Ron Temko says he was "one breath away from death" at more than one point during his two-month stay at UCSF Parnassus, suffering a severe and nearly fatal case of COVID-19. After 61 days in the hospital — and some 11 weeks since he likely became infected — the 69-year-old San Francisco resident is still testing positive for the coronavirus, but he is now back at home, quarantining in a bedroom.
Temko's story is one of numerous harrowing tales of survival that we've been starting to hear, now that the Bay Area is well over two months into this pandemic, and it won't be the last. The region has counted 410 deaths from COVID-19 as of today, but over 11,500 confirmed cases to date, some not insignificant percentage of which involved stays in the ICU.
As the Chronicle tells us, Temko returned from a trip to South Africa and Europe with his wife Linda on March 10, six days before most Bay Area counties announced shelter-at-home orders. He was feeling fine, but after he and Linda went to self-isolate with their daughter and son-in-law and two grandchildren in San Rafael, he started getting a persistent cough. On March 16, daughter Perri asked to take his temperature, and it was 100.4 — consistent with many COVID-19 patients. He called his doctor who told him to call the COVID hotline, and the next day he tested positive for the virus at UCSF, and was admitted to the COVID unit at the hospital.
As of that day, March 17, San Francisco only had 43 confirmed cases.
Within a few days, Temko was being moved to the ICU and put on a ventilator, which he would remain on for 34 days. He was also put into a medically induced coma for three weeks, during which time his family tried to stay positive and play music for him every day via Zoom teleconferences.
Linda Temko tested negative for the virus, but her daughter and son-in-law, as well as their two children — including a three-month-old infant daughter who spiked a fever at one point — all tested positive and were added to Marin County's case count. This meant that the grandmother then had to remain isolated on her own, with her husband hospitalized, which began taking a psychological toll.
Ron was brought out of the coma on April 13 and then experienced the horrors of what's called ICU delirium. He believed that he'd been abducted, forgetting everything about the virus and checking himself into the hospital, and writing disturbing messages about the FBI that he would show to his family during Zoom calls.
"I didn’t know if I wanted to live or die,” Ron tells the Chronicle, explaining that he lost mobility on his left side and his right side was only operating at 30 percent. “I was a tortoise on its back. And I was sitting there thinking, ‘Is the rest of my life going to be this way?’”
As he tells KRON4, "My legs were like two trunks of the biggest sequoia trees that you could imagine. I never thought id wind up like this never in my life."
Ultimately, though, after two months in the hospital, Ron was discharged on Wednesday, and was met with dozens of medical personnel cheering him on as he left UCSF Parnassus. It's a scene that's been playing out hundreds of times over across the globe as some of the most severe COVID-19 cases reemerge after miraculous-seeming recoveries.
Ron is home after 60+ days in the hospital, including several weeks in the ICU on a ventilator! Ron celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary earlier this week and was thrilled to finally see his family again in person today! Our staff gave him a beautiful send-off party! pic.twitter.com/XFtWr0FNHW— UCSF Health (@UCSFHospitals) May 20, 2020
"My goal in six months is to get back and win some money on the golf course,” Temko says to KRON4. Still, though, he needs to be treated for Stage 5 prostate cancer, which he had going into this mess. And until he tests negative for the virus he has to remain isolated from his wife of 40 years — Linda also tested negative for antibodies, so could still become infected.
He says he is truly grateful for the care he received from the UCSF team.
"I owe it to them, the care, the passion, these nurses commitment, their altruism these nurses is just beyond description,” he says.
"I’m onto my second life," he tells the Chronicle.