MARBLEHEAD – Friday, May 1 was supposed to be another workday for Phil Padulsky. While many residents across the state had been working from home since the Covid-19 pandemic began almost two months earlier, Phil did not have that option and was considered an essential worker. He had been in the food industry since he was a kid, helping his dad with the family business, and eventually serving as food service director at school districts in Marblehead, Gloucester, and Stoneham.
At 56, Phil was still a food service director in private industry. At the end of his shift on May 1, the weekend beckoned – but Phil noticed that he had a dry cough, and was feeling achy. When he arrived home in Marblehead, he decided to take a nap. Then he sat down to have dinner with his wife, Stacey. “I couldn’t taste anything when I had dinner,” said Phil, who suspected he might have contracted the coronavirus. By then, there had been 62,000 Covid-19 cases in the state, with 3,716 deaths.
The following day he started to spike a fever and decided to get tested for the virus. By the end of the weekend, he learned he had tested positive and decided to recuperate in his basement – afraid that he might pass the virus on to Stacey or his in-laws, Joe and Bonny Glixman, who live with the couple.
For the next five days, Phil’s fevers got worse. On May 5, he spent the day alone in the basement and missed his 30th anniversary with Stacey.
Meanwhile, during that week, Stacey noticed that her father, Joe, who is 79 and a retired jeweler from Point of Pines in Revere, had developed a cough and some weakness throughout his body. Joe also took a Covid test and learned that it was positive. With her father and husband ailing, Stacey picked up the phone on May 8 and called for two ambulances. Phil and Joe were brought to North Shore Medical Center in Salem.
“I remember the ride over. It was Friday and misty and the ambulance driver said, ‘You’ll be back home in a couple of hours, you’ll be OK,’” said Phil. “But when I got to the emergency room, I was in the hallway and burning up with a fever. They whisked me into a room and put on ice blankets to cool me off.”
Placed in a bed opposite his father-in-law, Phil knew something was seriously wrong. “My first thought was I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. I had a high fever, confusion, a flu times 10. I was very lethargic, delirious, wanting to sleep, and at night I was sweating, coughing, and feeling miserable,” he said.
By Sunday, May 10, Phil’s status was deteriorating quickly. His fevers had reached as high as 105; his oxygen levels had dropped, and he couldn’t stop coughing. He was delirious and couldn’t even remember what he was saying. That’s when the doctors decided to put him in a medically induced coma and place him on a ventilator.
“The doctors said my breathing was getting a little shallow, and that they would have to put me on a ventilator,” Phil recalled. “They said they had had no complications so far from ventilators. I told my wife I was scared, and she said ‘Stay strong, you got this.’”
After Phil was put into a coma and placed on a ventilator, doctors performed the same procedures on his father-in-law, Joe. Stacey and their son Lance would FaceTime Phil while he was in the coma, and tell him they loved him and that he would eventually recover and return home.
“I could hear Stacey telling me she loved me, and my son saying when you come home we’ll go golfing. I didn’t realize how bad it was because I was asleep,” said Phil.
As Phil and Joe battled to stay alive, Stacey noticed that her mother, Bonny, had come down with a cough and that her oxygen levels were low. Stacey, trained as a medical assistant, called for another ambulance. Soon, Bonny was at the same hospital as her husband and son-in-law, and also had tested positive for Covid-19.
“I was all alone, freaking out, thinking each and every one was going to leave me,” said Stacey. To make matters worse, Phil’s kidneys failed, forcing him to be treated with dialysis.
Around that time, Lance’s fiancé, Mia – a pharmacist – suggested that Phil receive convalescent plasma therapy, an experimental treatment that some doctors use for people with severe Covid-19. She also suggested that he be given remdesivir, a drug that has shown some success in battling the virus. Doctors agreed, and Phil became the first Covid-19 patient at the hospital to receive the dual treatment.
Meanwhile, Stacey was prohibited from visiting her husband and parents in the hospital, so she stayed in her home. She reached out to Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El, who kept the family in his prayers. She was filled with anxiety during the month of May.
“It was horrible. I had to rely on the doctors and I would sit in the same spot on my couch all day waiting for the time when the doctor would call and give me an update,” she said. “Sometimes my body just froze and I couldn’t hear what the doctor said; I got so scared. If it was bad news, which it usually was, I couldn’t talk for the day.”
After a week, her mother got stronger and was released from the hospital. And with the new treatments, Phil’s vital signs began to improve. After 17 days, Phil came out of the coma, and was taken off of the ventilator. Soon, Stacey was speaking to Phil on FaceTime. He tried to speak but could just whisper. Finally a doctor gave him a pen and paper, and Phil wrote the word “pup.”
“The doctor said he wants a puppy. And everyone was clapping on the phone,” said Stacey, who added that they will name the dog Will as a reminder of Phil’s will to live.
In early June, the hospital’s intensive care unit workers applauded as Phil was wheeled out of the unit and brought to a waiting ambulance. He was on his way to Spaulding rehab. He spent 17 days learning how to walk again, and after two negative Covid-19 tests, was released on June 18. As he was leaving, he passed his father-in-law, who had just been transferred to Spaulding.
“I said, ‘Hey Joe, you’ll be fine,’” said Phil, who was greeted at home with a parade of 50 cars filled with friends and family – including a Marblehead fire truck.
Since then, the Padulskys have tried to resume their lives, but it hasn’t been easy. Joe was released last week and also came home. For Phil, though, surviving Covid-19 continues each waking moment. Before he came down with the disease, he was healthy and had no preexisting conditions. His kidney function has returned, but Phil has nerve damage in his neck and head, and hands. Each night he sleeps with ice packs to alleviate some of the pain. He takes at least one nap a day, watches some TV, and tries to read, but it’s all a challenge. He still has some breathing issues, and must use an inhaler.
“I’m afraid to go out and be around people,” he said. “It’s almost like PTSD. I don’t like to be around people for good reason. I just want to get myself healthy. I want to heal properly and get myself better and stronger and hopefully all of the issues will subside. I just want to try to be a better person.”
As someone who battled Covid-19 and came back after being hospitalized for almost 50 days, Phil offered this advice: “Wear your mask in public, social distance, make sure you wash your hands and wear gloves and don’t go out unless it’s necessary. I think there will be more cases; I hate to say it. You don’t know who you’re going to be next to. Be careful, vigilant, be safe, until they come up with a vaccine.”
After months of anxiety, today will bring good news to the family. Their puppy, a Cavapoo, is expected to arrive.
And they will name the dog Will.
Email Steven A. Rosenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.