For Jared Diamond, the hardest part about suffering through a coronavirus infection – the relentless fatigue and fever, a month-long hospital stay, nine days spent unconscious and hooked to a ventilator, and the sleepless nights that followed – was the day he finally came home.

Diamond was released from Methodist Hospital Stone Oak on April 12, exactly 25 days since he went to the emergency room with symptoms of COVID-19 and defying the odds against him.

Now resting at home, he is working to recover his strength and wearing a face mask while keeping a precautionary distance from his wife and three children.

He spoke by phone with the Rivard Report on Monday afternoon, his voice rough from the intubation, but his drive to share the experience full of vigor and emotion.

“This has been such a strange journey,” Diamond said. “And the hardest thing of this whole journey has been, out of everything, was coming home yesterday and not being able to hug my whole family.”

Diamond is keeping his distance for at least a week or two, as advised by his doctors, to avoid infecting anyone else. He uses oxygen at night and a walker to get around the house and will need several months of physical therapy.

“I’m 6’2” and I used to be 240 [pounds], now I’m 200 pounds,” he said. “So for me to walk to the bathroom is like a marathon. To walk across the house was amazing how hard it is. It’s just taken a lot out of me.”

He said that if someone had told him he would feel so weak, he would have never believed it. “I’d [think] I would be tired for a few days,” he said. “But nothing like this.”

Prior to contracting novel coronavirus, Diamond was a healthy 51-year-old, the president of National Outdoors and Army Surplus. He and his wife of 25 years, Robin, have three children, ages 17, 20, and 21.

They are unsure how Diamond may have contracted the virus.

On March 7, the family traveled by plane to tour colleges in Louisiana. “We used the heavy-duty spray, we wiped down the seats … we washed our hands all the time,” Robin said. At the time, there were no travel restrictions and the first U.S. resident who contracted the virus domestically had only been reported a week earlier, on Feb. 28, in a California resident. “Louisiana didn’t have any COVID-19 cases at the time. It’s been a little petri dish [since we left].”

The family returned from their trip on March 9, but on Sunday, March 15, Diamond told Robin his throat hurt and he went the next day to see his doctor, who said he likely had the flu. As instructed, he went home to rest.

Two days later, after waking up with a fever, aches, and trouble breathing, Diamond texted his wife at work that he was calling his doctor again. This time, the doctor told him to go to the emergency room right away. An X-ray showed Diamond had pneumonia; he was given fluids and admitted to an isolation room, no visitors allowed.

Despite his symptoms, Robin said the hospital doctors told her they weren’t planning to test her husband for COVID-19 because the tests “are hard to come by.” But a few days later, Diamond texted her and said his test came back positive for the virus. “Yippee!” Robin recalled him saying as he tried to lighten the mood.

A few days later, his condition worsening, the doctors called the family to say Diamond needed to go on a ventilator. “But [they said] it would just be for a couple of days,” Robin said. “I didn’t want him on the ventilator, but I’m glad that I didn’t know then that only 13 percent of people come off ventilators [and survive] … because I probably would have been more of a mess.”

Their community rallied – friends called and texted and neighbors tied their trees with green ribbons and delivered meals. “We’d just look outside and there’d be a lasagna or something. The other morning my son goes to the door … and there was a big chicken and rice dish,” Robin said.

The rabbi at Congregation Agudas Achim streamed a digital prayer service viewed by more than 500 people. The owners of Diamond’s favorite restaurants, Max & Louie’s New York Diner and Sichuan House, also sent enough food for days, and Diamond’s cousin has kept the family business running, supplying orders through curbside pickup.

But days passed, and Diamond wasn’t improving. “I think I cried for three or four days nonstop,” Robin said.

Diamond was also given doses of a malaria drug and antibiotics, she said, then slowly began to improve enough to come off the ventilator.

Those nine days are lost to Diamond, he said. “All I remember is being woken up.” For the next three days, he couldn’t sleep at all. He developed atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat. That’s the first time during the entire illness he was scared, he said.

“It felt like a jackhammer going on in my chest,” he said. “But, I just missed my family and wanted to make sure they would be okay.”

Green ribbons tied around trees show support for Jared Diamond, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 and critically ill before recovering. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Robin did not see her husband again until Sunday when she picked him up at the hospital to take him home. But there have been no hugs or kisses yet, no family dinners together.

Robin and the children have not displayed any symptoms of coronavirus and thus have not qualified to be tested. But they have remained in quarantine at home.

Diamond said one of the other first things he hopes to do when he recovers is walk down the street where he lives.

Until then, he plans to keep his distance from others, even using telemedicine for his appointments with a cardiologist despite the fact there’s little chance he’s contagious to others. He hopes to donate antibodies for a possible treatment.

“Is there going to be a second wave? Is it going to be handled different? Absolutely,” Diamond said. “We are learning really fast.”

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.