On August 20, 2020, I began having headaches, I was coughing and I had difficulty breathing. I had a fever and the chills, everything except for the loss of taste and smell. At least not then. When this began, I thought to myself that it would all go away eventually. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
By August 24, which happened to be my birthday, the symptoms had gotten much worse. I had had a headache for four days, and I had no medication to help dull the pain. I hadn’t eaten in three days because as soon as something hit my stomach, I would throw it back up. I didn’t have an appetite anyway. I thought if I could force myself to eat, I’d feel better. I tried taking bites of my hotcakes, but I couldn’t taste them. I tried apple pear juice but couldn’t taste that either.
I remember thinking, “Oh hell no! I think I got it!” I had not notified the corrections officers (COs) or medical staff. I thought, “It’s COVID-19, how much more serious can it get, right?”
I had to wait about three hours to be seen by the nurse, who eventually checked my vitals at least five times. She concluded that the machine must be broken because my blood pressure was reading too low. She also said my temperature wasn’t high enough for me to likely have COVID-19. I explained my symptoms, including my loss of taste and smell, but I wasn’t given an extensive evaluation or medication to help with the pain. I went back to my cell.
Two days later, I received the news that I had tested positive for COVID-19. The nightmare had just begun.
Some days nurses came by to check vitals, and some not. When they asked how I was feeling, I responded every time, “Not good at all.” I told them that I needed help and pain medication. Symptoms got so bad that I begged. I found out later that the nurses would falsely report back that I was fine and had not requested help.
The worst of it was when I was unable to sleep for about four days. I notified the COs around 11 p.m., and at 1 a.m. the nurse came by. I explained my pain and agony and told him that I could not sleep. He said he would come back but never did.
By morning, I was unconscious and not moving. I was moved out by the COs to the dayroom in a wheelchair. Another nurse came and started asking questions that I couldn’t understand or answer.
“Well, you’re going to have to go back to your cell and take it,” said the nurse. The COs pushed me back to my cell in the wheelchair. I was in my bunk, unaware of the tears streaming down my face. I prayed to God to take me, to end this pain and agony. I asked if this was a punishment of some kind. Was this suffering a result of my sins?
That’s when I heard a voice, “Get up. Your purpose is not done on Earth. Your life has just begun.” I believe that it was my God. I felt an invisible weight come off me. I felt better. I began to think about my family and friends.
Time went by, and I was never given any effective medication for my pain. My condition was worse than others because of my pre-existing conditions.
After 24 days of being quarantined, I was released and able to go to the yard. I had no idea that I was still infected. I was the only infected inmate in this building because I had come from another building that was already contaminated. Days later, I was re-tested and the results were inconclusive. By this time, people I had interacted with started testing positive.
Three people recognized me as the source of their own illness. First, a nurse said, “Ramirez, you infected me. It was horrible.” The second was a CO, who said to me, “Man, you wasn’t lying, that COVID-19 is no joke.” And finally, another inmate who was fighting cancer was infected and passed away.
Months have gone by, and this experience has left an impression on me. It reminded me that we need to take our health seriously. My advice to you is stay strong, healthy and sanitized. Follow the rules and protocols. Wear a mask.
It is also important to keep your spirits up. This is what got me through.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.