A COVID-19 Patient Films His Routine Inside A Hospital Isolation Unit Jeff Muhlstock from New Jersey has contracted the coronavirus and spent nearly two weeks in the hospital. He filmed his routine, offering a rare glimpse into the inside of a COVID-19 isolation unit.
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A COVID-19 Patient Films His Routine Inside A Hospital Isolation Unit

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A COVID-19 Patient Films His Routine Inside A Hospital Isolation Unit

A COVID-19 Patient Films His Routine Inside A Hospital Isolation Unit

A COVID-19 Patient Films His Routine Inside A Hospital Isolation Unit

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/856347522/856347529" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Jeff Muhlstock from New Jersey has contracted the coronavirus and spent nearly two weeks in the hospital. He filmed his routine, offering a rare glimpse into the inside of a COVID-19 isolation unit.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

How did those who survived the deadly coronavirus get to the other side? Well, a 57-year-old New Jersey man who is a camera operator spent nearly two weeks alone in a hospital. He recorded much of the ordeal on his phone, offering a rare glimpse inside a COVID isolation unit. NPR's Tovia Smith has more.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: It was mid-March when Jeff Muhlstock first started feeling the symptoms that would land him in the emergency room.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEFF MUHLSTOCK: I feel like hell.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONITOR BEEPING)

SMITH: His camera pans past doors sealed with layers of plastic and doctors and extra protective gear, what looks like a motorcycle helmet and a space suit - all testament to just how vicious a virus he was fighting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUHLSTOCK: It's unimaginable, scary.

SMITH: Then a nurse, in tears, who'd just been told she had tested positive.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUHLSTOCK: This is no joke, man. This is no joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF COUGHING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You've been trying to lay on your stomach a little bit?

SMITH: Muhlstock says he could see the fear in nurses' eyes when he would call for help.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUHLSTOCK: Finally got some oxygen.

SMITH: Some stretching to tend to him from as far as possible.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And that's - what? - four liters. OK.

SMITH: As cases surged, his sealed room was opened and his whole wing became one unified contamination zone, saving staff time and protective gear. For Muhlstock, it meant no reprieve from what he calls the harrowing wails from down the hall, an ominous harbinger of his own suffering.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUHLSTOCK: Rough night, convulsing all night - couldn't breathe. I miss my family.

SMITH: His camera became his confidante and his company. One night, he's in the pitch dark bemoaning the isolation. Another time, with a wet cloth over his forehand, he's confessing to cranking up his oxygen when no one was looking. But his condition continued to worsen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUHLSTOCK: Mad shaking, high fever. They're going to come and give me some Tylenol.

SMITH: Eventually, Muhlstock was given the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine that the FDA has since warned can cause dangerous arrhythmia in COVID patients. Muhlstock thought he was having a heart attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUHLSTOCK: I thought I was going to die yesterday. I started writing down stuff.

SMITH: Stuff about his life insurance, his passwords and his family.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUHLSTOCK: My wife is a saint - and my kids.

SMITH: Lying on his belly, he stares into the camera, his eyes swollen and red. It was just two weeks after his wife's mother had died from what they now believe to be also COVID-19.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUHLSTOCK: Helaine loses her mom and can't even go set her to rest in Florida. And then I do this to her.

SMITH: A cameraman for some 40 years, Muhlstock says he started recording out of instinct, but then he kept rolling with a sense of urgency, wanting his family to bear witness to what he feared would be his final days.

MUHLSTOCK: It was something I wanted to leave them. You read all these stories of people passing with a nurse holding their hand. And if I didn't make it through, part of my thinking was - is they would have some sense of closure by seeing me on camera.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUHLSTOCK: I'm not sure what day it is.

SMITH: Muhlstock's video doesn't show him at his worst. For days, he couldn't record or speak. But as hundreds of COVID patients in the same hospital were dying, Muhlstock would slowly start to improve.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUHLSTOCK: This is the first time I can talk in a full sentence.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Heart rate's been good - no problems there.

SMITH: Finally, after nearly two weeks in the hospital, he would be cleared to go home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: If things continue to be good, we'll get you out of here.

MUHLSTOCK: OK, that's fantastic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Mom, he's here. He's coming, coming down the street.

MUHLSTOCK: When the ambulance dropped me off at home and it was the first time I laid eyes on my family, it was - the emotion - I mean, we all know people that didn't come home. I mean, I get choked up thinking about it right now.

SMITH: Muhlstock is still on oxygen and still recovering - both physically and emotionally. He says he never intended to make his recordings public, but he now hopes they might serve as a kind of cautionary tale for anyone getting lax with social distancing, he says, or not wearing a face mask.

Tovia Smith, NPR News.

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