EASTERN SHORE, Va. - By all accounts, Russell Vreeland is a relatively healthy 69-year-old.
He exercises daily, and as a vegetarian, is conscious of what he puts inside of his body. He had been warned about the threat of COVID-19, but hoped it would never attack his system.
He believes it all started when he was on his way back from a business trip to Colorado at the beginning of March. Vreeland has a Ph.D in microbial physiology and biochemistry and owns Eastern Shore Microbes. The company is designed to use sustainable technology for both disposal and treatment of contaminated wastewater, and serves clients all across the country.
Vreeland and his partner were on their way home from visiting with a client when they sat down in the Charlotte, N.C. airport. He says a woman behind them starting "coughing like crazy."
Vreeland recalls the cough as a deep, dry one, just like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had cautioned against. At that point, he and his co-worker looked at each other and said, 'Oh, no.'
It was downhill from there. Eight days later, around March 14, he started coughing and feeling unwell. The man he was on the trip with had already tested positive for COVID-19, so he anticipated the virus was inside of him as well.
He was tested by the Virginia Department of Health at a drive-thru testing site. Vreeland credited the quick testing to the doctors and nurses on scene and who worked with him thereafter. His results came less than 48 hours later - he had tested positive for COVID-19.
When the symptoms hit, they hit hard. Chills, fever, hallucinations, loss of taste and smell, weight loss - you name it. He described dumping salt on his tongue and having no sense of taste whatsoever.
"It was a profound loss," he said.
Vreeland went on to say that the coronavirus is defeating and scary, and he had never felt worse in his entire life. At one point, he didn't think he would be able to make it through, but a nurse called him and on the phone said, "You can do this."
After that, it was like he turned a corner. His fever went down and he slowly started to return to normal.
Even after he went back to "normal," tasks like going to work and taking his dog outside feel different. He describes things now as 'chaotic,' especially picking up operations at Eastern Shore Microbes. He says the challenges revolve around the fact that the microbes they were evaluating had been left to sit for weeks. Keeping up with customers, who are also uncertain right now, can also be challenging.
His message for others is to stay inside because this disease is so uncertain and dangerous. Even though he quarantined after encountering the woman in the airport, he says he still impacted 22 people. Vreeland doesn't want that to continue to happen.
“Go with the lockdown, stay home and don’t be stupid," he says.