“I was born in Laurel but we moved to Mobile. My dad worked at the paper mill and my mom worked at a bakery. We lived in Prichard by Prichard Park. Mom would give me 75 cents for lunch and I stayed at the park pool all day. The park had a zoo with a lion and an alligator. The peacocks were taller than me and would chase us around. There was also an amusement park. George Wallace came to the park twice a year to speak on the 4th of July and Labor Day. There were thousands of people there. Even more when he was running for president. I remember the night the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. I stepped out on the porch and could hear girls screaming through the neighborhood. I told my dad I wanted a guitar. I dreamed of being Elvis but never learned how to play an instrument.
My grandparents lived in Collins, Mississippi and I made good memories there. The first time I went skinny dipping was in Collins. The first time I kissed a girl in a hayloft or on the back row of a movie was in Collins — the movie was Ben Hur.
After having COVID, I am thankful to still be here making memories.
I woke up sick on Christmas morning. I went to my ex-wife Becky’s house to cook and spend Christmas with her. I struggled through the day and told Becky that I didn’t feel good. I went home and slept all night. The next day I was coughing and hacking at work. I went to the doctor and tested positive for COVID. They gave me a steroid shot, prescriptions, and a letter saying I could go back to work in 10 days.
A friend brought me an oxygen reader and said don’t let it go below 92. My oxygen would drop below 88 and I would get it back up. I just wanted to sleep and take hot showers. Becky brought me food, but I didn’t eat for five or six days. On December 30, I slept for about 15 hours. My phone kept ringing from Becky and a California number. I finally answered. The California number was a friend from high school who was a COVID nurse. My oxygen was at 71. She told me to call 911 and get to the hospital immediately. If I’d stayed home, I probably would have slept until all of my organs shut down. My friends saved my life.
I told the ambulance driver I wanted to go to Providence Hospital because that’s where my doctors are. He said Springhill Medical Center was the only hospital with a bed available. That’s where I went. I wasn’t worried, but when I got into the ER, things changed. There were no hospital beds, so I was in an ER bed for two days. I was on oxygen and sat on the edge of the bed or a chair for 48 hours just breathing. My oxygen numbers were bad. The nurse told me if I didn’t get my numbers up, they were going to put me on a ventilator. I started breathing like crazy to avoid the ventilator.
After two days, I was moved from ER to ICU. That felt like a promotion. I’ve never been depressed, but I was pretty depressed in the ER. It got worse in ICU. People were dying from COVID. Each of my breaths was a cough. I was so tired that I was almost ready to go on a ventilator and let it breathe for me. They finally brought me a real hospital bed. In ICU, I could see patients in other rooms around me. Nurses were gathered around one man with a nurse on top of his body pumping his chest. My nurse saw me looking. She closed my curtains saying, ‘You don’t want to watch this.’ I saw another man give up and die. I wanted out of there, but I needed the care. The nurses were phenomenal. They worked hard overtime hours and were quarantined from their families. The doctors and nurses said they were learning about COVID as they go.
COVID is death. It’s black and gray. It tastes and smells like death. It leaves a taste in your mouth and a scent on your palette. I tasted that for months. I never want to see that palette again.
About 1:15 a.m. one morning, someone flipped on the lights and took me to a regular COVID floor. I cried all the way there because it was a step towards normal. It was hope that I was going to make it. I was in the hospital for almost three weeks. I could barely stand up because I hadn’t used my muscles in a while. A therapist helped me walk better.
The doctors finally let me leave. I was so happy that I cried again going out the door. Becky picked me up and took me to her house to take care of me. I stayed with her for a little over two months. She endured a lot the first several weeks. There was constant coughing and bronchitis. I took up her space with oxygen tanks and a loud oxygen machine that I towed around her house. She washed my clothes, took me to doctor appointments and made me breakfast, lunch and dinner. She stopped at my place each day to take care of my cats. My two cats had free reign of my house for three months. They knocked pictures off the walls and broke my ironing board. How did they do that?
Becky and I were high school sweethearts. We dated and were engaged six years before we got married. We were married for 30 years but divorced 11 years ago. Even though we aren’t together we’re bonded through our son, Brandon, who we lost a little over 3 years ago. His kidneys were dying. Becky and I have been through the worst together and I am grateful for everything she did to get me through COVID.
I’m not the same person I was before the Coronavirus. I still have effects, and the brain fog is real. The recovery is slow, and I tire out easily. It took a long time for the junk in my chest to go away. There’s damage to my vocal cords from coughing and a little damage to my lungs. My body aches all over and food tastes different. I eat things sharper in taste and drink brighter wines. Liquor doesn’t taste good anymore. I drink Jack and Coke at Mardi Gras. Now I don’t like it.
We’re getting back to doing the ‘Sip and Chew with Mike and Stu’ show. We’ve done the show for nine years and are ready to get back out there. The food at the hospital was really good. I want to go back and talk with them about how they make it happen. I’m also ready for gumbo competitions. I make a pretty good gumbo. I’ve won first and second place a couple of times and third place a lot. I am thankful I’m still here to drink wine and make gumbo again.”