WFSU News · Tallahassee · Panama City · Thomasville
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
WFSU Local News

A COVID-19 Survivor Tells His Tale

Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare
Gary Cottingham prior to his encounter with COVID-19

Leon County has had relatively few COVID-19 cases since the pandemic started. The Florida Department of Health report as of Sunday, May 17th, pegged that number at 280. There have been 6 Leon County fatalities and 33 local patients requiring hospitalization. Among these was a Tallahassee man who fell victim to the illness, along with his wife and adult son.

Gary Cottingham works for Publix as an information technology and marketing manager. He splits his work time between his Tallahassee home and his employer's corporate headquarters in Lakeland. Not long ago, his wife Sandy and their grown son went to Atlanta to tend to some family matters there.

"While my wife was up there in early March, she and my son, somewhere when they were out together, picked it up. To this day, they don't know where they got it."

But one thing was sure. All three members of the Cottingham family were soon feeling the effects of what he said they suspected might be COVID-19.

"And my wife had some of the symptoms but never got sick enough to be hospitalized. She was just very weak. And all three of us were so fatigued it was like we could be knocked over by a feather, that's how weak we were."

Gary's condition, however, kept getting worse.

"I was delirious! I was seeing things in my sleep, night sweats, headache, slight fever. And I kind of knew what was coming."

What was coming, began with a phone call.

"On the seventh day after I first had symptoms, I got ahold of a doctor on one of these tele-med services. And she said, 'I can hear in your breathing you're straining. You really need to get to the ER."

That trip confirmed what Cottingham already knew.

"I got to Tallahassee Memorial and I was in the emergency bed when they did a mobile X-ray and came back and said I had 'double COVID pneumonia' they called it. And that's when I got scared and said, 'What?!'"

Thus began more than a week of constant care and monitoring at TMH. Although Cottingham acknowledged his situation could have been much worse.

"I never went to the ICU. I never had to have a ventilator. But they were watching me very closely. But I was sick. I was still very weak and they kept me in the TMH COVID area."

Cottingham said he had nothing but praise for the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff who cared for him during his stay.

"They did a great job and you see these people literally putting their lives on the line to help other people. It's really amazing!"

By April 4th, Cottingham was well enough to be released from the hospital. On April 18th, he was declared essentially free from the virus, although most medical experts caution this virus is quite different from most others and remains very unpredictable. But one thing's for sure. Cottingham still feels the impact of his encounter with COVID-19. And he has no intention of repeating the experience.

"After having that and going through it, I'm scared. I don't want to get it again. And until I get some sort of serious confirmation that I can't get it again anytime soon, I'm freaked out about going anywhere!"

Cottingham also hoped that anyone who doubts the threat posed by the coronavirus will listen to stories like his.