A sign in Dr. Thomas Wojciechowski Sr.’s yard says “A healthcare hero lives here.”
“Dr. Wojo,” as he is known in the Bowling Green community, doesn’t consider himself a hero. But he is a warrior in the coronavirus fight.
Wojciechowski is two months into his recovery from coronavirus, which he had in mid April. He said the recovery has been slow, but he is back to work and has resumed most activity.
“I’m doing better, almost back to doing almost all my normal things. The world has changed, of course, for all of us. And it’s going to be a new norm,” Wojciechowski said on Saturday morning, taking a break from yard and garden work at his Bowling Green home.
Coronavirus is mainly known for crippling the respiratory system. But Wojciechowski experienced different symptoms.
“I just was miserable — couldn’t eat, couldn’t drink. And I finally went to the ER. I was dehydrated,” Wojciechowski said. “As sick as I was and as miserable as I felt, I can’t imagine what it was like in the lungs.”
He was hospitalized for almost a week.
“They got my chemistry back with the IV,” he said. “But it was a miserable six days. … There were probably three straight days where if I had a quarter of a meal total for those three days, it would have been a lot.”
Wojciechowski, who has a thin, wiry frame, lost 15 pounds.
He was admitted to the hospital on April 15. He took a coronavirus test on April 14 and it came back positive on April 17.
“If you look at the science of it, I probably had it two-four days before that,” he said.
Wojciechowski thinks he contracted it through his work with one of the long-term care facilities in Wood County, but declined to name it.
He recalled going there on April 3 and 10 for his routine rounds.
“They already had five cases. I saw my patients and did all the necessary precautions. We had gowns and shields and gloves and all the things we needed. Everything went well,” Wojciechowski said “The following Friday, they were up to 15 cases.”
On Tuesday of the next week, he was in the office going through mail around 6 p.m.
“I started to feel chills. I started getting chilly in the office. I checked my temperature and it was 102.4.”
He immediately contacted Dr. Michael Lemon, the liaison with the Wood County Health Department.
“He knows the kind of work I do, and there’s risk. He said ‘let’s get you over and get an immediate test.’ That was a Tuesday, and Friday my test was positive. Thursday I went into the hospital.”
Wojciechowski said he had never been hospitalized before for an illness. The experience was eye opening, he said, especially as a doctor.
“I always try to think I have empathy, but I have a much greater understanding of empathy right now,” he said. “I felt helpless. They came up with a way of using Tylenol in an IV, which is a really good painkiller. I couldn’t wait for the next dose — not so much for the pain. I was so miserable I wanted to go back to sleep. I wanted to wake up some time and feel better.”
Wojciechowski also took hydroxychloroquine, but doesn’t believe it helped him recover.
“I was desperate for anything,” he said.
Wojciechowski credited God, family and friends for getting him through coronavirus.
“My faith is very, very important — lot of prayers and a lot of people,” he said. “The support group is what gets you through it. The places where I work were supportive. The hospital was supportive. My co-workers at the office were very supportive, my family, friends, minister.”
The “hockey doc” — another nickname in addition to Dr. Wojo — also heard from former Bowling Green State University hockey players and former coaches Buddy Powers, Chris Bergeron and Jerry York.
No one in his immediate circle contracted COVID-19.
Wojciechowski said he practiced social distancing in the house and he used a separate bedroom and bathroom until about two weeks ago.
He’s not sure he would do anything differently, if he could.
The long-term care facility, where he believes he contracted coronavirus, was taking extreme safety precautions, Wojciechowski said.
“They did a great job for me. I had all the equipment I needed — and all it takes is one (exposure). I’m not sure how it got through the protective equipment, but it happened to me,” he said. “It didn’t happen to my wife. It didn’t happen to patients or staff at other facilities.”
His wife and daughter had asked him not to go to the facility because of all the positive cases.
“It’s a responsibility. I just can’t say ‘I resign,’” Wojciechowski said. “If I wouldn’t have gone to that facility, I probably wouldn’t have got it, but it was my obligation.”
He spent two weeks at home recovering.
Wojciechowski gradually got back to working, using an iPad to connect with staff and patients.
“The nurse had the iPad at the facilities and she would go to the patient and I could talk to the patient. They could see me, I could see the patient. I was back almost to full time with telehealth after two-three weeks,” he said.
“About four weeks ago, I resumed part telehealth and part live. I came up with a pattern because the one week I overdid it. I got pretty tired. I’ve got a schedule figured out where I know what my capabilities are.”
Wojciechowski said it is unknown whether he could get coronavirus again. There are so many mysteries about this virus, he said.
“That’s a question my patients ask me all the time,” he said. “The assumption is you do form antibodies.
“Because it’s such a new, novel virus, we don’t know if you have antibodies, or if you don’t have antibodies, if you have protection for a week, if you have protection for a month. You’ve got to study the disease before you can answer those questions. My assumption would be I have some antibody response and hopefully immunity.”
Wojciechowski, who grew up in Toledo, is a graduate of the University of Toledo Pharmacy School and practiced that from 1967-71.
“I just decided that with the amount of science I had I wanted to do something different and I applied to medical school.”
He went to Wayne State University in Detroit and graduated in 1975. He practiced family medicine in Bowling Green for years, then started nursing home work in the late 1980s.
“I enjoy taking care of people, and I just adjusted,” he said.
Wojciechowski and his wife, Kathryn, have been together since 1963. They have four children, Tom Jr., Ed, Stacey and Lisa, and five grandchildren.
Wojciechowski, who is 75, has no plans to retire.
“It’s not work to me. I like what I do. I’ve done it for over 40 years and it’s very rewarding.”