LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS) – As the delta variant of COVID-19 surges throughout the country, hospitals in northern Colorado are among those that are at or near capacity in their ICUs. And now, for the first time since being released from the ICU, one of Larimer County's sickest patients is sharing his story with CBS4 in hope of bringing greater awareness of the virus to those who doubted its severity.
Tom Schneider, a Loveland resident, admitted he was among the biggest sceptics of the severity of COVID-19 and the safety of getting a vaccination. Schneider, 51, said he originally elected to forgo the vaccine until further research and development was completed.
"I didn't know anybody that has been in hospital, I didn't know anybody that had had side effects from COVID," Schneider told CBS4's Dillon Thomas. "I wasn't pro-vax, I wasn't anti-vax. I was going to wait and see which one does better."
But in early August, Schneider started feeling sick, as did his fiancé. He tried to battle his illness with over-the-counter medications. However, the symptoms continued to worsen. He eventually, and reluctantly, decided to go to the hospital. But, when he arrived, doctors told him he needed to be admitted.
Schneider said he chose, against medical advice, to go back home. He said he was fearful of the decisions the medical staff told him he would have to make if his symptoms evolved to a state in which left incapacitated.
He went home. And the next thing he remembered was waking up in the hospital.
"I felt good one day and 24 hours later was in the hospital, intubated for four weeks," Schneider said.
Schneider had passed out in his home. His fiancé found him, called 911 and had him transported for treatment by ambulance at McKee Medical Center in Loveland.
"I just crashed, no energy, couldn't breathe. Lethargic," Schneider explained. "I was way not prepared to face that at all."
Placed on a ventilator for a month, Schneider said he couldn't help but to spend some of his waking moments reconsidering his decision to not be vaccinated. He said he believed the virus was real but thought battling it would be easier if he ever contracted it.
"It's like a Monopoly game. And I think a lot of people are playing from GO to GET OUT OF JAIL," Schneider said. "I didn't realize that there were three other sides to this game. Being ventilated, long-term life effects and death."
Locked away in an ICU without ability to see or thoroughly communicate with his loved ones, Schneider couldn't help but to compare his experience battling COVID-19 with that of his fiancé's.
Schneider said his fiancé felt ill for less than a week and was able to quickly return to work. Meanwhile, he lost his job and was stuck battling for his life in the hospital.
Schneider thought back on his time helping the Army Corps build the overflow hospital facility at the Larimer County Fair grounds just a year prior. He said he couldn't help but to think about how he once downplayed the severity of the virus.
"I look back and go, 'You're an idiot. You're an idiot,'" Schneider said.
Thanks to medical professionals with Banner Health and Columbine Health Systems, Schneider was able to get out of the hospital. He is now being cared for in a rehab facility near his home. He expects to go home in the coming week.
As a Christian, Schneider said he mistakenly believed he could place God's protection ahead of the virus. However, in the end, he said he realized God's protection came after contracting COVID-19.
"It was stupidity and arrogance on my part. I'm a Christian, and one of the lessons that I learned was I was expecting God to show up and keep COVID from me. But God had me at the hospital getting treatment," Schneider said. "He had me there with the people who needed to take care of me."
He said he was thankful to both God and the medical professionals who helped him for giving him a second chance at life.
Though once a skeptic of the COVID-19 vaccines, Schneider said he now plans to get his vaccination once he is healthy enough to do so.
Looking back on his comparison of Monopoly and the battle with COVID-19, he hoped sharing his story would encourage others to realize the "game" is harder to play than they may realize.
"Now that I've lived it, 75% of the game is detrimental. I don't like those odds," Schneider said. "You could get this and you could be dead tomorrow."
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