Garette Craig Jr

Garette Craig Jr., left, gets ready to spend Father’s Day with Garette Craig Sr.—two months after both of them were in the hospital with COVID-19.

He remembers checking into Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Westgate Medical Center and leaving the Glendale hospital.

The middle part? Don’t ask Garette Craig about two weeks he spent on a ventilator.

“I don’t remember anything,” he said.

Well, nothing in reality, at least.

“During the time I was on a ventilator, I had severe nightmares. I thought I was kidnapped and taken overseas somewhere,” said Craig, 50 and a Litchfield Park resident.

As he said this, Garette Craig Jr. shook his head grimly. It never got that bad for the son, who is 30, but he also spent a week in the hospital.

COVID-19 almost took both their lives.

Yet for those who think the coronavirus disease is greatly exaggerated, they can relate.

“We both were those people,” said Craig Sr., as his son nodded in agreement. “We didn’t believe we could catch the virus, and if we did, we thought it would be more like the flu.”

During a video call, his son wholeheartedly agreed: “I definitely didn’t take it seriously,” Craig Jr. said. “In my mind, I felt it was just like the flu, so I wasn’t scared of it at all. Now I know how serious it is.”

While an estimated 80% who get COVID-19 have symptoms no worse than for the flu, the Craigs were hit hard. In Maricopa County, more than 70% of those who have died from COVID-19 had preexisting medical conditions. The Craigs fit into that category, as the father has recurring bronchitis and the son had a recent heart procedure.

The son started feeling ill first. “I got sick a couple days after St. Patrick’s Day,” said Craig Jr., 30 and a Phoenix resident. “I was coughing, lost my voice for a couple of days, then I started having fevers and headaches and lost my appetite.”

His father also started feeling ill in March but didn’t think much of it.

“On an annual basis, I experience coughing and bronchitis, so that’s what I thought I had,” he said.

When the medicine he takes for bronchitis didn’t do anything, he and his rapidly deteriorating son went to their doctor together. 

Both tested positive for COVID-19.

The Craigs were having difficulty breathing, so they went to the hospital March 25.

“When we went into the hospital, I was worse than he was,” Craig Jr. said. “But he ended up being worse than me.”

Indeed, Craig Sr. spiraled down quickly. Two days after signing into the Westgate hospital, he was transferred and placed on a ventilator at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix.

“They said my lungs were failing and if they didn’t put me on a machine I was going to die. I didn’t have much time to process what was going on. I made one phone call, updated my sister—and then I woke up 13 or 14 days later.”

He was later told he was the first COVID-19 patient to go on a ventilator at that hospital who lived. 

Craig Sr. remembers waking up “pretty grumpy” after his two-week ventilator vacation. “I FaceTimed my family and within a couple hours I was ready to go home,” he said.

Though he was ready to jump out of bed, when he hit the ground he was too weak to walk, leaving the hospital in a wheelchair.

He said he lost 32 pounds during three weeks in the hospital.

At first, “I couldn’t walk on my own without a walker or a wheelchair, I couldn’t breathe very well, couldn’t use the restroom on my own,” Craig Sr. said.

He and his son, who lost 28 pounds over a week in the hospital, are both web designers.

It took about two weeks before he was functioning normally. Now, he said, “My breathing’s better, I’m able to walk, run, workout. I do just about everything I could do before I got sick.”

His Father’s Day in Litchfield Park included a family barbecue and swimming party.

“It will mean something more to be able to celebrate Father’s Day with him because we definitely could have lost him,” Craig Jr. said, a few days before the holiday.

Having gone to the very edge of existence before coming back, Craig Sr.’s gratefulness is tinged with frustration—like when  he goes to the gym for his regular workout.

“I don’t think people are taking it seriously,” he said. “For every 50 people that are in there, I would say one has a mask on. It’s just bizarre.”

He doesn’t wish what he went through on anyone; he just wishes people would believe the reality.

“This virus is real,” Craig Sr. said. “Wear your mask, wash your hands, take care of yourself. If you think you can’t get it like I thought, you can. 

“I was one of the lucky people that didn’t die. Take it seriously.”