Survivor stories: Cortland couple overcomes nearly fatal COVID-19 case
Cortland couple overcomes nearly fatal COVID-19 case
CORTLAND — Michael Klemm feared that he would die. Every shallow breath hurt.
“Twenty-four hours a day it felt like someone was beating us with a bat. Everything down to our toenails and fingernails hurt,” Klemm, 41, of Cortland, said.
As much as he struggled to breathe, wife Razel’s battle was worse. Doctors at Trumbull Regional Medical Center placed the 38-year-old on a ventilator and put her into a medically induced coma for 10 days while her body battled the novel coronavirus.
What they thought was the flu turned out to be COVID-19 infections for both of them.
“(Razel) was near death. We didn’t realize how close,” Michael said. “Her main doctor had a prayer circle going for her.”
As of two weeks ago, both finally tested negative for the virus. Recovery from the aftermath and rebuilding their strength continues.
“We’re doing everything humanly possible to make sure that the virus doesn’t come near us again,” Michael said.
That includes protecting the couple’s 8-year-old daughter, Anistyn, and Michael’s 70-year-old father, who lives with them.
Michael is a casino food and beverage assistant manager and Razel is a baker. These days, the family is staying home doing gardening, yard work and sometimes taking car rides.
“We’re doing different projects around the house but doing everything we can to stay safe. There’s no way we want to bring the virus back in the house,” Michael said. “The biggest thing that we want to keep emphasizing is we understand that it’s a small percentage of people that are getting infected, but it’s not really worth the risk.
“It’s the worst feeling you’re going to feel, not being able to breathe on top of the (normal flu-like symptoms). It’s the worst feeling. This is a virus we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. It’s that bad.”
Razel agreed. “It felt hard. I cried a lot,” she said in a voice still raspy from her time on the ventilator.
“I’m retired military,” said Michael, who served 20 years in the Air Force and a year-and-a-half in the Army. “I know all about our freedoms. This is not a game. There’s a huge difference in taking our freedoms away and keeping people safe.
“People are doing the best they know. This is new.”
So new that initially medical personnel didn’t believe they possibly could have coronavirus.
The Klemms didn’t fit the profile given when the pandemic was just settling in. Both are much younger than 60 and neither had been out of the country in some time.
“It’s comical how much time the first one spent telling us why we couldn’t have it,” Michael said. “We were tested for strep and flu three or four times. It kept coming back negative.
“It started with me getting it first,” Michael said. “I started not feeling well beginning the first week of March.”
He called off work with flu-like symptoms.
The first couple of days it was body aches, chest pains and a temperature that topped out at 103.7 degrees.
Three or four days later, Razel began exhibiting flu-like symptoms. Her temperature hit 103.9.
“I’ve got asthma, so I went to the hospital March 10 or 12,” he said. The medical staff at the center where he first went assured him that it couldn’t be the coronavirus and sent him home.
“Four days after that, both of us were in the middle of the virus. Both of us couldn’t breathe,” he said.
They went to another treatment center and both were swabbed for the flu, given cough syrup and sent home.
“On March 18, I almost passed out with a high temperature,” Michael said.
He went to Trumbull Regional Medical Center, where his chest X-ray came back as normal. He was tested for COVID-19 and told the results would be back within 10 days. He was sent home.
That was on a Wednesday. “From Friday to Sunday, me and Razel didn’t sleep,” he said. “You feel like a fish out of water. Sunday morning (March 22), she couldn’t get a deep breath. We both went to the ER. They put the pulse oximeter on her and it fluctuated from 84 to 87 (percent, which is considerably low).”
She was diagnosed with double pneumonia pending COVID-19 test and admitted. By this time, coronavirus tests were being processed locally. Razel was confirmed as a COVID-19 case on March 26. Michael’s COVID-19 diagnosis was confirmed on March 28.
“I was already starting to feel better by the time my test came back,” he said.
Razel was getting worse.
“At 11 p.m. March 27, my wife sent a text that the doctors told her they would put her to sleep and put her on a breathing machine,” he said.
“She’s a strong fighter,” he said. “I told them to do whatever you’ve got to do to save her. … I would call the hospital three, four times a day. The doctors and nurses were phenomenal. They turned into counselors and explained everything to me on the phone.”
The worst part, Michael said, was being prohibited from visiting because of pandemic restrictions banning all visitors.
“My wife was in ICU on the ventilator and I can’t be with her,” Michael said. “It’s a feeling nobody should ever have to go through. When loved ones are sick, you want to be right there holding their hand. Just not knowing what’s going on… Trying to explain to my daughter…
“I started asking friends and family to pray. She had tens of thousands of people praying for her around the world.
“She had very vivid dreams. She would explain who she saw in these dreams. It was the people who were praying for her the hardest,” he said.
Ten days later, Razel was brought out of the coma. She stayed in the intensive care unit an additional four days.
“Another five or six days after they woke her up, I was able to FaceTime her for the first time,” Michael said.
She was discharged April 17.
By the time it was over, Razel had lost 12 to 13 pounds and Michael was down 10 to 12 pounds. But they had survived.
“Before she was on the ventilator, we would look at each other and say, ‘I can’t breathe. I don’t know how we’re going to get through this.’ We didn’t know if we were going to live.”
GRATITUDE AND CONCERN
Neither Michael’s father nor the Klemms’ daughter have picked up the virus. The couple tried to self-isolate as much as possible when they were home, staying on separate floors of the house. But it’s difficult to keep an 8-year-old girl away from Mommy and Daddy.
“We think she possibly had this first and has the antibody,” Michael said. “There’s no other way to explain why she did not come down with it. She had pneumonia and strep throat in mid-February.”
Whether that’s the case, or whether he picked up the virus at work, and whether it was random contact anywhere outside their home, the Klemms say they remain grateful that the nightmare is over.
“When it’s safe, we want to meet the team of doctors who worked on her. We can’t wait to thank the doctors and nurses at Trumbull Regional Medical Center,” he said.
“One of the biggest things this has taught us is that we don’t worry about the little things in life. This shows you how precious life is.
“We learned to let the little things go.”