‘My recovery is a testament to the great care I received’
For Chip Burger, it started on March 11 with an innocent cough. No fever, no flu-like symptoms, just a dry, irritating cough that kept the active, 59-year-old project manager working from home.
“I felt fine and thought it was allergies,” said the Crabapple father of two young adults. “But the cough persisted. I moved into another bedroom so I wouldn’t keep my wife, Heidi, awake.”
Four days later, Chip had no energy and no appetite, which was very unusual for him. “I tried to eat some cereal, but it tasted like something dug up at Chernobyl – a mix of cardboard, sawdust and mold. My sense of taste had dramatically changed. And I heard a crackly sound in my chest. This was not like a cold or the flu. It was like nothing I’d experienced before.”
From Urgent Care to the Hospital
“I was among the walking dead and Heidi was having no more of it,” said Chip. “She loaded me in the car and we went to Wellstar Urgent Care near Wellstar North Fulton Hospital. I was impressed with the staff’s professionalism and attentiveness. They almost immediately suspected pneumonia after measuring my blood oxygenation level, which was extremely low, and listening to my chest. They sent us to North Fulton’s emergency department (ED). That was the last I saw of Heidi for nine days.”
In the ED, weak and tired, Chip felt like he was “circling the drain. The ED staff said my situation was very serious, that I needed oxygen, and that if my blood oxygen level didn’t improve quickly, I would need a ventilator.”
Chip, rarely sick, with no underlying health issues, spent nine days at North Fulton Hospital – six in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) – fighting viral COVID-19 pneumonia. “Luckily, I didn’t need the ventilator,” said Chip. “I focused all my energy on breathing as deeply as my crackly lungs allowed and my oxygen level improved.”
A certified divemaster who leads dives at the Georgia Aquarium, Chip fully understands the benefits of oxygen. “I know through our diver first aid training how valuable it is, so I was hopeful it would help me,” he said. He was conscientious about his breathing exercises, working diligently with breathing devices and aiming to meet the daily goals set by his respiratory therapists.
Chip would text Heidi, but his exhaustion was so extreme, he would sometimes fall asleep mid-text. After two days in the ICU, Chip felt encouraged. “I ate everything they brought me, drank water almost continuously, and used the breathing devices every 10 minutes,” he said.
Admiration for the North Fulton Team
By this time Chip felt immense admiration for the dedication and bravery of his caregivers. “They are putting their lives at risk every day for others. I love them. If you’ve ever been on a sports team that clicks, you’ll understand how the North Fulton team works together. There’s a rhythm, a trust. They always took the time to explain everything to me and keep Heidi informed, even though they were dealing with so much.”
Though still on oxygen after six days, Chip was nearing his goal of completely eliminating it. He called the walk from ICU to the medical floor “one of the best of my life. And when I got to the room, I was overwhelmed from just being able to see outside – it was a powerful moment.”
But not as powerful as March 30, the day of his discharge. “I know my recovery is a testament to the great care I received at North Fulton Hospital. Thank you to everyone, especially Dr. M. Rabiul Alam, Dr. Absar Mirza, and all the other caregivers who helped me. Their follow-up is amazing – they continue to call and check on me.”
Chip hopes he can “exact revenge on COVID-19” by participating in antibody research, sharing his story and urging everyone to “do everything the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and other experts tell you to do. You don’t want anything to do with this virus and you sure don’t want to be responsible for giving it to someone.”