Doctor with near-fatal coronavirus case says he ‘felt like Rip Van Winkle’

A Seattle doctor who suffered from a near-fatal case of coronavirus said he “felt like Rip Van Winkle” when he woke up after 16 days of unconsciousness, according to a new report.

Emergency physician Ryan Padgett, 45, who works at EvergreenHealth — which saw the country’s first known COVID-19 deaths at the end of February — initially experienced a headache and some muscle soreness, but his condition quickly deteriorated, he told NPR.

“It becomes a big deal when you realize you can’t breathe,” Padgett told the outlet.

His fiancee, Connie Kinsley, urged him to go to the hospital, even though “he didn’t want to, because doctors are the worst patients,” she said.

He was on a ventilator within hours of arriving at his own hospital.

“I have no personal recollection, but evidently I told [Kinsley] where some important documents were, just in case,” he told the outlet. “And the next memory I had was about 16 days later, waking up at Swedish Hospital.”

He continued: “I felt like Rip Van Winkle, waking up … and realizing that the world had shut down.”

While he was unconscious, Padgett was transferred to Swedish Medical Center near downtown Seattle, because it has an extreme form of life support called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, which bypasses the lungs to pump oxygen into a patient’s blood, he said.

“It saved my life,” the doctor said of the treatment. “I’d dwindled to the point of my lungs, liver, kidneys and heart, all going into organ failure, multi-system organ failure.”

He also credits the drug tocilizumab, which helps tame immune system overreactions — known as “cytokine storms” — that overwhelm a COVID-19 patient’s organs, often killing them. The hospital is participating in a trial to evaluate the effectiveness of the drug, which is approved to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

When he awoke, Padgett learned his May 16 wedding was postponed too.

“Perspective changes,” the doctor said. “When you survive something like I survived, you realize that’s all window dressing. It doesn’t matter.”

“This [virus] is very scary,” he added. “That it’s not only medically fragile patients, but young people can be cut at the knees and taken down by this.”

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