"It feels like you’re drowning with no water:" Survivor says damage done by COVID-19 may follow him for life

We have all heard the stories of COVID-19 survivors struggling through pneumonia, blood clots, and shortness of breath. What you might not have heard are the aftereffects that linger long after the virus is gone.

Paul Ferns took a trip to New York City in mid-February. By the end of March, he was in intensive care fighting for his life.

“It really feels like a 15-round fight every day. That's why you're so tired, the fatigue is so monumental because inside there's a war going on with your immune system and this virus,” Ferns explained.

Ferns said his high blood pressure was well controlled and he was otherwise healthy and at age 49 he figured he was low risk for a serious COVID-19 infection.

“I was very cavalier in my thinking, like, ‘Well, if I get it, I get it. I even had the attitude, I hope I get it and get it out of the way,’” he said.

Ferns said he had the flu in the past and thought it would be similar.

But instead, COVID-19 knocked his oxygen down to dangerous levels as pneumonia set in.

RELATED: Coronavirus cases in Florida hit 66,000; 53 new deaths reported

“I was on death's doorstep. They took my x-ray and my lungs were just white, COVID streaks, they call them,” he recalled. “It feels like you’re drowning with no water and I got really, really, really scared.”

Ferns said he was determined to fight without a ventilator. He spent almost 10 days in the hospital, and he beat it, but his battle wasn't over.

“I walked out of the hospital thinking I was victorious, it didn't beat me, and then 12 hours later I had a gall bladder attack on my 50th birthday - happy birthday to me,” Ferns said.

The doctors said the attack was a complication of his illness and wanted to give his lungs time to heal before performing the operation.

But that wasn't in the cards.

They soon discovered his gall bladder was dying and he would need emergency surgery and that ventilator he fought so hard to avoid would be needed, too.

“I had my moment of tremendous fear of dying and not waking up and then tremendous peace after I just gave up to God and said, ‘Whatever you want to happen is going to happen,’” Ferns remembered.

It took a little extra time to get Paul off the ventilator, but his surgery was a success. Then something else happened.

“The parting gift from COVID for me was causing my high blood pressure condition to go through the roof,” Ferns said, sarcastically. “Even though I've lost 25 pounds, I'm on more medication and nobody knows why.”

Paul says despite the complications, he is grateful to be alive. He hopes his story will encourage others to take this virus seriously, even if you are not in a high-risk group. 

“To blatantly ignore them, those precautions, you're gambling with your life because you don't know how your immune system is going to handle the virus. It's not a one-size-fits-all. You can be asymptomatic, or you could be dead,” he said.

Ferns said his doctor told him the virus exacerbates underlying conditions and said his gallbladder was likely diseased before he got sick. 

He was also told because the virus affects the blood vessel walls, that could be why his blood pressure is so high but they still don't know enough about COVID-19 to explain what's happening to him.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know

AROUND THE WORLD: CoronavirusNOW.com

Map of known COVID-19 cases:

MOBILE APP USERS: Click here for map