GEORGETOWN, Texas - A Central Texas surgeon is urging the public to heed warnings after his own nearly fatal battle with COVID-19.
On March 20, Dr. Scott Smith, a surgeon with Texas Orthopedics, noticed a headache. Then, he says he began to feel “run down.”
“Sunday (March 22) I got up and I’m like, ‘wow this is not right, this is terrible.’ And so, I was supposed to work the next week, so I said ‘I gotta get tested.’” Smith got tested that same day. The following day, his test came back positive.
Smith self-quarantined for nearly a week.
“My biggest problem initially was I had gastrointestinal problems -- my stomach ached, my abdomen, I really didn’t eat for about ten days. Then I started having fevers, then I started having shortness of breath and that’s when the risk went up, and I went to the hospital.” Smith explained.
Smith went to St. David’s Georgetown hospital, where he was immediately put on oxygen.
“I was incapable of moving more air and I was panting," Smith said. "So, that’s when I said ‘I don’t know if I’m gonna make it out of this.’”
Smith was put on hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, also known as a “Z-Pak.” Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial medication and a “Z-Pak” is a common antibiotic. The drugs are an experimental treatment for COVID-19.
“I was pretty ill at that point, and looking for anything I could possibly try. [Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin] has the best data, it’s not great data but it’s better than the antiviral medicines and some of the things people are trying recently. Hopefully, in the near future, we’ll have better data to tell you ‘hey they work or they don’t work’ but truly, it’s supportive treatment.” Smith said.
Smith spent four days in the hospital, fighting for his life.
“The isolation is for real. The mental health side of this is terrible because you’re completely on your own. Even when you’re in the hospital the nurses can’t come in very often because they have to get all dressed up and everything.” he explained.
Smith’s family camped out in the parking lot of the hospital for 10-12 hours each day.
“So when I had enough strength, which was maybe two or three times a day, I would kind of stagger over [to the window] leaning on my IV pole and I would wave at them and they would jump up and you know, be silly," Smith said.
All the while, Smith mentally prepared to say goodbye.
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“I have a grandson hopefully being born in the next three weeks, my first grandchild," Smith said. "I had kind of decided, you know ‘hey, bummer’ I’m not gonna get to see him. My wife is gonna have to live without me and my grown children are gonna have to live without me -- and luckily I was wrong, and my doctors were right. They got me through it.”
After four days, Smith was transferred to Ascension Seton Medical Center. He spent his first night there in the ICU.
“I’m a Christian and I just kind of said ‘hey God if it’s your will for me to move on, or if it’s your will to heal me, it’s up to you.’ And, I had a lot of people praying for me'," Smith said.
Smith was transferred to the hospital's “coronavirus floor” the following evening.
“I’m still wrestling with those couple days where I didn’t think I was gonna make it.” he said.
On April 5, Smith was released from the hospital.
“I spent 15 days without interacting with any other people and I laid there and had a lot of time to think and you know? What matters is your relationship with people," Smith said. "And you just have to get up every day and know this is a gift that I was given and I’m gonna make the best of this day… I hope I live the rest of my life with that attitude.”
On April 14, Smith returned to work, following a negative antigen test, and a positive antibody test.
“I just love taking care of people and I hope my relationships are deeper based on these last 26 days," Smith said.
Smith also hopes his experiences will serve as a cautionary tale.
“You have to respect this virus,” he said. “All the people in the know, not me -- but the CDC, the infectious disease doctors -- their recommendations are based on facts. You don’t wanna get this virus because some people do have a very benign course, some people die.”
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