In late August, a friend of state Rep. Chris Latvala gave the Pinellas County Republican some scary news. That friend tested positive for COVID-19 and had been in close contact with Latvala.
“I immediately took a test the following day. I didn’t have any symptoms,” Latvala told Florida Politics. “I got the test results back a couple of days later and by then I was starting to develop some symptoms. It just got progressively worse. It really started maybe 24 hours before I went to the hospital. It’s a feeling I’ve never had before.”
Latvala drove himself to the Largo Medical Center after phoning ahead to say he had been exposed to COVID-19. After being examined, he was admitted and stayed for three days before he was discharged.
The virus was just getting started, though. At home, Latvala developed chest and other aches.
“It was a feeling like I got run over; my whole body was hurting,” he said. “I had a horrible headache for a few days. Loss of taste and smell. It’s literally the sickest I’ve ever been.”
“Around the second week is when they say it really hits you. I ended up being sicker after I went home from the hospital than before. I had shortness of breath like someone was standing on top of you.”
He returned to the hospital, this time by ambulance. Latvala stayed there nine more days as medical professionals, dressed in protective gear, treated him with remdesivir, steroids, and antibiotics before doctors said he was well enough to return home.
“To see them do what they do every day is sobering,” he said. “They literally put their life on the line to help people like me, and they don’t bat an eye.”
He has a message.
“Be careful. Wear a mask,” he said. “Practice social distancing. This is not the flu. It’s hard to describe what I had.”
Latvala said that before getting sick, he wore a mask at public events. In this case, he was in a car with his friend and didn’t have a mask.
During his second trip to the hospital, Latvala had a lot of time to think while in his room at the special COVID-19 ward.
“I made peace. I prayed a lot. I knew that God is in ultimate control, and I had the best doctors and nurses around to take care of me,” he said.
“There were some sobering moments. I never lost consciousness and never thought I was about to die or anything like that. But there definitely was a fear of what was next? Could this get worse?”
He took phone calls in the hospital from well-wishers but mostly listened because it hurt too much to talk. He sent a lot of text messages.
“The unfortunate thing, the room I was in for the last eight or nine days now has somebody else in it,” he said.
The road to recovery will be a long one, and the experience has left Latvala a changed man.
“It definitely has given me a different perspective. It gives me a deeper appreciation for the people on the front lines, whether it’s the doctors and nurses who cared for me or the Uber driver who delivers food and groceries to my door,” he said.
“The recovery is a process. It could take weeks or even longer to get your strength back and your lungs healed. One of the doctors said that a common COVID X-ray looks like it’s someone who is a smoker. Like I said, this is not the flu. Please, everyone, take it seriously.”