FARGO — Sherman Syverson has spent his entire adult life helping patients suffering from medical emergencies.
“Sherm” started in high school as a volunteer first responder in Enderlin, N.D., then became an emergency medical technician, paramedic and flight paramedic at F-M Ambulance in Fargo, working his way up the leadership ranks, and now, is an administrator at Sanford Health.
But he had never spent a single night in a hospital as a patient himself until recently, when he was sidelined with COVID-19.
Syverson, 51, was hospitalized for six days after he developed breathing trouble and his oxygen saturation dipped. Turns out, he had COVID pneumonia in both lungs.
In the hospital, Syverson had trouble caring for himself as he normally would, he said, struggling to get up to brush his teeth and to even roll over in bed.
“You’re relying on people to do things for you, so it makes you pretty humble pretty quick,” Syverson said.
As a result, he was away from his job as Emergency and Trauma Services Director at Sanford for almost a month. He recently shared his fight with the virus in a public Facebook post.
What’s tricky, he said, is that no one really knows how their body will react to the novel coronavirus until they get it.
“It was the sickest I've ever been in my entire life,” he said.
Like ‘flipping a switch’
The onset of the virus for Syverson was like flipping a switch.
He felt fine when he went to work on Sept. 24, and at the designated COVID-19 screening point he passes through daily, his temperature was 97.1 F.
The day was filled with meetings, in a room where all employees wore masks.
That afternoon, he started feeling a little warm and rundown and slightly short of breath. Syverson gets allergy flare ups in the fall, so he figured that was to blame.
That night, his temperature hit 102.8 and he informed his co-workers that he probably had COVID-19. He tested positive for it the next day.
He isolated himself at home immediately, not wanting his family to get sick.
His wife, Deb Syverson, is a registered nurse and Trauma Program Manager at Sanford Health; two of their three children still live at home.
Syverson said he felt guilty, worried that he might have given the virus to someone else, even though he and his co-workers had all been cautious.
Since March, he’s mostly gone from home to work and back, outside of getting groceries or running an occasional errand.
“I have no clue where I picked this up. I really don’t,” Syverson said.
His wife did end up getting the virus, he said, but her symptoms weren’t nearly as intense.
A ‘fragmented hard drive’
Sherm Syverson doesn't seem to be a person at risk for a serious outcome from COVID-19.
He describes himself as overweight or “chubby,” but otherwise healthy.
His symptoms were telltale ones for novel coronavirus; body aches, fatigue, loss of taste and smell and shortness of breath. His fever lingered for more than two weeks.
At home, he used a pulse oximeter to measure the level of oxygen in his blood.
One day, his oxygen saturation dipped to a dangerously low 75 percent.
“I felt like I could mechanically get the air in but it was not delivering oxygen to my red blood cells,” Syverson said.
He was suffering from hypoxia and not thinking properly; his wife had to convince him to go to the hospital.
Once there, he was treated with steroids, the antiviral medication Remdesivir and convalescent plasma. It took several days to begin turning the corner.
Over the course of his illness, he also dealt with COVID “brain fog.”
“I had a fragmented hard drive… just spots missing from the memories,” he said.
Syverson is feeling much better now, reflecting on his first stint as a hospital patient and thinking about how the healthcare system can better serve others who don’t have the resources that were available to him.
“We do follow up with patients after they've been discharged… but I just wonder… where are our opportunities to get better at that?” Syverson said.
He still has a lingering shortness of breath and is a little concerned that COVID-19 may have caused some scarring of his lungs.
“It's real and I'm still dealing with it,” he said.
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