Lowan Stewart, an emergency medicine doctor who splits his time between Santa Fe and Norway, said he, his wife and their two children all had COVID-19.
Stewart said he was flat on his back for five days and coughing for another week. His family members experienced less severe symptoms, possibly due to their age and gender.
He said older people tend to suffer more than younger people and symptoms often are less severe for female patients. That proved true in his household. He had it the worst, and his 16-year-old daughter had the most mild symptoms.
They are all OK now, he said, and most others who contract the virus will be too.
“The reality is the vast majority of people who get it will be just fine,” Stewart said.
But he said it’s important for people to practice social distancing to protect others whose age or health conditions make them more vulnerable.
“The reason we need to take it seriously is for those people,” he said. “Most of what we are doing is not for you. It’s for our family members or other people in the community, to slow things down so when they require a ventilator there is one available.”
Stewart, 44, grew up in Santa Fe and normally spends one week a month working in the emergency room at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and Santa Fe Ketamine, a clinic he co-founded in 2016.
Then he flies to Norway — his wife’s home country — where he spends the rest of the month with her and their 21- and 16-year-old daughters in Oslo, were he works as a medical adviser and researcher.
Stewart said he contracted the virus on his most recent trip around the globe in late February — during which he made a pit stop in New York City, where the outbreak is more severe.
He said his initial symptoms came on very much like a common cold or flu.
“It started with a couple of days of mild headache,” he said. His wife, filmmaker Tonje Schei, was feeling a bit off too, but they still attended the premiere for iHuman, a film she’d been working on for the past five years.
“We went to the premiere with like 1,000 people,” he said. “I hugged probably 200 of them.”
At the after-party, he said, there was more hugging and dancing.
“Tons of people in Norway have it,” he said. “But I’m sure I gave coronavirus to 100 people that night.”
Thirty minutes after the premiere, he said, all the theaters in Norway closed because of the coronavirus threat.
A day or so later, Stewart said, the virus hit him hard.
He was bedridden for a week with severe body aches and back pain so bad he could barely make it to the bathroom on his own. He was was so feverish that he sweated through the sheets at night.
“Even the blankets were wet when I woke up in the morning,” he said.
After about a week, he began feeling better but was still coughing so badly it caused him to vomit.
“I felt terrible. It sucked,” he said.
He did what he normally does for a cold or flu, “took Tylenol, drank lots of fluids, drank tea and rested.”
He said that’s what most people should do.
There is no medicine for the virus, he said. The only thing hospitals can do is put a patient on oxygen or a ventilator. Most who test positive will be sent home to recover. There is no point in going to the doctor, he said, unless you can’t breathe.
“It’s super important that almost everybody stay at home and treat it like the flu,” he said. “Just stay hydrated and get rest, and your immune system will fight it off.”
Stewart added that older people or those with lung or heart disease need to be more careful. But he said even they don’t need to rush to the doctor unless they feel short of breath.
Stewart said he was already on the mend when he got tested. Because he’s a health care professional, he needed to be cleared to go back to work.
For now, he’s staying put because requirements that travelers quarantine for two weeks on each side of an international flight would keep him out of commission for a month if he were to travel.
“Looking back,” he said, “it’s just crazy how quickly everything changed. Three weeks ago, people were just doing what they normally did.”
Had he known then what he knows now, he said, he never would have gone to a packed theater, but he said most of his friends have gotten and recovered from the virus.
“In Norway, we think by summer 60 to 70 percent of the country will have had it,” he said, adding that, as in the United States, the true numbers in Norway are unknown because most people are not being tested.
Stewart said he felt relieved when he tested positive for the virus. “I was like, ‘Oh good, I got it. Now there is a high likelihood I’m immune for this year.’ ”
He said it appears unlikely those who contract the virus can become infected with the same strain again, and if they do, it will be less serious because they will have built up some immunity.
“I’m pretty optimistic about the whole thing,” he said.
Stewart acknowledged that shutting down the entire globe has been “a pretty drastic thing for everyone to go through.”
“But it works,” he said. “We can slow it down. If we overwhelm the system, more people will die. But if we can take care of the people that need to be taken care of, it will be OK for the vast majority of people. Then we will have to figure out how we can deal with it next year.”
This story has been amended to reflect the following correction. A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated Lowan Stewart and Tonje Schei have a 21-year-old son. They have a 21-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old daughter in Oslo.