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Man says COVID-19 was worse than cancer

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneRick Fielder is greeted by his wife Sherry Fielder after recovering from COVID-19 at Avamere Three Fountains Rehabilitation Center in Medford.
Rogue River resident headed home after beating virus

Rick Fielder has survived stage 3 cancer and getting crushed by a tractor.

He said getting COVID-19 was worse.

Fielder, a resident of the town of Rogue River, said he and his wife thought COVID-19 was no big deal. If they caught it, they figured it would be like the flu, so they didn’t bother to get vaccinated.

"Well, I can tell you it's the biggest deal that has ever happened to me," he said.

Fielder's wife got through her illness relatively unscathed after catching it from her cousin, but he went downhill after getting it from her.

"It was kind of like you had a cold and then it got to where I was really short of breath and couldn't hardly make it from the bedroom to the living room," he said.

Feeling dizzy and scatterbrained, he went to the hospital, expecting to be treated and sent home. Instead, doctors put him in the intensive care unit and started giving him supplemental oxygen.

He developed pneumonia due to the COVID-19 infection, his body’s oxygen levels dropped, a blood clot formed in his heart and he suffered heart muscle damage. His heart’s pumping capacity dropped to 30% of normal, said Dr. Brian Gross, a cardiologist with Southern Oregon Cardiology in Medford.

Gross met Fielder years ago when Fielder’s tractor slipped off a river bank. Gross has been treating him for a heart condition and said Fielder always stood out from other patients.

“He was on his tractor by the Rogue River and one of the wheels went over the edge of a steep cliff and he fell about 30 feet into the Rogue River through brambles,” Gross recalled. “He obviously survived it, but it made for a good opening line. It always separated him from everybody else."

Fielder suffered broken and cracked ribs, a punctured lung, a blow to the head, a puncture wound under his arm and eyebrow cuts from the tractor accident. He’s also a survivor of stage 3 cancer of the esophagus.

"I backed off a river bank with a tractor and it lit on me, and that broke me up pretty good,“ Fielder said. ”Then I've also had an esophagectomy where they take out your esophagus and take the top third of your stomach and make a new one and hook it back up. So I've had some traumatic experiences, but nothing — nothing — compares to this COVID.“

Fielder said the worst part about COVID-19 was not being able to breathe, feeling sick and miserable, and the mental confusion and anguish. He couldn’t understand even simple things that his wife and hospital nurses tried to tell him.

Fielder thinks he got sick with COVID-19 around July 6. He was admitted to the hospital July 12. He was released to the Avamere at Three Fountains nursing and rehabilitation center in Medford Aug. 2, where he got physical, occupational and speech therapy.

On Friday, Fielder was able to leave the nursing center and return home.

"But my life is changed,“ he said. ”I was what you would call a young 76-year-old man. Most people think I'm in my early 60s. Very active, fishing, just being your average guy until I got this. And now I'm looking at walkers and ramps built at my house and all kinds of things. This is not a fun sickness."

As his recovery continues, Fielder will get care from a home health aid once or twice a week.

Gross said Fielder is lucky to have survived his ordeal with COVID-19. The virus can damage people’s hearts and lungs, and cause clots to form everywhere from the arms and legs to the brain.

“He did not have to go on a ventilator, but he came as close as you possibly can,” Gross said.

Doctors try to use ventilators as a last resort because long stays on the machines can damage the body and brain.

Gross, who wasn’t involved in Fielder’s daily care at the hospital, said Fielder survived thanks to the heroic efforts of doctors and nurses who are battling to save a surge of COVID-19 patients.

“He’s still recovering, but he’s chipper, he’s in good spirits, he’s joking. It looks like he’s going to make it,” Gross said. “He’s soldiering through it and has a different outlook on whether or not you should get a vaccination.”

Fielder said he’s now an advocate for COVID-19 vaccination. His wife got vaccinated last week and he’ll get vaccinated as soon as he’s medically cleared to do so.

"I would highly recommend it to all my friends. You're just flat stupid if you don't get a shot. I would really, really, really encourage you to get a shot," he said.

Fielder said he can’t thank the staff at the hospital and the nursing home enough.

“They are absolutely wonderful. They treated my like royalty. The nurses and the doctors are absolutely fantastic,” he said.

Free at last after six weeks in the hospital and nursing home, Fielder said his goal is to get his strength back and return to normal life.

"I don't want to live my life with a 'struggle buggy.' That's what I call a walker. My goal is to get healthy enough to get back to good ol’ Rick, be able to have a beer with the boys and just drive around and be a normal guy," he said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.