Living with COVID

How contracting the illness changed the perspective of a local business owner

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Living with COVIDAs political and social division surrounding COVID continue to rend our community, our healthcare providers have lamented how members of the public did not see the trauma that privacy protections prohibit them from sharing.

This week, the community at large got its first high-profile glimpse into the disease, when lifelong resident, business owner and son of a China Lake legacy shared his story.

“I was one of the people who believed this was mostly political,” Daryl Silberberg, Jr. wrote Wednesday morning in a Facebook post. “Yeah, I was humbled quickly. But I am now worried about my community.”

On Monday morning, this reporter sat down with Silberberg in his IWV insurance office, where he had recently returned to work after more than a month battling the illness.

Silberberg is 51 years old, physically fit, has no underlying health conditions and manages regular workouts as a part of his wholesome lifestyle.

“I just think that, if this could completely knock me out the way it did, I can’t even imagine what it would do to someone who is older, or who struggles with any health issues,” he said.

Months ago, when the government mandates guiding our response to the disease hit, Silberberg was one of countless business owners who watched helplessly as his livelihood was compromised.

Silberberg acknowledged that on the spectrum of those gripped with fear of what the illness could do, versus those who believed the hype and response was politically motivated, “I definitely fell into the latter category. I was one of the people who assumed all this was going to magically go away on Nov. 4.”

At the end of June, Silberberg went home from work early on Friday. He had a fever and body aches. He tried to use the weekend to recover, but continued to feel miserable, delirious and exhausted.

After more than a week of body aches and high fever — spiking up to around 103.9 — the difficulty breathing set in. “By then you are already too exhausted to deal with it. You’re afraid to cough, because you know it’s going to trigger an attack that just leaves you more exhausted and gasping for breath.”

Finding the right answers from health care was difficult, as well. It took more than a week to get results that confirmed he was COVID positive. Then he learned that the medicine prescribed was unavailable due to a national shortage. And before he could take it (if and when it became available), he had to make sure he didn’t have pneumonia – which would be exacerbated by the medication that combats COVID.

“I don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but the stigma of being COVID positive reminds me of being HIV positive in the 1980s – everyone is afraid to touch you.” He even had difficulty getting seen by his regular doctors and walk-in clinics, who cited the risks of exposure for them.

“And I can kind of understand that. They have to protect themselves and their other patients. And as one of my friends in health care told me — they just don’t understand the risks.” In the absence of better information, everyone is exercising an abundance of caution.

After nearly a month of recovery, Silberberg returned to work, but struggled to make it more than half a day. His pulse-ox level still dips into the low 90s, and his low energy level makes it difficult to combat the breathing difficulties that persist in his weakened condition.

Silberberg is also perplexed at how he contracted the illness. Other than going to work, he has largely kept his distance from friends and family. During the COVID testing that followed from his contact tracing after contracting the illness, none of his friends or associates tested positive.

“I count money and go to the bank every day. Is that how I got it?”

The evening after our interview, Silberberg was admitted to the hospital. On Wednesday, he shared in a post that had been viewed by thousands and shared hundreds of times that he hoped people would take this seriously.

“This is here, it is real and I am telling you that you do not want this,” he wrote.

“The city has fought back from many devastating events through the years with RIFS, earthquakes and other business-killing events. We will also fight back from this one, but let’s be smart about this and all take preventive measures recommended by science and those in authority – whether you like them or hate them — to reduce the effects on our community moving forward.

“Yes, quarantine sucks, as does social isolation and those damn masks. But if it is what we have to do in order to lessen the effects on our community, it is absolutely worth it.”

Since his story went public, Silberberg has been targeted both by critics calling him a fear monger and by those concerned that his return to work posed a risk of infection.

For the latter issue, Centers for Disease Control continues to amend the period of contagion. However, doctors cleared him to return to work July 17, and he went back to his desk July 21. His subsequent contraction of pneumonia — which put him in the hospital this week — is one of the many consequences post-COVID patients face in their weakened states.

Silberberg said that his intent in sharing his story was not for the purpose of making a political statement. “It is true that people can make things political, but I’m a businessman and a board member of the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce. The reason I shared what I did is because I care about my community and I wanted to be able to help other people in my position.”

Pictured: A healthy Daryl Silberberg, Jr. (left) and during his battle with pneumonia (right). — Courtesy photos

Story First Published: 2020-07-30