By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader Newspaper
COVID-19 separated them on life-threatening journeys, where they would eventually emerge victorious over the fatal disease on their own
When Dixon smelled a bar a soap, he knew it was over.
On March 28, Alphonso Dixon was playing cards with his longtime friend Fredrick Gillespie in an apartment on the Near West Side. Fourteen days had gone by since Governor J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-home-order to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
For over two hours the two played spades. After taking precautions weeks before, the two did not wear their face masks as they soaked up the warm weather.
A social person, Dixon for the first several weeks in March had spent many nights and early morning hours frequenting nightclubs before they closed under the stay at home order. He gave his body little to no rest as the pandemic began spreading throughout Chicago and Cook County.
One day after playing cards with his friend, Dixon said he began to feel sick. Dixon said he felt pain all over his body. He had trouble breathing and couldn’t smell anything. He said the pain was so intense at times, he was unable to walk for two days.
“It felt so weird,” Dixon recalled. “I felt something wasn’t right.”
With underlying medical problems, Dixon went to UIC hospital where he was tested for the coronavirus. The next day, Dixon said the hospital called him to inform him that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“When I got that call from the hospital I knew I had it before they told me,” Dixon said. “I just knew something wasn’t right.”
Dixon did not like going to hospitals and was uncomfortable with doctors. Instead of going to the hospital for treatment, Dixon decided to stay at his one-bedroom condo in the South Loop and recover from COVID-19 on his own.
It was a bold and risky move from a disease that was killing hundreds in Chicago and thousands around the country.
Since he was 19 Dixon said, he has had bronchitis. At 17 he was diagnosed with epilepsy, an illness that would occasionally cause him to have seizures, sometimes violent ones. They were underlying conditions that threatened Dixon’s fight for his life.
Perhaps the biggest concern was Dixon’s bronchitis, which causes inflammation of the cells lining the tubes that carry air to and from the lungs.
Bronchitis has other symptoms similar to COVID-19 like fever, shortness of breath, fatigue and body aches. Dixon said he knew it wasn’t his bronchitis because he felt intense pain in ways he had never felt before.
For the next 14 days, Dixon would self-quarantine in his condo in the South Loop. He would remain in a bedroom while his brother stayed in the living room. A construction worker, Dixon said he never left the apartment to go outside during his self-quarantine period. His brother, who works in a shoe store, constantly checked on him and cleaned and sanitized the unit with disinfectants while wearing a face mask and protective gear.
During that time of isolation, Dixon said he stuck to a daily rigid routine of eating vegetables and soup in the morning and all day. He also consumed hot green tea, orange tea and Lipton tea with ginger and honey throughout the day. With his tea, Dixon said he would take a probiotic pill to boost his immune system.
Dixon also said during quarantine, he would occasionally steam up the bathroom by turning on the hot water from the shower. He said the steam would cause him to sweat profusely and help him breathe more easily.
Outside the bathroom, Dixon said he would practice staying relaxed in his mind with calm, positive thoughts. He said this helped him breathe comfortably and put anxieties about battling COVID-19 at ease.
Dixon said no one advised him to undergo this daily routine. He decided to do it on his own.
Dixon said when he was able to smell a bar of soap in the shower on the 13th day of his self-quarantine, “I jumped for joy. I told my brother that ‘I can smell my soap’,” he told the Crusader.
There is no known cure or vaccine for COVID-19. While doctors scramble to develop a vaccine, various possible cures proposed by some and President Donald Trump have been struck down by medical experts.
Out of nearly 3 million COVID-19 cases worldwide, 816,537 have recovered. Out of 938,134 COVID-19 cases in the U.S., 100,361 people have recovered as of April 26.
Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois do not report data on COVID-19 recoveries.
Doctors say it is not uncommon for COVID-19 patients to overcome the disease on their own without hospitalization. Dixon beat the disease even though he had underlying medical conditions, which makes up the majority of the 53,928 deaths in the U.S.
Today, Dixon’s life is returning to normal. He takes walks outside and wears a face mask all the time. He doesn’t know whether he contracted the virus from his friend or by sitting at the table. His brother who took care of him and the apartment has tested negative for the virus. However, Dixon says his mother and his son are doing well after days of feeling ill.
Gillespie ate soup all day, but couldn’t taste what he was eating
Fredrick Gillespie has been one of Alphonso Dixon’s best friends for over 20 years. Several days after they played cards in an apartment March 28 on the Near West Side, Gillespie began to feel sick. Gillespie said he had a heavy cough and could feel intense pain in his chest. He lost his appetite and sense of taste and smell.
On April 1 Gillespie, 47, tested positive for COVID-19 at Saint Anthony Hospital on the Near West Side. With no underlying medical conditions, his doctor sent him home after giving him three antibiotics. The two would stay in contact through a video-teleconference app on his phone.
At a house that he shares with his girlfriend in Homan Square on Chicago’s West Side, Gillespie said he self-quarantined for 19 days in a bedroom.
During that time, Gillespie said he would constantly eat soup and drink hot lemon water and tea to keep his temperature at a normal level. Gillespie said he took three prescribed antibiotics every day to help his lungs and respiratory system fight the disease.
He said he would hear or see his girlfriend cooking something but couldn’t smell anything. Gillespie said despite the powerful scent of Vicks VapoRub he couldn’t smell when he applied it on his chest to reduce the pain.
During his self-quarantine, Gillespie said he didn’t go outside but made several trips to his balcony for some fresh air.
Meanwhile, Gillespie said the heavy coughs and breathing problems continued for days. As he struggled to recover, Gillespie said at times he thought that he was going to die.
“I couldn’t breathe and I had a lot of pain in my chest,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie said he regained his sense of taste 10 days after he began his self-quarantine. He said his sense of smell came back days later.
According to the World Health Organization, a person with no underlying medical conditions needs on average two weeks to recover from COVID-19. A person with severe critical diseases needs between three to six weeks to recover from the disease.
Gillespie and Dixon said they didn’t know each other had COVID-19 until Dixon recovered and called Gillespie while he was still in self-quarantine.
Gillespie said his girlfriend who took care of him when he was sick is doing well but has not been tested to see whether or not she has the virus.
This past Wednesday, Gillespie was scheduled to return to work at a violence prevention organization.
Gillespie said he regrets not wearing a face-mask that day when he played cards with Dixon. Now, Gillespie said he doesn’t leave home without wearing a face mask.
“I don’t go into stores anymore because I don’t want to feel this way ever again,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie told the Crusader that he doesn’t believe that he contracted the virus from Dixon or anyone he met that day.
“It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact location or person that gave this to me. I don’t want to blame anyone because I don’t know how I got it.”
As one of Chicago’s Black newspapers with a citywide distribution, our mission is to provide readers with factual news and in-depth coverage of its impact in the Black community. The Rona Reports are stories of Black resilience in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. This Rona Report is made possible by the Chicago COVID-19 Journalism Fund, which is a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
First published in the print edition of the Chicago Crusader Newspaper on May 2, 2020.