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Broadway star Danny Burstein recounts "scary moment" while in hospital with coronavirus

Actor Danny Burstein on battle with COVID-19
Broadway icon Danny Burstein on battle with COVID-19 05:26

Broadway veteran Danny Burstein has earned six Tony nominations, performing in shows like "South Pacific" and "Cabaret," and playing Tevye in "Fiddler On The Roof." He was widely tipped to earn another this year for his performance in "Moulin Rouge: The Musical."

But in mid-March, the coronavirus closed Broadway, and a week later, attacked the actor himself.

In the beginning, Burstein said, "I felt like I had a little bit of allergies."

Slowly, the 55-year-old developed a fever, listlessness and crushing headaches, he told "CBS This Morning" co-host Anthony Mason.

"It felt like a migraine on steroids, but it got worse and worse and worse over the days," Burstein said.

At one point, he was coughing up blood, he said.   

"I'd been coughing up blood for two or three days," he said. "And of course, it scared me, but my doctors told me, you know, just hang on, hang on. As long as you're not having trouble breathing, you should be OK."

But then, while taking a shower, "I started to have trouble breathing, real trouble breathing, and I fell on my knees," he said. "I called out loudly, 'I think I need to go to the hospital.'"

Burstein said at that point, he was hoping he "hadn't waited too long."  

His wife, actress Rebecca Luker, and youngest son, Zach, helped him get to Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital where he was isolated in the COVID unit.

In a recent essay for the "Hollywood Reporter," Burstein wrote that he felt "surrounded by death" in the hospital.

"I was. I could hear it. I was next to the nurses' station and I heard them talking about it. I heard them rushing to rooms. There was someone who would speak over this loud God mic, and all of the nursing staff would freeze," he told Mason. 

Burstein's third day in the hospital was his worst, he said. On a trip to the bathroom, he found himself gasping for breath again.

"And, you know, I had that scary moment in this tiny little bathroom thinking, 'Oh, God, this is not the way it's — it can't end this way in this stupid bathroom when no one's going to know I'm in here,'" he said.

He staggered back to his room and told a nurse. "And I was sputtering. I couldn't breathe, and she said, 'Besides not being able to breathe. Are you OK?' and I just broke off laughing," Burstein said.   

Her "nonchalant attitude" made him relax, he said. "I'm sure she'd seen much worse," he said.

Burstein said he had a pair of doctors whose names were comforting to him.

"One was named Dr. Gandhi and the other was named Dr. Krishna, and they were both kind and smart and comforting, and I greatly appreciate their expertise," he said. 

After five days in the hospital, he finally was discharged. "It felt surreal like I wasn't sure that it would happen. When I left my apartment building, when I left the lobby, I prayed that it wouldn't be the last time that I was seeing my lobby," he said. 

Mentally, he feels "a little fragile," Burstein said. "But, incredibly grateful at the same time, grateful for my breath."

Doctors told him he is now immune to coronavirus. "So I'm like a frickin' superhero," he said. 

Burstein said he will "absolutely" be back on Broadway someday. 

"We will. How we will is yet to be discovered," he said. 

When that first night back comes, Burstein said, "I feel sorry for the first guy who coughs in the audience." 

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