While walking up his driveway into his Lapeer home, Eric Florka gently covers his forehead and takes a hard look above.
He takes in the sky’s different colors as the sun’s rays splash down on him. He notices how the birds circle and chirp around him. He smells the nearby planted flowers and hears the rumbling of distant thunder.
These are the sights, smells and sounds the veteran gas lineworker used to take for granted. Not anymore. Never again. That’s what 44 days in the hospital will do to you as a 105-degree temperature ravages your body to the point your limbs are rendered useless. And you feel death steadily knocking at your door.
Your daughter worries if it’s the last time she will hug you. You can’t escape this thought as COVID-19 throws its full force while draining you physically and mentally: is this the end?
But then suddenly not one, but two miracles happen one night and weeks later you are shaking your head still in disbelief about your lucky fortune.
The Real Deal
“This thing is the real deal, I can’t stress it enough,” said Florka, who has been with the company 21 years, about his brutal bout with COVID-19 where he lost 40 pounds in two weeks. “Do what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from this deadly disease. Start by masking up, it’s really not too much to do to protect yourself and those around you.”
The Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that masks are critical to helping slow and prevent the spread of COVID-19 by preventing droplets from entering the air. However, they are only effective if EVERYONE wears one.
The guilt is still there for Florka, who struggles each day with why his life was spared while tens of thousands have died in the pandemic’s wake.
“It’s something I think about all the time,” he said. “Maybe I’m here to spread the word on the importance of masking up. That’s what I am going to do. It’s an important message.”
Florka began his battle on April 9 when a co-worker said he didn’t look or sound well. He thought it was just allergies. But as a precaution, he went home for the day.
Over the next several weeks, he found out just how devastating COVID-19’s grip could be as he spent nearly a month and a half in the hospital. He lost his sense of smell and had a fever of 103 to 105 degrees for almost a week. He was weakened to the point where he couldn’t walk. It wasn’t until recently that his legs and arms were at full capacity.
“And to compound matters, I couldn’t breathe because all of the fluid in my lungs,” he said. “It was like pneumonia on steroids. Some people think it is no big deal. I am luckily here to tell you — it is. You don’t get to sleep it off. It’s a slow, painful death that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
Florka had no doubts that he wasn’t long for this life. He heard the whispers from the doctors and nurses to his family. He knew it wasn’t good. He was at peace and ready for whatever was next for him.
But in the middle of one May night, Florka felt a presence leaning into him and telling him everything was going to be alright. He slowly opened his eyes. Nobody was there.
“I believed in God all of my life, I KNOW in that moment and from now on that there is one,” he said.
And minutes later noisy, relieving confusion took over Florka’s room. A plasma match had been found from a person up the hall who miraculously recovered from being on a ventilator due to COVID-19.
“God saved two people that night,” said Florka, his voice cracking from the thought. “Two miracles happened within minutes of each other and I am so very grateful.”
Florka received a plasma transfusion and within days he was on his way to recovery. He was transferred to a room where he worked on his conditioning before going home.
Now he’s back on the job. He feels like a different person; so grateful to breathe in fresh air, play golf with his son and have family dinners.
“I’m not supposed to be here,” Florka said. “I vowed when I was laying in that hospital bed for all of those days that when I got home, I would discover something new each day; do something that I have never seen, heard or smelled. I have done that every day since I have been out. I will for the rest of my life.”