COVINGTON, Ga. — One month ago, bedridden and unable to properly breathe, Calvin Dickerson feared for his life.
It began with stomach pains. When Dickerson, the 54-year-old Covington resident, arrived at his home from dining out in Commerce on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day, he felt under the weather. He experienced an upset stomach and diarrhea, but he assumed he was suffering the effects of a common stomach virus.
The following week, however, more symptoms began to creep in. He recalls biting into a hamburger on Monday, March 23, and having his mouth immediately filled with the taste of salt. As a result, he cut solid food from his diet and resorted to water and protein shakes. Two days later, Monifa Dickerson came home to find her husband running a high fever and drenched in sweat.
“She told me, ‘Come on, let’s go to the ER at Piedmont Newton Hospital,’” Dickerson said.
Dickerson was tested for COVID-19 but initially diagnosed with pneumonia and admitted to the hospital on Wednesday, March 25. There was no question that his body was fighting something, but he didn’t feel miserable. He thought he’d be out of the hospital in no time.
“When they admitted me on the 25th, I was fine,” Dickerson said. “I just had a high fever, but I was still strong.”
Over the next three days, Dickerson’s health steadily declined. Menial tasks like sitting up and taking deep breaths had suddenly become increasingly difficult. He felt his physical strength and well-being dissipating by the hour.
Dickerson’s test results came back that Saturday. He’d tested positive for COVID-19 and was transferred to the ICU department at Piedmont Atlanta.
“After a couple of days, man, I went from 100% to 10%. Just taking a deep breath was tasking. I couldn’t do it,” he said. “My chest was hurting, and I really thought I was gonna die.”
Dickerson was quarantined and overcome with fear. As a 340-pound man in his mid-50s suffering from stage 4 kidney disease, he understood that he was at an increased risk of fatality from the virus. But he wasn’t about to let his anxiety about the diagnosis prevent him from fighting for his life.
On April 2, Dickerson received a phone call from mother-in-law in Texas. She encouraged him to start rehabilitating himself through breathing exercises and physical activity to incrementally build up his strength. With the support of his wife, Monifa, and his loving family at his side, he began to do just that.
“I started sitting up and started walking around. I started taking real deep breaths and holding them to give my lungs oxygen,” he said.
Over the coming weeks, Dickerson built his strength back up. The virus further damaged his kidneys to the point of needing dialysis — he’s now on it three days a week, four hours a day — but he was able to beat it.
Dickerson recovered from the coronavirus and tested negative on April 22. On Friday, May 1, after being quarantined for more than a month, he was able to step back outside of his house as a healthy man.
“God is good,” Dickerson exclaimed this week. “We’re still fighting the fight, fighting the battle.”
He hopes his story will help give other people who test positive for the novel virus hope. Even with underlying health conditions, he said, it’s not a death sentence. He’s continued to fight back, and encourages others to do so.
“My message to people would be to keep their faith in God. Get up, get out of that bed, walk around, breathe deep and just move,” Dickerson said. “[The coronavirus] wants us to lay around in the bed where the phlegm and mucus can fill up our lungs. So get around and try to get your lungs back right, and stay active if you can.”
He also expressed his gratitude for his loving wife, Monifa, for her endless support throughout his battle.
“My wife, she kept me fighting. She was there for me. I mean, she was just awesome in this process and still is,” Dickerson said. “My wife has been a tremendous blessing in my life.”