outpouring of offers of help and concern for him from relatives and friends. It is "heartwarming and overwhelming". The 58-year-old said he is lucky that his case is a mild one.

Meanwhile, he is surprised that there was no follow-up from local health system after he tested positive. "Neither my private healthcare provider nor the state health department did any contact tracing with me or followed up on my experience to this day."

Scholl later learnt that the doctors called his wife several times and told her "I might not make it." "She was also having COVID-19 symptoms and trying to take care of our three children... I realized how hard this was for my wife and my kids," he said.

"She had the insight to tell me to quarantine before it was popular, the strength and courage to pray for me when I was near death and to deal with her own COVID-19 symptoms and parent our three kids," Scholl said thankfully.

After the ordeal, Scholl has been more focused on supporting other therapists, first responders who help other people in their daily work. "I also made an effort to reconnect with friends. I am looking forward to connecting with as many friends and relatives as possible."

Scholl has followed how China has controlled COVID-19. "It appears that China had a more coordinated response and almost everyone followed the COVID-19 protocols they put in place," he commented.

"I do think we can learn a lot from others," he told Xinhua. "One thing that U.S. citizens could learn is setting aside political differences to come together for the common good. Hopefully we will learn that collaboration not blame is the key to defeating this virus."

Lerner now wants to travel more, see all that the world has to offer.

"The COVID-19 pandemic just illuminated the cracks in society and problems with nations only thinking in an insular nature," he said. "There needs to be a global response to the pandemic, and to all our problems. All of the world's issues are solvable with global cooperation. We need to work together without nationalism and greed."

"If the world could come together, we could solve almost all of our problems, hunger, debt, and health problems," he stressed.

COVID-19 data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University showed that as of Saturday afternoon the United States reported the most case count and fatality around the world, with more than 14.45 million cases and over 280,000 deaths respectively.

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