Randolph Page knows that he has been blessed.
I played high school football with Randolph for the Calvary Cavaliers. A classmate and good friend of my sister Jennifer, he eventually married the former Michelle Dyches, his high school sweetheart and my sister’s college roommate. Together, they became the proud parents of two children: Amanda, an Alabama graduate who is currently completing the nurse practitioner program at Emory, and Ben, a Finance major and college football player at Furman.
In mid-March, the 56-year-old Savannah native was a successful partner and General Manager with Atlanta’s AJC Logistics, a transportation company which serves as the largest U.S. exporter of poultry products. They were looking forward to Amanda’s graduation and Ben’s senior year of college football. Life seemed almost perfect.
And then he got sick.
Randolph thinks he got exposed to SARS CoV-2 while in line for an hour or so at Costco buying toilet paper and other supplies. He went to the gym that day, too, so that was another possibility. He wasn’t aware of anyone around him who was ill—but that’s the scary thing about COVID 19. Contagious people often aren’t terribly symptomatic.
He awoke on Tuesday, March 26 with some hoarseness. This gradually worsened during the day. Thinking it might be a seasonal allergy, he took some Benadryl that evening before he went to bed. He awoke the next morning profoundly fatigued.
“I thought it was the Benadryl,” he said.
By the following Friday, Randolph felt feverish. He had developed a cough and “chest cold” symptoms. The fatigue worsened. He then started having diarrhea. His cough worsened, and he ran a constant 101 to 102 F fever for days.
“I kept coughing, just hacking away, as I tried to bring up phlegm that I felt like just wouldn’t come up. And then Amanda saw me and said ‘Dad, you’re gasping.’ That’s when I realized something was really wrong.”
He drove himself to Northside Hospital. There, he was found to have a fever of over 104F. His oxygen saturations were 87% on room air. He was “struggling to breathe.”
The diagnosis was COVID 19—one of the earliest cases in Georgia.
He remembers his early time in the hospital as a blur. Isolated from his family, he managed to FaceTime with Michelle on the phone, as well as Amanda and Ben, with the help of a nurse named Mary Kate. He went into atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm, and developed blood clots in both of his legs. Eventually, his blood oxygen levels could not be maintained, and he had to be intubated.
Randolph spent the next 13 ½ days on the ventilator.
His course in the ICU was a rocky one. He developed renal failure. He could not eat, so a feeding tube was inserted. He doesn’t remember much about that time, just bits and pieces, but he does remember hearing people in his room talking about his kidneys. He thought he was engaged in conversation with them, but in retrospect, he was only listening.
Randolph was extubated on April 9. Afterwards, he found he could not swallow, so he had to continue to receive nutrition via a feeding tube. Certain that the speech therapist was wrong in not letting him eat, Randolph was finally convinced after she took him down to radiology and had him undergo a barium swallow. That study showed that he was aspirating every time he tried to eat anything by mouth.
“See that, Mr. Page? That’s why the feeding tube has to stay in,” the speech therapist said.
He was so weak that he had to learn to walk again. He left the hospital using a walker, and ambulated with a cane for a month after discharge. He went to physical therapy and speech therapy,eventually learned to swallow on his own again, and gradually gained back 24 of the pounds he had lost during his ordeal.
Randolph’s energy level is now back to normal. He goes to the gym every day, but he still cannot lift as much weight as he used to. Still, he feels fortunate to have survived and to be able to work towards getting back to where he once was.
“I got through this because of the dedication of the doctors, nurses and other health care professionals around me,” he said. “I was lucky because I had no underlying health issues. I never smoked, didn’t drink very much, and exercised regularly before I got sick. That helped save me. The only medication I was taking before I became ill was a multivitamin.”
After he got out of the hospital, Randolph was determined to use his experience to help others with COVID 19. He’s donated plasma to help make immune globulin and has been involved in COVID 19 research through Emory University.
I asked Randolph what he would like to tell other people out there about COVID 19.
“I would tell them it’s real,” he says. “It’s not a hoax. It’s not overblown. I would tell them to wear a mask and to stay six feet away from others. I still do it now even though I’m immune to it—because it’s the right thing to do, and I want to set a positive example.”
“You see so many selfish people,” Randolph says. “People want to do what they want without regard for everyone else. So I’d tell them to just let go of the bars for a while. Don’t go to the movie theater. Don’t feel like you have to eat inside a restaurant. And when you can’t social distance, wear a mask. It’s such a simple measure. I don’t know why people have such a problem with it.”
Randolph is an optimist by nature, and he’s encouraged by the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine trials—one of which started this past week in his hometown of Savannah.
“I’m proud of that,” he says. “And I’m proud that I can give back to others by helping out with the research efforts at Emory. It’s the least I can do.”
In an era in which politicians of all sorts feel compelled to make a political issue out of everything, his fundamental message is a sobering one—and one which is grounded in reason and common sense.
“Listen to the doctors and not the politicians,” Randolph says. “We should all show respect for our fellow human beings and do what we can to protect one another. Then we can get through all of this and get on with our lives.”
Randolph Page defied the odds to survive COVID 19 during a time when over half of the patients who were intubated with that illness did not survive.
Randolph is right: If we work together, we can, and will, get through this. But great things are never achieved without hard work, and rarely without sacrifice. Indeed, there will be some sacrifices involved. As much as we do not want to admit it, we will not eradicate COVID 19 passively. For once in this politically polarized, social media-influenced world we live in, people will need to leave their politics at the door and just do the right thing for us all to get through this. And it will take efforts from all of us.
Let’s be crystal clear here: This is not a matter of individual rights. It’s not a matter of freedom. It’s a matter of showing respect for our fellow human beings, some of whom may be more medically fragile than others.
As a doctor, I understand this. Randolph Page does, too.
“God has blessed me so much,” Randolph says. “I’m just so grateful to be alive.”
We’d all be wise to learn from his example.