In late February/early March, a virus spread rapidly in communities all over and it would come to be know as COVID-19 (Corona Virus). First classified as an epidemic, the dramatically increasing transmission rates so alarmingly would force the World Health Organization to change the classification to a pandemic on March 12, 2020.
Friends since we met in Cub Scouts in 1977, Rob Puffer has always been the very definition of a stand up guy. We went to the same elementary school (Orange Grove Elementary), the same high school (Dixie Hollins), and have kept in touch over the years. One of the things I genuinely respect about my friend Rob is that he is the kind of guy that takes pride in not having used a sick day in twelve years.
He is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force who has worked as a public safety dispatcher for the last fifteen years at the St. Petersburg Police Department. Rob is a father to a couple of great young men in Aaron and Cameron. A big supporter of Tampa Bay sports, a quick tour of Rob’s Facebook page over the last couple of years will immediately inform as to how the Buccaneers, Lightning, and especially the Tampa Bay Rays were doing at any given time. A neighborhood guy who likes to take Tuesday morning coffee at Mazzarro’s, there was no way Rob or so many other thousands of others could have known that there was a battle erupting between nature and humanity and Rob Puffer had front row seats.
Back on the weekend of March 5th-8th, a week before tens of thousands of people would pack into the French Quarter in New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. Long before St. Patrick’s Day became a stay at home holiday, Rob and a companion would spend a relaxing weekend at Walt Disney World. Something he and his sons Aaron and Cameron had done regularly growing up. Returning home that Sunday evening, hungry and exhausted, Rob would eat a steak, relax in the Jacuzzi and slip off to bed.
But is This,That?
It was the middle of that Sunday night that a sudden sour feeling in Rob’s stomach would rile him from bed and send him toward the bathroom. A trip he did not make. He called it a “poltergeist” moment. One of those times that there is something in your stomach that is not going to wait to get out, and get out it did. He didn’t know if it had been the steak he’d eaten the night before, or the adult beverage he had with it. After cleaning up and showering, it was time to go to work for his Monday shift.
*Note: although by this time Monday, March 8th, 2020 the COVID-19 talk was heating up. There was still no directive to quarantine, stay at home order, and you could still even purchase toilet paper at all grocery stores. The US Government has started warning Americans with underlying condition to limit travel on cruise ships. There were 566 cases confirmed across 36 states.
Monday came and went. Although he felt a little warm on Tuesday, there was no fever and nothing else out of the ordinary. Rob felt a little drained the rest of that week, March 11th-13th, but showed no signs of imminent illness. It was that following weekend, Saturday, March 14th, and Sunday, March 15th, when Rob said,
“I just wasn’t feeling well, so I kind of laid in bed for the whole weekend.”
By Wednesday the following week a visit to the St. Petersburg Wellness center would bring a diagnosis of the stomach flu and medicine for the nausea. It would be the first sick day in twelve years for Rob Puffer. The symptoms all pointed to the stomach flu, and remember, this was still before a time when a cough or sneeze in public would become cause for environmental panic.
It was the following day, Thursday, March 19th when things took a serious turn. When the lifelong non-smoker got out of bed and after a small walk from the bedroom to the bathroom left him out of breath. “Felt like I was a two pack a day smoker”, Rob stated.
It would be a couple of days later, now running a fever at 102, Rob would again seek the advice of the wellness center. Being closed, he was referred to the Bayfront walk-in clinic on 4th street. After a chest x-ray determined there was pneumonia in his lungs it was on to Bayfront ER.
All Signs are Starting to Point to…
Once in the hospital there were numerous tests, oxygen, and another chest xray. It was now Monday, March 23rd. Treatments for pneumonia were started. Rob was also administered the test for COVID-19. Wanting to monitor Rob’s breathing it was determined he would be admitted overnight. Taken to a regular hospital room for the evening, at 7:00 am the following morning a medical staff would come in and inform him that he had tested positive for the Corona virus and would be moving to another room.
The Covid Unit
An old ICU unit at Bayfront, the Covid unit had been set up for airflow control and each room was isolated. Rob would spend the next two weeks here being poked, prodded, fed, IV’d and having his breathing monitored. There were three other patients in the unit. While getting some exercise with the assistance of a nurse and oxygen machine, Rob noticed one of the other patients was intubated and the third patient had more traffic in and out as well as a pulmonary specialist. It seemed as if his fight was a little more critical.
Noticing that the bed was bigger and different from his own, Rob inquired about it with a staff member. The bed it seemed was made to rotate so that the liquid in his longs didn’t settle. Staff was going in there to rotate and check the patient all the time. Sadly the patient would pass. Rob had noticed that through the day, the pace picked up with the traffic in and out of the room. Then, suddenly, it stopped. The staff had pulled a curtain before removing the patient. A nurse would later admit that the curtain was pulled so as not to discourage Rob in his own current condition. Rob explained that working in law enforcement, he has seen these types of situations before. Rob may have been fighting a virus that attacks the lungs but it had not affected his mind.
As one of Rob’s followers on Facebook, we waited for the next post. Any sign to see our friend was continuing to recover. We watched him come out of the woods and then, continue a great recovery. In almost a full month of national and stories from all over the world ranging from panic to ill measured confusion. It was good to have some positive news with a friendly face. Rob continues his recovery today. Continuing to test to be sure the virus is gone. He will remain quarantined like a lot of Americans. The testing still remains a work in progress as we continue to learn about the COVID-19 moving forward.
note; the companion that had been at Disney with Rob, as well is with him through the early parts of the illness tested negative, and to date has shown no signs of the Corona virus.
I finished the interview with Rob Puffer by asking if he was able to ascertain an opinion of the immediate suspension of all sports? His Tampa Bay Lightning that were surely on their way to another deep playoff run (excluding last rear). His Tampa Bay Rays that missed opening day, and their quest for even more than 95 wins and the 2020 MLB playoffs. And the Buccaneers! The free agent signing, Tom ‘Friggin’ Brady, and the upcoming draft this week. During his time in the hospital or the days since, has he formed an opinion on any of this? If you will allow me, I will cut and paste his response to these inquiries. as they appeared to me in Facebook Chat. I left the misspellings, grammatical issues and all. Rob is using voice to text while continuing his recovery from Covid-19
“Trust me being a Tampa Bay Sports Fan I’m very disappointed that this came at the end of the lightning regular season when they were on a run possibly for another Stanley Cup who knows what they’re going to do if there is going to cancel the season or try to do an abbreviated postseason. As far as baseball yes I’m disappointed that the season hasn’t started yet but there’s still plenty of time to have a season I was always optimistic about the raise each year this year more than ever cuz they ended on a really good note they did a couple good additions so they may have a chance against the power houses in the AL East. And as far as Tom Brady a I am a box fan but B you know me I was really born in Boston I am a breeze fan I do like the Patriots always have I’m not a bandwagon year it’s great to see him in Tampa Bay I think this could be a very special year with the Super Bowl in Tampa I think the glazers are trying to get a Super Bowl host team in the Super Bowl I’d be interested to see if the books are going to go for Gronk and what else they’re going to do this could be a very special year for the Bucs so anything is possible but like I said I am kind of biased because I am a Patriots / Brady’s fan but it could be interesting year”.
Hang in there Rob, we’re all pulling for you!