‘COVID feels like you’re being buried alive.’

A patient wanted people to know what it feels like to have COVID-19. Before dying of the virus, he shared a powerful message: 'Get the shot.'
September 29, 2021
Earl Henry was a fisherman who wanted to get back on the water. From his ICU bed, he explained that COVID-19 felt like being “buried alive.” Photo courtesy of Earl Henry.

Editor’s note: Tragically, Earl Henry passed away from COVID-19 on Oct. 8. He had been fighting the virus since Sept. 12, and during a period when he was improving in late September, Henry wanted to share his story with the public. His key message: “Get the shot.”

From his hospital bed in the intensive care unit at UCHealth Greeley Hospital, Earl Henry, 60, said his struggle to breathe after he became infected with COVID-19, was like a herd of elephants sitting on his chest, or being buried alive – something he knows about firsthand.

As a water and sewer pipeline construction worker, the walls of ditches caved in on him three times.

“You can breathe out, but you can’t breathe in,’’ he said.

That, he said, is what COVID-19 feels like.

“Every time you try to breathe in the dirt keeps squeezing around you. That’s what it felt like – like I was being suffocated.’’

Not too long ago, Henry thought all of the hullabaloo about COVID-19 was overblown.

He said he was in “the lead with the doubters,’’ when the pandemic began.  “Now I’m standing in the back of the line with my hat in my hand. I have to admit I was wrong — 100% wrong.”

Henry was among those skeptical of the vaccine.  “I doubted the vaccines and everything the media and everyone were saying,” he said. “I thought it was a circus.”

Then in early September, he became very sick.

“I usually get two bad colds, one in the fall and one in the spring, and that’s what it felt like. So, I doctored myself up like I normally do with a cold,” he explained. “It got progressively worse and bad enough I went to the ER.”

Earl Henry is involved with the Greeley Stampede Wranglers. Photos courtesy of Earl Henry

Henry thought he had taken plenty of precautions to protect himself from COVID-19, but admitted in September 2021 that he should have been vaccinated.

“I have no immune system and have diabetes — two of the biggest factors that will take you out,” Henry said during his September 2021 interview. “It didn’t take me out, but it’s working real close on trying to.”

Henry went to the emergency room at Greeley Hospital on Sept. 12, the second time in a little more than 24 hours. This time he was immediately admitted to the intensive care unit, where he was closely monitored and given oxygen.

“I went downhill good for a while,” he said. “It was an hour-by-hour deal on whether I’d be ventilated or not. I’ve been ventilated before and that was something I never wanted to do.”

On Sept. 23, Henry was still in the ICU, and still on oxygen though he said he felt 110% better than just a few days before.

Earl Henry on Sept. 23, spoke to UCHealth Today via Zoom, explaining what COVID-19 feels like and how he wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Photo: UCHealth.

“At one point, I didn’t know if I was coming or going, whether I was upright or downright,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot of things in my life and I’d take a lot of what I’ve been through over just two days of what I’ve done in here.”

Henry knew it is everyone’s personal choice on whether to vaccinate or not vaccinated, but he had this advice:

“Whether you think it’s right, wrong, or indifferent, get the shot. A needle poke in the arm beats the heck out of the ICU and wondering if you’re going to make it to see the next morning.

“This is nothing to mess with. I thought it was no big deal, but I learned real fast and real quick it is one heck of a big deal.’’

He knew that a lot of people do consider coronavirus a serious illness but he says it is a nasty, dangerous virus.

“Yes, it kills, and that’s a known fact and people are not taking it serious enough, and I’m one of them. Looking back, knowing what I know now, I would have had two shots, and maybe even headed for the third one. I’d be advocating people to do this because I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”

From his hospital bed, he was taking it day by day, hoping that he’ll never feel like he was suffocating ever again.

Earl Henry, an avid fisherman, said COVID-19 feels like being “buried alive.” Photo courtesy of Earl Henry.

“I want to get out of here today or tomorrow but I don’t see that happening,” he said.

He wanted to go fishing.

“That’s the thing. If you listen to what doctors say and what the experts say — get the shots, do the masks, washing your hands, sanitizing — we can’t do enough to slow this down.

“The more everyone does that, the sooner and faster we can slow this down. Or at least slow it up.”

About the author

Kati Blocker has always been driven to learn and explore the world around her. And every day, as a writer for UCHealth, Kati meets inspiring people, learns about life-saving technology, and gets to know the amazing people who are saving lives each day. Even better, she gets to share their stories with the world.

As a journalism major at the University of Wyoming, Kati wrote for her college newspaper. She also studied abroad in Swansea, Wales, while simultaneously writing for a Colorado metaphysical newspaper.

After college, Kati was a reporter for the Montrose Daily Press and the Telluride Watch, covering education and health care in rural Colorado, as well as city news and business.

When she's not writing, Kati is creating her own stories with her husband Joel and their two young children.