When John Soper, 66, started feeling sick on an international flight home early March, coronavirus didn’t cross his mind. High fever, lack of appetite, headaches – must be the flu, he thought. He was ready to be home after a trip to Northern Ireland for work, where he is the president of a company that provides software engineering and other services to the federal government.

A week later, Soper became one of the first Brunswick County residents labeled as presumptive positive for COVID-19. The test eventually confirmed the diagnosis.

Soper acknowledges he’s “lucky” because he wasn’t put on a ventilator and didn’t have an extended stay at the hospital. He also credits recent weight loss and his daily walks as putting him in better physical condition to help overcome coronavirus.

But he wants others, especially those who are older or might have underlying health problems, to take the virus – and social distancing recommendations – seriously. “If I can help one person by sharing my story it’s worth it,” he said.

‘It was the sickest she’s ever seen me’

Immediately upon feeling sick, Soper and his wife decided to stay at home, still thinking this was something he could “push through.”

Then his symptoms got worse. His fever of 101.9 degrees kept him up all night due to the night sweats and uncontrollable chills. Soper’s appetite disappeared, he lost sense of smell and taste, and his headaches persisted.

But when he began to feel tightness in his chest, Soper decided to seek help at Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center in Bolivia, North Carolina.

“I probably should’ve listened to my wife, Monica, the day before when she was telling me we needed to go,” Soper acknowledges. “I was sick for quite a while. It was the sickest she’s ever seen me.”

A security guard greeted Soper outside the main entrance, asking him questions before letting him inside. Soper then spoke with a receptionist, dressed in personal protective equipment.

“The receptionist handed me paperwork and then ended up having to help me fill all of it out because the fever was so disorienting,” Soper said. A team immediately isolated him, drew blood, administered a COVID-19 test and a chest X-Ray.

Soper also received an IV to replenish any fluids he had lost. High fevers can often increase sweating and, when paired with a lack of fluid intake, can lead to dehydration.

About five hours after, he was discharged with instructions to continue over-the-counter medications to help with the fever, given an inhaler and was told to isolate himself from anyone at home. Soper was also told to immediately return to the hospital if his fever got worse or he developed any sort of chest congestion.

The days following his visit were extremely difficult. “I was still in constant pain for five days.”

The test results that confirmed the diagnosis came in about a week after Soper’s visit to the emergency room.

“I was just starting to come out of it I would say by the time the test came back,” he said. “The fever had broken some and I was having less problems sleeping. I had a little bit of an appetite back, so I was, all right by the time I got the test.”

More than five weeks after getting sick, Soper said he is doing well and is no longer contagious.

“I’ve gone through all the protocols and I’m cleared for no longer having coronavirus,” he said. “I have a certification from the county health department that says so.”

Except for trips to the grocery store and venturing outside to walk their dogs, both John and Monica still follow the stay-at-home guidelines.

Novant Health doctors and infectious disease specialists say the single best way to protect yourself – and others – from COVID-19 is to practice social distancing and follow stay-at-home directives. The more everyone complies, the better the chances for controlling the spread and getting back to the lives everyone wants to lead.

TOP PHOTO: John Soper and his wife, Monica.

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