Melissa and Louis Meza
Melissa and Louis Meza were both stricken with COVID-19. Louis got it first and was hospitalized at Santa Maria’s Marian Regional Medical Center. On the day he was to be discharged, his wife arrived with similar symptoms, and has been there ever since. “It’s not like a common cold,” Louis says. “Never had something like this ever happen to me so it was pretty scary.” (Meza family photo)

Louis Meza becomes irate when people liken COVID-19 to a common cold.

It’s not, said Meza, who speaks from experience as a survivor of novel coronavirus.

The virus landed the Santa Maria Valley resident in Marian Regional Medical Center for six days.

On the day Meza was due for release, his wife also ended up there. She was placed on a ventilator and has remained on it since.

Their situation prompted Meza, 47, to prop his phone against a water bottle and record a message to the skeptics.

“I feel like I have to come out and tell you guys my story,” he said on the now-viral video, noting his 43-year-old wife, Melissa, is on a ventilator “fighting for her life.”

“I feel like I need to tell you guys the stories that I had to go through at the hospital so everybody gets the perspective of it’s not just the common cold,” he said. “It is worse.”

Meza called for people to follow social distancing and other precautions designed to slow the disease’s spread.

“We gotta stick together and let’s beat this virus,” added Meza who works as a chef at The Hitching Post in Casmalia.

Santa Barbara County public health officials reported the first confirmed local case on March 15. As of Sunday, the countywide number was at 174 with 68 of those in Santa Maria and Orcutt.

Meza recalled waking up early March 14 with the worst chills and shaking. His temperature hit 103 degrees, but dropped after he took over-the-counter medication.

He called his doctor, who conducted a parking lot nasal swab, which came up positive for influenza A.

“At that time they were thinking, if you have influenza A, you don’t have COVID,” Meza said.

In the following days, Meza’s fever remained high and his cough worsened as he expelled “chunks of blood.”

On his third trip to Marian’s Emergency Department, he was admitted to the hospital with low oxygen levels.

“That’s the last time I seen my wife,” he said.

Test results, received four days later, confirmed he was positive for COVID-19.

Meza recalled fevers so high that ice packs and cold showers were employed to lower his temperature.

“It was rough,” he said.

“It’s not like a common cold,” he said. “Never had something like this ever happen to me so it was pretty scary.”

On March 28, as he awaited his release, his wife drove herself to the hospital, where her oxygen levels led medical staff to intubate her immediately, a nurse told him.

“After he left, I lost it,” Meza said. “I just started crying.”

Now, he is home alone recovering. Melissa Meza, who works at the Mechanics Bank operations center in Santa Maria, remains hospitalized and prohibited from having visitors due to the public health concerns.

“It’s been really tough not seeing her,” Meza said.

He checks in by telephone and appreciates the updates provided by staff.

“They told us she’s heading in the right direction,” he said. “She not going backward, so that’s good.”

Meza praised the top-notch care by Marian staff and said he regularly reminds them of his appreciation, saying “You guys are my heroes and when you go home you tell your family what I said.”

His wife’s release date isn’t known yet, but weaning her off the ventilator will occur slowly.

“All I can do is sit here and pray,” he said.

Long-term effects of COVID-19 remain to be seen, but Meza’s video shows him noticeably short of breath while talking, a condition he says improves daily with time and breathing exercises.

Since his release, Meza has remained alone, quarantined at home under a public health order while family members and friends make socialdistancing-safe deliveries.

Still, he has set up camp on the first floor of his house, with a rosary, to avoid dealing with stairs so early in his recovery.

In the days after posting the video on social media, he has been surprised by the response; it’s been viewed nearly 70,000 times and has drawn questions from around the world while also landing the couple on prayer chains.

Meza said he knows people have started to get cabin fever under the statewide stay-at-home order and want to socialize, but pleaded for patience so they avoid his fate.

“We have to keep staying home and not being around each other,” he said. “That’s the only way we’re going to beat this virus.”

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.