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My active senior lifestyle has rarely been punctuated by illness. Until Jan. 4, when I was hospitalized at Long Beach MemorialCare Medical Center, I had not been hospitalized since birth.

My wife Marsha and I live in downtown Long Beach in a mid-rise condo where we have everything delivered and its all sanitized before storage or use. So how did I get the virus?

We like to be generous with the delivery people that are part of our lifeline. A couple of days before Christmas, realizing I could not get small bills from an ATM, I visited the bank branch downtown. It was sparsely occupied, people maintained a distance. I used my iPhone to pre-arrange a cash withdrawal. When the teller handed me the envelope, I immediately thought something was wrong, but hastily left there, stuffing the envelope in my pocket.

Routinely, I would take out the bills, lay them on a clean towel, disinfect each and allow them to dry before using them. This time, to conceal the money from my wife (I intended to give her some cash for Christmas), I set aside my routine, which included stripping down, showering and sanitizing the money.

A couple of days later, I began to feel ill. I lost any appetite and had no energy. I never ran a fever, or exhibited more that a dry hacking cough. As I began to deteriorate, I got tested and I was positive for COVID. Over the next few days, living in disbelief, my oxygen level dropped and the doctor, plus all my family, insisted I go to the hospital.

I relented and an ambulance was called on Monday, Jan. 4, at about 3:15 p.m.

It took 20 minutes to get to Memorial, but we waited in the ambulance, with one door open to the cold outside, from 3:45 p.m. until nearly 9 p.m. before the ER could admit me. After a quick exam in a tiny room, I laid there until 5 a.m. before they had a bed for me on the COVID floor. Unfortunately, I shared a room with a man 10 years older, who apparently had mental issues and no family. He kept asking a nurse to lay next to him as he was scared. I felt badly for him, but I could barely whisper myself. They moved me about 9 p.m. that day.

I remained in that hospital room for three more days, until the doctors decided I could be released and was no longer contagious. But I needed a source of oxygen, something in short supply at hospitals and doctor’s offices.

Fortunately, one of our friends heard the plea and offered to loan us a unit that generates its own oxygen. Once we demonstrated possession, my release was scheduled.

My experience at Memorial gave me a heightened sense of respect for the healthcare staff who put their lives on the line for us. We are largely helpless and need everything. They are overwhelmed and can’t get to everyone quickly. We all had to experience patience. They are constantly changing personal protective equipment, gloves, mask, etc. We were in a war zone with the enemy surrounding us.

Multiple times a day, I would hear “Code 4” being called and wonder who might not make it. The stress level they experience is unimaginable. They are true heroes in every sense of the word and they have my great admiration and deep respect for the dangerous work they do to save us from this unseen killer.

We are personally fortunate to have and use lots of technology; it has made this entire saga more manageable. In the hospital, I FaceTimed my wife and children, used AirPods to listen to TV on my phone without disturbing others, and merged calls to put insurance, docs and providers together to facilitate my recovery.

I worry for those who don’t have similar options. These were not nice to have toys, they helped me communicate, connected the nurses with my wife and doctor and became my indispensable lifeline.

Finally, though we have arranged for vaccination next week, this disease will continue to plague our country for at least another year, largely because of all the people who don’t wear masks and exercise good hygiene. This was completely avoidable and the cure, now with a vaccine, is in sight if we all agree on the necessity to protect each other.

In my opinion, non-compliance should result in stiff financial penalties and/or jail time. Let’s get our lives back on track and use science, medicine and common sense hygiene to end this nightmare.

Joe Ganem is a resident in downtown Long Beach.

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