Surviving COVID-19: An IBD patient's story
Published: April 6, 2020
My name’s Rick Folbaum. I’m a dad, TV news anchor, and Crohn’s patient. I’m also a coronavirus survivor. Like you, I’d been following the coronavirus headlines, watching and worrying as it swept through China, Iran, Italy, and then Washington State. In my case, I had to report on the developments every night during my newscasts.
“Experts say those most at risk are the elderly and people with underlying health problems.” And as the words came out of my mouth on the 6 o’clock news, I couldn’t help but think, “That’s me!” I’m part of that group, and have been for a long time.
My Crohn’s, first diagnosed in 1991, is in remission. But as I’ve learned over the years it’s those those pesky, little peripheral issues tied to my compromised immune system that can cause the biggest nightmares. Skin cancer, anyone Psoriasis? Anxiety? I’ve had them all, according to my doctors, as a result of my Crohn’s or the medication I take to keep my symptoms at bay. And now I have to worry about COVID-19? Perfect.
In hindsight, maybe I should have backed out of my annual ski trip with my buddies. But I went. While we were there, it felt like the world changed. The World Health Organization declared coronavirus a “global pandemic.” The stock market nosedived. And the NCAA canceled March Madness. That’s when we realized we should probably go home. I returned from Vail, Colorado (which became one of those COVID-19 hot spots) and felt fine. I played with my kids, cooked them a big family meal, woke up the next day, and went to work.
I anchored my 4 p.m. newscast. Then my 5 o’clock show. And at 5:30, I went back to my desk to prepare for my 6 p.m. broadcast. But once I got there, I was suddenly hit with a wave of fatigue that I’ve never experienced before. “Let me just close my eyes for 5 minutes,” I remember thinking. Thirty minutes later, my producer woke me by shouting my name across the newsroom, “Hey Folbaum, the 6 o’clock starts in 15 seconds!” I’m glad he shouted, rather than coming over to tap me on the shoulder. I could have infected him.
I ran out and anchored the 6, struggling to keep my energy level up and knowing that something was going on inside my body. I told my colleagues I wasn’t well and had to leave. I drove home and called my doctor. He suggested I go to sleep and see how I felt in the morning. I slept for 11 hours, waking up feeling worse than I had the night before. Body aches. Ear aches. Chest tightness. Cough. Now my doctor told me to go to the hospital and get tested for coronavirus. Call ahead, he said. The hospital was ready for me, and others like me, taking my temperature and placing a mask on my face the second I walked up to the entrance.
I’d been to a ski resort, I told them. I’d been on an airplane. I have Crohn’s. And with that, I was deemed eligible for coronavirus testing. They swabbed me, gave me a bag of IV fluids, and told me to go home and wait for the results. They told me to self-isolate and assume I was positive, which was eventually confirmed four days later when I got my test results.
Those first 11 days were a blur, spent almost entirely lying down. From my bed. To my couch. Back to my bed again. The aches would subside, but the fatigue parked itself inside my bones and caused me to think it would never leave. “Nothing you can do,” my doctor texted me. “Just drink lots of fluids, take Tylenol and rest.” I laughed at his instruction to rest, as though my body was going to allow me to do anything else.
Finally, on day 11, I began to see small signs of improvement. I could shower without losing my breath. I went longer stretches in between naps. My sense of smell and taste starting coming back, along with my appetite. I wanted French fries. Yes, I was definitely starting to feel human again. It was slow. But it was happening.
With each day, I’ve regained more of my strength. Last week, I started anchoring the news again; this time from a makeshift studio the station set up at my house. According to my doctor and CDC guidelines, I am free to end my isolation. But just to be safe, I’m going to stay away from my kids for another couple of weeks. None of them ever showed any symptoms, and we’d like to keep it that way.
As a journalist, I am much more comfortable reading the news than I am being part of it. But I’m sharing my story in order to demystify COVID-19. I want people to know that it’s possible to get the coronavirus and to fully recover from it. And that’s coming from someone with one of those “underlying health problems.” The vast majority of those of us who get it will be absolutely fine. IBD patients are a tough bunch. We deal with all kinds of unpleasantries on a daily basis.
Coronavirus, if you get it, may stop you cold for a couple of weeks. But drink fluids, take Tylenol and rest. You’ve got this.
Rick Folbaum anchors the 4, 5, 6, 9 and 11pm news on WGCL-TV, CBS46 in Atlanta.