Bosun Romualdo Medina doesn’t know exactly how he contracted COVID- 19, but he’s certain that any inconveniences are worthwhile sacrifices in order to avoid it.
“I hope every SIU member will take care of themselves and their families,” said Medina, who was stricken by the coronavirus in June aboard the Maersk Idaho. “Wear a mask, and stay home if you can when you’re not working. I don’t know when we’re going to get out of this. It looks like a long haul.”
A Seafarer since 1994, Medina knows from firsthand experience that sometimes even the most cautious individuals end up with COVID-19. He wasn’t reckless at any point during the Idaho’s voyage from the U.S. to Europe and back, and he’d been mindful of safety before joining the ship. But, on the return from Bremerhaven, Germany, roughly four days out from New Jersey, his health began to deteriorate.
“I started feeling bad and tried something like a Tylenol or aspirin, but there was no relief. I couldn’t breathe normally. At first, I thought it was just sinuses, but then I felt a little bit of fever. Then things began to get complicated.”
Very little time elapsed between the onset of Medina’s symptoms and his reporting them to the chief mate. From there, he remained quarantined but learned that others aboard the ship also weren’t feeling well. Eventually, 11 mariners (including five SIU members) were diagnosed as COVID-19 positive.
Medina also experienced an unusual – and painful – side effect: hiccups that persisted on and off for days.
But that wasn’t his only complication. When the ship arrived in Newark, New Jersey, on June 19, he arranged for a clinic visit. However, the facility was closed for the weekend by the time Medina arrived around 9 p.m.
“By that time, I was in pain, so I took a taxi to the nearest hospital,” he recalled. “I knew if I went back to the ship, it wasn’t going to be a happy ending.”
Although it took several hours for him to be seen at the hospital (New Jersey and New York were still epicenters of the pandemic at that time), it could be argued that he arrived just in time. “By that point, I could hardly breathe,” the bosun said. “I was spitting blood. Finally, I got some medicine, and got tested for COVID. They took so many X-rays and did so much bloodwork – all that stuff.”
He was hospitalized for more than a week, then relocated to a quarantine hotel for two more weeks. He returned to his home in Houston July 14, feeling fine and with multiple “negative” test results confirmed.
“One good thing was I was never put on any kind of oxygen,” he recalled. “The doctor said I have good lungs; I don’t smoke. But I am diabetic, and that’s why I was really worried about complications. Thank God it didn’t get to that point.”
Medina said he appreciated that personnel from the Houston hiring hall stayed in touch with him throughout his experience, and he added that the difficulties didn’t change his outlook on sailing. “This career has been something very economically consistent for me and my family” he noted. “I used to suffer a lot of layoffs and inconsistent employment in my prior field, which was architectural design. I decided to join the union and get my AB ticket and all my endorsements. This has helped me raise my family: three beautiful children.”
He added this advice to fellow members: “If you start feeling weird when you’re on the ship, go see the captain and get a test.”