As the second wave of COVID-19 cases hits Michigan, those who survived the first wave are hoping we can learn from their experiences. One survivor spoke offered a powerful message he wants everyone to hear.
“We were pushing some plastic and I (was) just huffing and puffing, and a guy said something," Eric Florka said. “He said, ‘You know, your cough doesn’t sound normal.' He said, ‘You know, you’re huffing and puffing. You just seem like you’re not breathing very well.'”
It was the Thursday before Easter and Florka was on the job for Consumers Energy. He thought his symptoms were allergies, but when another coworker mentioned his cough, he went home.
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Over the next week, Florka’s symptoms worsened, so he went to the hospital. They sent him home, but then he went back.
“I told my kids, ‘Don’t worry. Dad will see you in a couple days. They’re just going to monitor me real quick,'” Florka said. “I woke up with some machine over my face. It felt like I was getting punched in the face with oxygen. They’re ripping my clothes off, scrubbing me down.”
He spent the next 44 days in the hospital battling COVID-19. Florka lost 40 pounds in three weeks.
“People are helping you with every function of life, because I was just a body, just lying there,” Florka said. “I could barely breathe. I couldn’t move. When I was in that ICU, I wasn’t worried about me. I knew (there was a) better life coming for me in the future if something was to happen, but what’s my wife going to do? What’s my son going to do? My daughter?"
Doctors wanted to give him convalescent plasma, but none was available.
“I was a couple weeks off from receiving it, and it wasn’t going to get to me in time,” Florka said. “At that point in time, you know, I reached out to my wife. I made plans for the end, made peace with God and contacted Consumers, told them, ‘Let my wife know how to collect my life insurance. Let my wife know to collect my pension,’ you know. This is it.”
He said he heard a nurse come into his room that night.
“She whispered in my ear and I don’t know why, but she’s like, ‘You’re going to be OK. Everything’s going to be OK,'” Florka said. “I’m, like, ‘Alright, I see who this is.’ So I kind of just woke up and i looked and there’s nobody there. Like, it’s really weird. Then I hear the door rustling, and they’re coming out with their COVID-19 suits on. I’m, like, ‘Oh, here we go. I’m going to the ventilator. This is it, right?’ They said, ‘Somebody is better, and there was plasma there for them. They do not need it. You’re a match. You’re getting the plasma tonight.'”
The benefits of convalescent plasma are still being studied, but Florka said three days later, he was out of the ICU and begging his long road to recovery.
He’s grateful to the staff at McLaren, and to Consumers Energy for bringing him back to his family.
“I’m a 48-year-old grown man, and just thinking about what my family went through -- that ride with COVID-19 that almost took my life was a piece of cake for me compared to what my family was going through,” Florka said.
Florka doesn’t want anyone else to have to go through the same nightmare.
“Me wearing a mask protects you, and you wearing a mask protects me,” he said. “It’s just that easy. Take all the politics out of it. I don’t care who tells you to do it. Look at what happened with me. It can happen to anybody, and if the simple answer is just mask up, just mask up. If you’re with your family, you can still social distance. It’s even easier because you respect each other. I’m that guy, and I’m the one that almost lost his life to COVID-19. But I’m here and I’m passing this message to you: Mask up. It’s that easy. Just mask up."
Six months after getting sick, Florka said he is getting physically stronger every day. Emotionally, he still struggles with the fact that he survived when so many others didn’t. He hopes sharing his story will encourage others to take steps to protect themselves and others -- hopefully saving lives.