SPOTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. - One year ago Monday, Eric Bryant went to Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center thinking the shortness of breath and fatigue he had felt for a few days was something minor.
Little did he know, he would soon become the fifth person in Virginia to test positive for COVID-19, a disease that basically shut down his body.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have COVID,” Bryant said during an interview with CBS 6 Monday morning. “They didn’t think I’d live through the night on several occasions. I’m living testament that God’s healing is real, and I’m still here.”
Virginia just passed the one-year mark since the first case of the novel coronavirus was reported at Ft. Belvoir in Northern Virginia, March 7, 2020.
Bryant would spend more than 20 days in the hospital, many of them on a ventilator and some of them in a comma.
Since the days following his release from SRMC last year, Bryant said his condition has improved almost every day, although he still goes through lingering health effects.
For instance, some days walking on his treadmill is a challenge the 52-year-old never experienced before contradicting the virus.
“Some days I might be able to do 15, 20, 30 minutes. Then, some days after the first two minutes I’m exhausted I’m sweating as if I may have run a marathon,” he said.
Bryant now takes various medications for things like liver issues and high blood pressures he did not have prior to his stint in the hospital.
“You can’t just go by statistics stating it affects the elderly or people with co-morbid conditions because I had none of that,” Bryant said of his severe illness. “It’s still hard to believe that some people don’t believe that COVID exists. I’m living proof that it does exist, and it’s aggressive, and it does take a toll on your body.”
Physical side effects were something he anticipated.
Bryant, a veteran who now works as an analyst for the Navy, said the mental and emotional toll of his experience is something he did not expect.
He urged everyone, whether they contradicted COVID-19 or not, to seek help from a professional if they feel their mental health has suffered during the pandemic.
“It affected me in a way I never thought it would: having anxiety as far as being out in crowds and being out in public. That’s still a challenge,” he said. “It’s something that you never experienced before, so everyone is going to deal with it differently, and it’s going to affect you in ways you probably wouldn’t think.”
Bryant still has not seen his four kids in-person since his release from the hospital last spring. For now, sharing moments with them virtually are cherished times.
“Cherishing those moments, no matter how small people may think that they are. You just never know when and if that may be your last one,” he said. “To me, it’s an everyday struggle. From day to day, I never know how I’m going to be, but I always get up in anticipation of it being the best day it can be.”
That attitude he carries with him daily, in part, because of a prayer he says each morning, a moment of reflection for the loved ones of the nearly 10,000 Virginians who did not survive the virus.
“I mourn with them because I know that I could be a part of that number,” he said. “It’s a constant reminder of how blessed I am, but also how unfortunate and how many people have lost their lives to this dreaded disease.”
Bryant is set to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in the very near future through the VA.
He said wanted to share his story so that people would not yet let their guard down, take precautions, and get vaccinated as soon as they have the chance.