FARGO — Fargo Police Officer Mike Kjera, 56, admits it — he was a COVID-19 skeptic.
“At first, I was a doubter,” he said. “All the masks, what good is that going to do?”
But that changed after a three-week ordeal with the disease that left him exhausted, 15 pounds lighter and a believer that the virus causing the pandemic is nothing to mess around with.
When it began
Kjera, a 31-year veteran of the police department and a one-time candidate for Cass County Sheriff, started to feel sick on April 23 toward the end of his work day.
“I just didn’t feel good. I thought for a minute 'What if it’s COVID-19?', so I tried to stay away from people,” he said.
By 9 or 10 that evening, he started getting the shakes.
“It was uncontrollable,” he said. “I couldn’t stop myself from shaking. They talk about those people shaking so hard they come close to chipping a tooth. I was getting close to that point.”
Kjera said the shakes lasted until about 1 a.m., then the fever hit.
“We didn’t even have a thermometer, but I’m guessing it was around 102 degrees," he said. "I had a massive headache, and my eyes had pressure, and I was so fatigued.”
He said those symptoms lasted into the second day.
On the third day of noticing symptoms, Kjera decided to get tested. He vividly remembers being told that he had tested positive.
“She told me ‘Don’t panic,’ but it’s kind of hard not to when you hear about all of these people dying from it,” he said.
Kjera was told to treat the illness like he would the flu. He was given a number to call if he started to have trouble breathing, but he never did. However, his other symptoms wouldn’t let up for another eight days, including fatigue.
"I'd get exhausted going to the mailbox," he said.
And what could almost be described as hot flashes plagued Kjera for days.
“I’d have about 20 fevers a day,” he said. “I’d be feeling okay, but then I could feel the fever coming on. I’d hit about 101 degrees, then just when I’d start to take my shirt off because I was so hot, the fever would break.”
Kjera said this happened off and on for days. After more than a week, someone from the health department’s contract tracing division got in touch with him to ask him questions about his symptoms and offer guidance on how to deal with them.
“I remember telling her, ‘I can’t take much more of this. It’s killing me. Can I go to the hospital? Can they give me anything?’ ” he recalled.
She told him to “hang in there", take Tylenol and rest.
By the ninth day, Kjera started to feel a little better. He actually ate for the first time in more than a week. He was down 15 pounds but still had to stay away from people until he was symptom-free for three days. That happened about a week ago, and Kjera said he's actually ready to return to work soon.
Where did he get it?
Kjera still has no idea where he picked up the illness. He was in New Orleans back in February, which was a hot spot for infections, but he doubts he picked it up there because it was a full two months before he got sick.
He said when the pandemic began hitting here at home, he limited his outings to work, the grocery store and Menards.
He was glad to hear no other police officer had tested positive for the illness, even three officers who Kjera had contact with the day he started to feel symptomatic.
“They were in quarantine, but yes, it was good they tested negative,” he said.
Looking back on the illness, Kjera finds it unusual that he didn’t have so many of the symptoms you hear about, including difficulty breathing.
“I had no running nose, no sore throat, no vomiting or diarrhea,” he said. “But it was horrible.”
Kjera said he’s feeling really good now and has even gained back six of the 15 pounds he lost. He’s looking forward to going back to work, where he’ll be the first one to encourage people to protect themselves however they can.
“You have to keep your hands clean and don’t touch your face,” he said. “It’s hard to do, but so important.”
Mike Kjera on the Jay Thomas Show below: