By Johnny Painter
When the vaccine for COVID-19 became available, I was skeptical and had decided to take my chances without it. Then I got sick.
Fighting a COVID-19 infection changes your perspective. It was horrible. I have never felt sicker in my life. I spent nearly a week in the hospital and had to isolate at home for 23 days after that. I also recognize that I’m lucky. There are more than 3 million people worldwide who will never be able to tell their stories.
I need to wait until June, 90 days after recovering from my infection, to get vaccinated. But as soon as I’m able, I’ll be rolling up my sleeve for my shot. I don’t want to go through what I went through again. I am urging others to do the same.
Like all farmers, I continued to work through the pandemic. And I took precautions to limit my exposure to the virus. By the start of 2021, I was feeling confident that I had avoided getting sick.
I started feeling mildly sick on Feb. 27. That evening, I had a sneezing and coughing fit that lasted three to four minutes. The next morning, I woke up feeling horrible. My head and whole body ached. My feet felt like I had been walking on concrete all day wearing my work boots.
The next day, as my condition worsened, my son told me: “You’re going to go to the doctor to get checked out. You’re kind of old and out of shape and I love you.”
My doctor ran a test and confirmed what I already suspected: I had COVID-19. She started me on medicine and vitamins and sent me home to quarantine. I felt better at first, then a lot worse.
By the fifth day, I lost all desire to eat or drink. What scared me the most was that I felt lightheaded — almost like a buzz in my head— and I was forgetful and disoriented. I knew it was time to go to the hospital.
I hadn’t spent a night in the hospital since the day I was born. I was there for six days. At times, it was hard to breathe and I received oxygen one day. It was scary. I knew I was going to live but I worried I was going to spend the rest of my life using a breathing device or having trouble breathing.
As I recovered, my doctors talked to me about the vaccine. They told me they had treated people in my community who got COVID-19 twice. I talked with my family doctor, a fellow farmer with whom I have a close relationship, and she told me that she had been vaccinated.
I’m encouraging everyone in the agriculture community to join me in getting vaccinated. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for the people who love you. The past few months have taught me that there are a lot of people who care and life’s too short to take unnecessary risks.
Johnny Painter, a third-generation farmer, operates an organic dairy and beef farm in Pennsylvania in partnership with his two brothers. He is a longtime Farm Bureau leader and serves on Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s board of directors.