Recovered Bucknell professor: COVID-19 doesn't compare to flu


Chris Boyatzis held tightly onto his bathroom vanity as he texted his wife for help.

Diagnosed with COVID-19, he couldn’t stop coughing — wet, not dry — and struggled to catch his breath.

Robin Jarrell hustled downstairs. The Lewisburg couple was keeping their distance. She offered to take him to the hospital, Evangelical being closest. Boyatzis couldn’t speak. He shook his head, “no.”

He was scared. He didn’t want to risk dying alone in an isolated hospital room.

“This is definitely the worst illness I ever had. There’s been lots of comparisons made to the flu, the regular flu. No. Don’t make those comparisons. If you have a bad case of coronavirus, there’s no comparison,” Boyatzis said.

Boyatzis, 61, a psychology professor at Bucknell University, said he fell ill about March 13. He thought he had a bad cold. He didn’t have the widely reported symptoms associated with COVID-19 brought on by the novel coronavirus: dry cough, chest tightness. He would go on to develop a fever but at the outset, he was congested, had an ear ache and was fatigued. His condition worsened. He struggled to uphold teaching duties, eventually having to cancel some online classes.

Boyatzis visited his physician on March 23 and was referred to Evangelical’s COVID-19 testing site near the hospital.

Six days later, test results returned: positive.

Boyatzis counts among the 31,069 Pennsylvanians who, through Friday, tested positive for COVID-19. Less than 3 percent, or 836 patients, died of the disease, the state Department of Health reports. There were 2,622 currently hospitalized as of Saturday, state data showed.

The Health Department isn’t tracking recoveries, though Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Saturday they’re working to determine recoveries among the hospitalized subset of COVID-19 patients.

Jarrell was surprised because Chris didn’t show the symptoms as reported, but in their nearly 30 years together, she said she never saw him so ill.

“If you know Chris, you know that you can’t ‘encourage’ him to do anything. All I could do was wait patiently to see what I could do — if anything — to help,” Jarrell said.

Boyatzis said fever caused his body temperature to swing wildly, from 97 degrees Fahrenheit to 102.6 degrees Fahrenheit. He had no appetite; no sense of smell or taste. Tremors caused him to hold onto chairs and such to balance himself.

The worst part of his ordeal, he said, was delirium.

Johns Hopkins Medicine said delirium is common among ICU patients and increasingly, media reports of delirium among COVID-19 patients are emerging.

“The images, the sounds, the voices I heard, it was just horrible. It was uncontrollable. It was bizarre,” Boyatzis said.

Boyatzis never did go to a hospital. He remained home. He said he barely ate but drank as much Gatorade as he could handle. He recovered and hasn’t experienced any symptoms over the past two weeks.

The illness reinforced his confidence in his own mental toughness, he said. But it also reinforced the importance of community. Simple well-wishes on Facebook, hundreds of them from friends, colleagues and students, helped as much as anything.

“I just burst into tears. I just started bawling like a baby. I was so physically weak and I was emotionally moved to tears from the support,” Boyatzis said. “It’s made all the difference.”

Jarrell said she learned first-hand how serious the disease can be at its worst. Since her husband wasn’t hospitalized, she said his case would be considered “mild.”

“And that is a misnomer. There is nothing mild about COVID-19,” she said.

“I know we live in a capitalistic economy.  I get it.  And I know small businesses are hurting — but it makes me wonder where our real value lies — economy or health/life.  You don’t want anyone you love to get infected,” Jarrell said.

Boyatzis urged everyone to follow basic precautions repeated over and over since the pandemic’s start: wash hands frequently, wear masks, stay at home. The virus would set the timeline for “reopening” the economy, he said, citing White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci.

“I feel like it’s a new life after being really sick,” Boyatzis said.

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