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A few days after his COVID-19 hospitalization, William "Wild Bill" Hansel believed he heard a fellow patient, to his right, weeping shortly before he died.

"He's alone in his bed, on a respirator, weeping as he passed. To me, he sounded like he was weeping," Hansel said.

The COVID-19 patient to his left also died.

This left him alone again in August, in the room he said was the COVID-19 isolation unit at U.S. Naval Hospital Guam.

The two deaths in the room scared him, making him very sad and worried about what was going to happen to him.

For hours and days, he cried and breathed hard.

There were a lot of needles, tubes, medication and machines, he said.

"And to me, the fallback I had was faith. I told God that, basically, if it’s my time, it will be, but until such time, I will fight. And I fought every minute of every day to stay alive for those that I love and for those that I care about. Every minute. That kept me going," he told The Guam Daily Post on Thursday.

Now that he's been given a second chance, Hansel said he wants to share not only the brutal, heartbreaking and mentally exhausting ordeal but, more importantly, how he overcame what he termed "COVID hell" and possibly help others survive their hospitalization.

"This has to do with human beings going through a miserable nightmare and coming out the other side alive if you do the right thing," he said.

'Loneliness, misery'

Hansel's fellow patients died without their families around them to comfort them and hug them, he said. That's because of the contagious nature of the disease.

Being a patient himself, Hansel knows exactly what it's like.

"It was the most lonely time I’ve ever had in my life," said Hansel, who's in his late 40s. "It was loneliness and misery together." 

Prior to experiencing the worst symptoms of COVID-19, he weighed 175 pounds and exercised regularly.

He was healthy and fit, and had no underlying medical conditions. 

The majority of Guam's 210 COVID-19 deaths since March 2020 involved people with underlying conditions, such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, even if some of them were fully vaccinated.

Hansel lost 26 pounds during the ordeal; he has since regained only a few pounds.

"I had no preexisting condition, very healthy and it still almost killed me," he said.

He's learned from his journey, and it strengthened his faith in God and in people.

"I fought for those that I love with the help of my God," he said. "And I think today I’m a better man, a better husband because of it."

Walked in pain

Instead of being consumed by the misery and the deaths around him, Hansel became much more determined to fight and stay alive.

"I guess it gave me more motivation to say, 'I can’t let that happen to me. I can't be the next guy. I've got to get out of here, I've got to survive.' And I did," he said.

The first two days at the hospital were agonizing. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia and bacterial pneumonia.

"For about the next 48 hours I struggled every minute of every hour of every day to breathe and to stay alive. It was brutal," he said.

At that point, he said, he didn't know if he was going to live or die.

He knew he had to do something. He told the doctor that he wanted to get up, believing that "a body in motion stays in motion."

"I’ve never seen a COVID patient die walking," he said, and the doctor let him walk.

He walked and cried in pain but he was determined to be on the move.

On and off for 12 hours, he walked and pushed himself to move, and his oxygen level started improving, he said, until he was off the oxygen machine.

"I wanted off of it," he said. "It was hard but I was breathing on my own."

He said his doctor, nurses and staff at U.S. Naval Hospital were "amazing," and he offered his gratitude to them for working with him.

"The doctor worked with me as a patient, not a victim," Hansel said.

'Protect your family'

It was about the middle of August when Hansel tested positive for COVID-19.

The moment an individual tests positive, he said, that person needs to do everything to protect not only himself, but his family as well, by self-isolating in a room.

His wife and 10-year-old son tested negative for COVID-19, for which Hansel is thankful.

Hansel went on medical leave. He holds a high-level position at Naval Base Guam.

About 2-1/2 weeks after he tested positive for COVID-19, he started experiencing some of the worst symptoms, from coughing, colds, diarrhea  and vomiting, to loss of appetite and loss of smell and taste.

He couldn't eat at all, he said, but could drink only liquids.

That particular morning, he used a pulse oximeter and found out his oxygen level was at 88%, below the normal level of 95%. 

His wife brought him to the hospital and he was immediately admitted and sent to the intensive care unit, and then to the isolation unit.

Hansel said he asked his doctor not to put him on a ventilator, so a nasal cannula was used instead, to deliver oxygen.

He also kept a journal and, from the day he tested positive, he wrote down everything he felt and then some.

That same journal helped his doctor know more about his condition, and Hansel recommends that others start journals and bring the journals with them should they need to be hospitalized.

Vaccination

Hansel was already scheduled to get his COVID-19 vaccination on a Tuesday, but he tested positive before that day and immediately isolated himself at home.

He's not anti-vaccine or vaccine-hesitant, he said.

When he's out of the woods and in consultation with his doctor, he said, he will get vaccinated.

Hansel said, by sharing his story, he hopes his hospitalization is not just a statistic. He hopes that his story isn't tossed out just because the virus got to him before he could become vaccinated.

While COVID-19 and vaccination have become political at times, he said, it shouldn't take away from the strength of one's faith and will to survive.

After his hospitalization, he cleaned his fridge and vowed to eat healthier and live a much healthier life.

When his weight climbs to 155 pounds, he said, he would like to keep it that way.

A week after his release from the hospital, he tested negative for COVID-19.

He still has what he calls lingering effects of COVID-19. He has numbness in his fingertips and the bottoms of his feet.

"I have brain fog. It is real. I feel hazy. It's like being in a cloud," he said. "I still have somewhat a loss of appetite."

But he's determined to recover well.

After weeks of isolation at home and at the hospital, he said it's good to see loved ones, peers and friends.

"It was awesome; everybody's supporting me through this. I was so amazed by the love they gave me," he said, adding that he knew a lot of prayers for him made a difference. "I had to do my part, and they did theirs."

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

This article originally ran on postguam.com.

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