Kevin and Martin Jones met in 1986 at The Stud in San Francisco. In March, when Kevin returned from a trip to Paris and almost immediately came down with COVID-19 symptoms, he walked into an Oakland hospital and his partner of 34 years thought he might never walk out.
The story has a happy ending, which is partly why we're hearing it now. Two months into this pandemic, and the human details behind the statistics have begun to emerge. The Chronicle last week had this tragic piece about the impact of the loss of a handful of elders in the Bayview's historically black community, putting some faces to San Francisco's death toll of 36 to date. Two weeks ago we learned about the woman who died suddenly at home in San Jose who may have been the region's first COVID-19 victim.
And this week we're learning about Kevin and Martin Jones, who decided to tell their story now that Kevin, 59, has emerged alive after 31 days at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center, 21 of them on a ventilator. As the Mercury News reports, Kevin jumped at the opportunity to join a friend on an ill-fated early March trip to France. Both he and his friend knew that the coronavirus had come to Europe, but they thought if they were vigilant about washing hands they would be OK.
On March 17, he flew home to Oakland feeling fine, but by March 18, just as the Bay Area's shelter-in-place orders began, he began feeling feverish and ill, and knowing that he had a kidney stone, he thought that was to blame. Martin drove him to Kaiser Oakland, dropped him at the emergency room, and went to park the car intending to follow him inside. But visitors were already being banned at the hospital, and in the week to come, as Martin began feeling sick himself and Kevin was placed on a ventilator, he wondered if they might never see each other alive again. As he tells the Mercury News, he began getting their affairs in order, and arranging for a caretaker for their dog, a rescue poodle named Blanche DuBois, after the Tennessee Williams character.
The couple had, jokingly, already decided on a joint epitaph: "We were nothing if not good hosts."
With Kevin's prognosis not looking good on the ventilator, after he turned 59 on March 26, doctors at the hospital summoned Martin to come say his goodbyes to his sedated husband. Because he'd already been infected himself, they allowed him into the room to hold Kevin's hand. He spent four hours there, playing music from their past, recounting their romance and three decades together.
Martin, who is one year older than Kevin, ended up with a milder case of COVID-19, only suffering shortness of breath and some exhaustion.
After telling a friend there was nothing left to do but "magic," a friend gave Martin a "magic" shoestring that he put Kevin's wedding ring on, to wear around his neck. And after some magical thinking (Martin says he isn't religious), and the continued efforts of the nurses at Kaiser who turned Kevin on his stomach — as nurses and doctors had found to be helpful in Italy and New York, to relieve the pressure on patients' lungs — Kevin magically recovered and got off of the ventilator after three weeks on it. Kevin tells the Merc he attributes his recovery to being from "good country stock."
Now he's home in Oakland with the love of his life, as NBC Bay Area shows in the video segment below. He's on oxygen still, and his voice is shot from weeks on a breathing tube and overtaxed lungs. But he's looking forward to eventually entertaining friends again, having a Negroni, and throwing a "massive party for the team that saved him."
"We want to drive home that this is no joke,” Martin tells NBC of the reason they wanted to go public. “This is serious and deadly.”
Kevin adds, “I am eternally grateful and I tell people I love them all the time now which is something I never used to do."
Photo courtesy of Kaiser Permanente