Maryland Department of Health
“My body was cooking from the inside out, and the pain was like someone had dropped a ton of weights on me, all over my body. Every single joint was in agony. I told the doctors to let me die.” -Allen Lights
Bertie “Allen” Lights— Navy veteran, retired firefighter, railroad pipefitter — never imagined a virus could bring him to the brink of death at age 52. But after his four-month ordeal with COVID-19, he is grateful just to be able to breathe and walk on his own.
“This isn’t like anything I ever experienced, and I was in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Allen said. “One doctor told me it was like a tornado had entered my body, and it tore up everything in its path.”
Allen was diagnosed on June 4 after a coworker fell ill with Covid-19. He went to the emergency room at the VA Hospital twice over the next two days with fever, extreme body aches and difficulty breathing—but was sent home to recover each time.
Finally, on June 6, Allen returned to the ER in an ambulance, with a blood oxygen level of 79—normal level is 95-100. He began what would be a six week fight for his life in two different Prince George’s County hospitals.
He was transported to Laurel 3-4-5, the temporary expansion of the University of Maryland’s Laurel facility treating COVID-19 patients. He spent the next three weeks there, fighting for every breath.
Allen developed double pneumonia, blood clots in his lungs and suffered a fever of 104 for more than a week. “I was in so much pain, like every bone and part was in agony. I was sucking down oxygen for about four weeks— 6-10 liters a day,” Allen said. Even now, he has difficulty breathing some days.
But Allen’s most acute impact from COVID-19 now is economic. He has not worked since June, and his working benefits have been slow to arrive because of paperwork. “I went from making $2300 each paycheck, after taxes, to zero. It’s been difficult, to say the least,” he admitted quietly.
Allen is grateful for the kindness of his friends who have helped him in many ways, such as dropping off meals. But he has also had people shun and avoid him because of the virus. “For a while I stopped telling people because they would only hear I was positive and avoid me. It didn’t matter that I was not infectious anymore.”
He has a stark warning for those who claim that only people with pre-existing conditions should worry about Covid. “I walked on my job sometimes up to 14 miles a day before I got sick, and this took me to where I couldn’t walk across a room. You may not get it that bad, but you’re rolling the dice. This virus isn’t the same thing for everyone.”
He added: “I didn’t sleep for weeks, because I felt like I would never wake up again. That is what this disease can do. You don’t want it to happen to you or anyone you love.”