St. Vincent doctor still recovering from COVID-19 months later

BILLINGS - After contracting COVID-19 in November and spending 10 days hospitalized on oxygen, a St. Vincent doctor says he still hasn’t fully recovered.

Dr. Adam Zelka, a full-time Primary Care Physician at the St. Vincent's Heights Clinic says when he first contracted COVID-19 he had no symptoms, besides feeling rundown.

“I could still smell, I could still taste, I could still do whatever I wanted, I just felt like I was tired," Dr. Zelka said.

It wasn’t until Veteran's Day that the symptoms, like body aches, coughing, joint pains and running a fever of 104 began, and Dr. Zelka says they continued to worsen. After testing positive, he stayed in his camper for about five days until his symptoms became unbearable.

Dr. Zelka visited a walk-in clinic and after chest X-rays and IV fluids, he was cleared to go home. Twelve hours later, he says his oxygen level was down to about 85 percent. Dr. Zelka’s wife rushed him to the emergency room.

"They didn't let her come inside with me and so we kind of just looked at each other as we're wheeling away, and she didn't know if that was the last time she was ever going to see me," Dr. Zelka said.

After being admitted to the COVID-19 unit at the hospital, his condition continued to worsen.

"I couldn't hardly move... I went from needing six liters to 12 liters, and then, early on the morning of my third day in the hospital, I completely crashed and they called a code blue and everybody rushed into my room," Dr. Zelka said.

Dr. Zelka spent the next 10 days on oxygen at the hospital, but he was still able to communicate with his wife and four daughters daily.

"I could really only talk for about three or four minutes at a time before I'd get way too out of breath and we just sit and stare at each other, and you know, that's all you want to do. You don't want to hang up but you don't want to talk because it's too tiring," he said.

When he was finally okay to go home, a month passed before he was able to only need the support of oxygen at night. 

Months after contracting COVID, Dr. Zelka's lungs still haven’t fully recovered. So he decided to do a lung study to determine exactly how much the virus impacted his lungs. He says the lung study will also assist in determining if he no longer needs to use oxygen at night.

"If it shows that I have good air exchange and I can get enough oxygen in and carbon dioxide out and all those other things, then the stage is set to do well going forward," Dr. Zelka said.

Other than his prolonged lung issues, Dr. Zelka says he has no other lingering symptoms, but doctors still have no idea why he became so sick.

"I just happened to draw the short straw and got terribly sick for no good reason at all, and to this day we'll probably never know why," Dr. Zelka said. 

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