(NEW YORK POST) – It started out as a tickle in his throat before bed, but by the next morning, it felt like the worst flu ever.
And by the time Kevin Harris was admitted to a hospital in Ohio five days later, he thought he was suffocating.
The doctors at St. Joseph Hospital in Warren were certain Harris, 55, had pneumonia — but three days later, they had the real diagnosis: coronavirus.
One of the doctors had tears in his eyes when Harris asked if he would live. Another doctor just shrugged and mumbled, “I don’t know.”
“They told me they didn’t have a cure,” Harris told The Post from his hospital room, where he was still hooked up to oxygen Tuesday night. “I just wanted them to tell me if I’m going to live or die.”
Harris, a father of four children with three grandchildren, believes he was exposed to the coronavirus at another hospital when he went in for an appointment that wound up being canceled.
Within a couple of days, he said, he felt like he couldn’t clear his throat. He couldn’t stop coughing. By the next day, he had a fever and headaches. But the worst part was the body aches.
On a scale of 1 to 10, he said, the pain was 15.
“The pain is off the charts. Everything hurts, nose, toes and ears,” said Harris. “I was like one big ball of pain.”
He said he cried “like a little girl” when he moved from his bed to a nearby chair.
Three days after his first symptoms, he said, his fever had begun to wane, and it seemed like he might get better — but then it returned with a vengeance, and he felt like he was choking every time he breathed.
“Imagine your lungs turning solid. It’s like suffocating without holding your nose,” said Harris, who owns an auto body shop and typically runs 5 miles every day.
“Every time I lay down, my breathing gets lower and lower. I thought my lungs would fail me. I was screaming for mercy and praying to God.”
By the time Harris made it to the hospital, it was taking him an hour to move 50 feet to his bathroom — and he had to stop twice, lie on the floor and catch his breath before reaching the door.
Yet he said his doctors were incredulous when he tested positive for the coronavirus — he was the hospital’s first case.
When the doctors said they would try everything, Harris said, he was eager to fight.
“The doctor said to me, ‘Look, I’ve been on the phone with people all over the world who are trying everything they can,’” remembers Harris. “’We are not going to let you die.’”
Harris said the doctors gave him a cocktail of vitamins — including lots of vitamin C — cough medicine, an experimental antiviral medication, a malaria vaccine and antibiotics.
They told him they were trying to jumpstart his immune system. They also told him to pray.
On Sunday, his fever finally broke after almost two weeks. On Tuesday, he used the bathroom for the first time by using a walker. His pain is now half what it was before — a 7, he said.
Still in complete isolation, he has received no visitors in the hospital. Every six hours, his temperature is taken by medical staff wearing gloves, a yellow paper suit and an inverted face shield with an N95 mask underneath and a surgical mask over the top. They give him cough and pain medications.
Dr. Huong Nguyen, an infectious disease doctor at the hospital, told Harris he is not out of the woods yet, but he’s improving a little every day.
He said it could be a couple of months before he is on his feet again.
“I was afraid for the worst,” said Harris’ daughter, Kamron Khan, a registered nurse in Ohio. “He’s a tough guy and has been through a lot, so to hear him tell me he thought he wasn’t going to make it was sad and scary.”
Harris said he has learned that everybody needs to be ready for the coronavirus.
“People have to take this seriously. The virus is a monster trying to kill you. Buying all this toilet paper is a waste of money. You won’t need it if you get sick,” he said.