I want to preface this whole thing with a HUGE thank you to the ambulance drivers, and the hospital staff at N.Y.U. Langone, from the transport people to the E.R. staff, and the nurses and doctors who saved me, all of whom are more brave and dedicated than I can even imagine.
This is my story.
There’s a tendency to think that certain things won’t happen to you despite the fact that you know they’re happening to people all around you.
A few days before I got sick on Wed. March 11th, I was trying my best to carry on as usual. We had already been kind of warned about congregating in large groups, and it was on my mind but on Saturday March 7th I sat with the great Ron Bennington, from The Bennington Show on Sirius XM, on the stage of the iconic club The Comic Strip to tape an episode of my new Comedy Matters TV Podcast.
It was just the two of us, besides my crew of people and the club was empty. We spent an hour and a half just laughing and having fun.
The next day on Sunday the 8th I attended the Jerry Seinfeld/Barry Sonnenfeld event at the 92nd Street Y, about Barry’s new book “ Call Your Mother”, because I usually cover all of their comedy related events.
On Tuesday the 10th I taped videos with Richie Tienken, owner and founder of The Comic Strip, with comics at New York Comedy Club like Corinne Fisher, and Harry Terjanian, and with Chris Mazzilli owner of Gotham Comedy Club for an upcoming project.
The following day, on the 11th I had been scheduled to attend a showcase at UCB in order to get my new “I’m Cool Card” and to see some of their new performers, and I recall being nervous to attend, and wrote to the woman in charge saying I might not be able to come because of fears of the virus. That show got cancelled anyway, which made my decision easier.
That afternoon I worked with my assistant on finishing the edit of my podcast with Ron Bennington, having no idea it was the last one I’d do, or how significant he would be in my recovery. The episode for anyone who cares to watch, is posted on my Comedy Matters TV channel on You Tube, and needless to say, Ron was hilarious!
That night there was a National Lampoon show, called “Adult Sex Ed” being produced by Gian Hunjan the Exec. VP of digital media at Lampoon and because Gian himself invited me I wanted to show up and support so, I did.
Both he and Lampoon Pres. Evan Shapiro are great guys, and I like to support great guys.
I got there around 9:45 for a 10:30 show and used the extra time to find a local Trader Joes and intuitively knew to stock up on certain things. I say intuitively because at the time I didn’t realize how important that decision would be.
I wound up not leavi the house for the next 14 days until an ambulance came to get me and took me to NYU Langone hospital.
The lines at Trader Joe’s were already very long and many shelves were already empty. Check out took a long time and people were right on top of each other. Social distancing had not become a thing yet.
Caveat had a nice size crowd despite the fact that people were already nervous to congregate, and I spent most of the show alone off to the side, but eventually went to sit with Gian and a friend of his. I think we even shook hands!
I can’t begin to guess where I took the breath that breathed the virus into my body but when I got home that night I started feeling weird. I started sneezing and coughing but didn’t think much about it. I happen to be very susceptible to catching colds from people, and when I woke up the next day I didn’t feel so good.
By Friday the 13th I had started to get a tickle in my throat, and when I get a cold it immediately leads to a sore throat so I started myself on a Z-Pack which I make sure to always keep in the house, because if I don’t start it right away the sore throat gets really bad. This action may have saved my life. I wound up taking two courses of the Z-pack for the next ten days as I proceeded to get sicker and sicker. I think the worst part was the nausea. It lasted 24/7. I wasn’t sure if I had fever or not because foolishly I had what must have been one of the first thermometers ever invented. Something my great-grandmother might have used in Russia.
It was one of the old glass ones with mercury that you have to shake down before you use it. It was useless. I couldn’t read it, but I assumed I had a fever because I was having night sweats where the bed was soaked with sweat and I felt cooler afterwards, but then the fever would always come back. I tried taking Dramamine for the nausea but nothing helped. And I couldn’t throw up. Usually when you’re nauseous if you throw up it makes you feel better but part of the torture was that it wouldn’t let me throw up. I kept telling myself it had to get better. Each day was a nightmare of nausea and fever, but the nights were worse. Trying to get through each night until the light of morning came became a real struggle. Then there were the full body chills where I couldn’t stop shaking. That was a real treat too, and happened again while I was in the hospital where they had to cover me with four blankets to stop the shaking. After about a week of this I was afraid I was re-infecting myself, but I didn’t have the strength to change the sheets or pillow cases, so I threw the pillows and the clothes I had been wearing into the laundry bin, and moved to the other side of my bed.
On Friday the 20th my kids convinced me to call my doctor which I did and he suggested that I go to an emergency room. He’s at Lenox Hill hospital.
I thought to myself if I’m not better by Monday, maybe I’ll go. I was afraid to go to the hospital because I thought I wouldn’t come out again. Due to my heart condition I was in a high risk category and they always say that emergency rooms are filled with germs. Somehow I managed to hang on for six more days, but the night of Wed. March 25th I was literally suicidal, and I don’t say that lightly or to be dramatic. I was so beaten down, and so weak and so sick that I prayed for G-d to take me. I don’t know how I made it through that night. I didn’t want to go to the hospital in the middle of the night because that was just too scary, and you never know who’s on duty in the middle of the night. The next morning, after a horribly fitful night I woke up early and confused about how to handle getting to the hospital.
I didn’t feel strong enough to even get dressed, but somehow I dragged myself into the shower, and picked out clothing I thought would be helpful to wear in the hospital. I found some track pants, a T-shirt, a hoodie and a sport jacket with pockets so I could bring my wallet, with I.D., some cash etc. And believe it or not, I sprayed on cologne. I don’t know who I thought I was going to meet, but I wanted to make sure I smelled good. I wasn’t thinking clearly at all. Then I realized I had to pack a bag and I didn’t know what to bring so I Googled what to bring to the hospital and did my best to pack some things I thought I might need. I took some underwear, which came in handy, a dental instrument to clean my teeth, a small flashlight, Zinc lozenges, and some other stuff that basically made no sense. After I was there I thought about what I could have brought that would have been helpful.
I finally called 911, with a lot of trepidation, and they wanted to know my symptoms. By that time I was convinced I had fever, I was coughing, I had full body chills, and bright red blood was coming from my nose. I mentioned my cardiac history as well. It was enough for them to send an ambulance for me. I don’t recall how long it took but I think they came pretty fast. Two of the nicest guys you could imagine brought this huge stretcher to my door. One who I think was named Jonathan took my hand and told me I was going to be okay. He was impressed that I was able to climb up on the stretcher on my own, and said that of all the sick people he had taken so far, I had the best physical “presentation”. His words were very comforting to me. It’s amazing how much that means when you’re so sick, because it sounds so simple.
They strapped me in tight and gave me a mask to wear, got me into the freight elevator and wheeled me through my lobby into the ambulance. I requested Lenox Hill Hospital because that’s where my cardiologist is, but they said it was too far and they were taking me to NYU Langone. I would have gone anywhere they wanted. I was just so weak and sick.
In retrospect it was so lucky they brought me to NYU Langone, because they were doing research on the hydoxychloroquine drug and had it on hand, and I understand that some hospitals didn’t have it.
The ride to the hospital was very bumpy in the back of the ambulance and the attendants needlessly apologized. The next thing I knew they were wheeling me in to the E.R. and asked if I felt strong enough to move to the hospital stretcher from the ambulance stretcher on my own. I did.
I was wheeled into a cubicle where I laid for the next several hours. At some point a nurse came in and started an I.V. in my wrist. It was hard to find a vein because my diastolic pressure was dropping and at one point was only 42, when normal would be around 70-80. I literally begged for something to take away the nausea, and they finally brought me something called Zofran, which worked after a while. They gave me I.V. fluids, extra strength Tylenol, and put me on oxygen and I recall going over my medical history with several different healthcare workers who dropped by. I was laying next to a woman in the next cubicle who screamed with every exhalation. No exaggeration. Every single exhalation was a scream. It was wearing me down until I realized how sick and scared she must have been.
At some point they came and did a chest X-ray of me in the bed and an ultra-sound of my lungs. It was then that a pulmonary specialist came and told me I had Covid Pneumonia in both lungs. It sent a chill through my body. I knew I had the virus but I wasn’t thinking pneumonia. That was scary. They also did several nasal swabs of me and apologized beforehand for the discomfort as it feels like they’re hitting your brain when they stick the swab so far up your nose.
I must emphasize that every single person there was so kind. I couldn’t stop thanking them for their service and bravery in the face of such danger. The Supreme Grace was that my breathing was still okay. I had taken those 10 days of Z-pack while I was home suffering. I really think that helped me protect my lungs. They were actually debating on whether to send me home, but when they found out that I live alone, and with my heart condition, they said they’d try and find a room for me.
Sometime in the afternoon they said they had a room for me, and wheeled me through many corridors and several elevators to what they referred to as The Kimmel Center. Jimmy was nowhere to be found! ( My only joke in this whole thing!)
It was an isolation room that had a sign outside that said “Negative Pressure.” The room itself was huge and gorgeous but I was too sick to appreciate it. A nurse took off my sneakers and socks and covered me with blankets. She asked for my phone and plugged it in with a really long cord that I kept next to me the whole time, so I could stay connected to my daughters. The room had huge windows with a view of the East River, a huge modern bathroom, and a TV that was the length of the entire wall on which you could control the lights, the shades, watch movies or order your meals.
The problem was that no one really knew how to use it because most of the staff were drawn from other areas of the hospital. I came to find out that these huge rooms were usually used for cancer patients but for now were turned into a Covid ward. Once you could figure out how to use the computer on the huge TV the food was amazing. I needed help even to order food.
The nursing care however was amazing. Those poor nurses and doctors were so over worked, yet so dedicated. I thanked them all from the bottom of my heart! They were selfless, and never complained. Once in a while I’d commiserate with a nurse that this whole thing seemed like a science fiction movie, … except that it was real. We only saw doctors like once a day but they said they were monitoring our condition from afar. It was impossible to recognize any of the staff as they were so covered up and only one person at a time could enter the room, and once they took off their gloves and gown could not come back to answer any questions, so you had to be ready to know what you needed at all times. Some of them wrote their names on the plastic face shields they wore to protect themselves.
There was a remote thing to summon a nurse and if you rang it, someone would ring back and ask you what you needed. I tried not to use it too much as I knew how over worked everyone was. Usually they came fairly quickly but sometimes it took a long time. I quickly learned that patience is key, … along with gratitude. One of the nurses helped me to order a meal, because when I got there I had already missed lunch, but they managed to get me a real meal and the food was amazing for a hospital.
There were no pillows available so they took this real scratchy blanket and rolled it up and put it behind me, which they think resulted in a full back rash that was so bad they took pictures of it to show the doctors. On the second day they finally found me a pillow. They took out my oxygen cannula to see how I would breathe on my own and I was around 95-96% which they thought was great, so I didn’t have to use that nasal cannula anymore. They kept on bringing me ice packs to put on my head, under my arms and on my ankles to bring down my fever and it worked. When I saw the thermometer at 98.6 I was moved to tears. They were tears of gratitude for the dedication of the staff. They worked so hard to try and make me comfortable.
That second day they started me on the Plaquenil and Zinc. They didn’t give me more Z-pack because I had already taken it for ten days. I started on double doses of the Plaquenil, two 200 mg. pills in the morning and two 200 mg. pills in the evening.
That night they told me they might have to move me to another room the next day. I was a bit anxious about that as I was feeling a bit better and wasn’t really ready to go anywhere, but they told me they needed the room for sicker people, and that they wanted me to have physical therapy which I couldn‘t get where I was.
The next day after breakfast they confirmed that they were moving me. Sometime that afternoon they came to get me and asked if I was strong enough to get on another stretcher by myself which I was. They wheeled me to another building called the Tisch Building, and this is where things got rough. I was lined up in the hall as they looked for a nurse to be assigned to me. The transport guy assured me it wouldn’t be long and he went and found one. I heard her say “Bed 4” and I realized my private room days were over. I was the first one to be in the room and they wheeled me to a space near the window, but it was no longer a soothing water view, it seemed to be a view of the building I had just left because I could see the huge TV’s through the windows. I had brought my pillow with me just in case they didn’t have any more but they did. Now I had three pillows which was amazing.
A few hours in they brought in my first roommate who was an elderly Chinese man who didn’t speak English. At least not the first day. He didn’t seem to know his name or even where he was. He was so sick he was coughing and choking on his own saliva as if he was strangling, and I was nervous for him and for myself as he was coughing into the air and I was in a very weakened condition. I called the nurse on his behalf several times. Across from me was a tall Indian man who couldn’t stop throwing up and the fourth roommate was an Orthodox Jewish man whose oxygen suddenly plunged from 93 to 80 and who had to be rushed to ICU to be put on a ventilator. The worst part was we all had to share one small bathroom. For me that was a nightmare. There is no such thing as vanity in a hospital. No one cares how you look, and no one looks that good!
We all had TV’s but nobody used them because we were so sick and didn’t want to impose that noise on anyone else.
Laying there so sick made me think of the people in the Holocaust, many of whom were probably as sick if not sicker than I was who were forced to work or be shot. I would have definitely been shot. I could hardly make my way to the bathroom.
But that night they told me they would probably discharge me the next day. I didn’t know if I was ready and it made me nervous, but after being in this room for a day and seeing what I saw I was ready to leave.
The next day they told me they wanted to discharge me by noon, but no one ever came to give me discharge instructions or tell me what to do when I got home.
By 2 P.M. I was pleading with them to let me leave as it became intolerable, but when they brought my lunch I realized it wasn’t going to happen right away. A doctor came in and swore to me that he finalized my discharge early that morning but they were overwhelmed with things to do. I didn’t want to seem impatient at all, because they were so overwhelmed, even when I was told that my extra strength Tylenol was at my door, only 15 feet away yet it took more than two hours to get to me. They said they would provide transportation home but weren’t sure they could get me an ambulance. I was afraid to ask what the alternatives were. Finally at 3:25 an ambulance crew appeared and said I had to leave at 3:30. I never got dressed so fast and packed my bag. A kind nurse, which really describes all of them, volunteered to go to the pharmacy to get my meds that I was supposed to take with me, which were the rest of my Plaquenil and Zinc.
I got up on their stretcher and they strapped me in like a mummy. They strapped down my arms so I couldn’t move them, and even covered my face, plus a big mask with a shield. I asked them to uncover my face so it didn’t look I had passed away. We all laughed at that. There was no traffic and they got me home within a few minutes. My doorman had my keys and they let me into my apartment. The ambulance workers who again were so kind, carried my bags in and wound up staying for about 20 minutes when they saw all the photos of the comedians they loved. I told them some stories until I felt too weak to continue. The bags I came in with are still in the exact same place where I put them down ten days ago. I don’t have the energy to move them or straighten up.
I can’t explain the weakness that I feel still. I have been dragging myself from room to room. This is the first day I have felt strong enough to write anything. My cousin, my kids, a very kind neighbor, and even my super have all made sure I had enough food and supplies. I never had such support in my life. Huge packages of food left outside my door. What truly helped as well was the tremendous support I received from the comedy community which has been overwhelming in a good way and very emotional for me.
My dear friend Ron Bennington and his co-host daughter Gail, announced my condition on the air, and I got literally hundreds and hundreds of messages of support, and prayers from all over the country.
Many were from people whose names you’d be familiar with and I hope they don’t mind that I’m reposting them. This is exactly what some of them wrote:
Ron Bennington kicked it off by posting on Twitter – “Our friend Jefffrey Gurian is in the hospital with Covid Pneumonia. Jeffrey is and always has been a true friend to comedy. If you’re the praying type, how about sending some prayers Jeffrey’s way. Get back to us soon Jeffrey, much love.” Along with a mosaic of me surrounded by photos of me with everyone in the biz.
I got supportive messages from Nick Kroll, John Mulaney, Bert Kreischer, Jim Norton, Bill Burr, Colin Quinn, and The Interrobang. Gad Elmaleh called me from Paris to send love and support and wishes for my speedy recovery.
Nick Kroll posted – “Get well Jeffrey. we are thinking of you and sending you all the healing vibes you send us!”
John Mulaney posted – “Jeffrey you are a good man and an absolute American original. Please be well and recover. New York City needs you. We want you back in action with your outdated flash camera! “
Bert Kreischer posted – “Thinking about you Jeffrey – get some rest and feel better!
Jim Norton posted – “Get well soon Jeffrey. No one has shown more love for comics than Jeffrey.”
Bill Burr posted – “Jeff- You’re a legend. One of the few, truly good people I’ve ever met in my life. Get well soon! Hope to see you on a red carpet this summer.”
Colin Quinn posted – “Wishing a quick recovery to the legendary Jeffrey Gurian so he can get back to harassing us for bizarre interviews and pics!”
And Gad Elmaleh called me from Paris to send his love and wishes for my speedy recovery.
I got “get well” messages almost daily from comedy club owners Richie Tienken of The Comic Strip who literally called me every day, and offered to drive me home, Chris Mazzilli from Gotham Comedy Club, Emilio Savone from New York Comedy Club and Noam Dworman owner of all the Comedy Cellar clubs who sent his love and said he wants to see me back at The Olive Tree Cafe, which is the main hang for The Cellar crowd.
I got serious prayers from the head of production at Netflix, Jonathan Mussman, and from Paul Ronca, top guy at JFL, and Bruce Hills the Pres. of Just for Laughs, the biggest comedy festival in the world in Montreal, as well as from Brian Volk-Weiss head of Comedy Dynamics, and radio legend Tim Sabean.
And lastly, and I know how long this post is, but a group of comedians headed by Corinne Fisher the co-host of the international hit podcast “Guys We F*@ked” with her comedy wife Krystyna Hutchinson, along with comedian/magician Harrison Greenbaum organized a group of NY comedians who made this get well video for me. They requested videos by posting the following:
“As some of you may know the beloved treasure of the NYC comedy community Jeffrey Gurian has Covid-19. He is very weak and is in isolation at N.Y.U. I told him we were all thinking of him and it definitely meant a lot to him to know his community was rooting for his speedy recovery.
Since he can’t have visitors please film yourself on your phone, sharing your favorite comedy memory involving you and Jeffrey and we will edit it together and send it to him.” This is what I received.
So I think I can honestly say that comedy, and the prayers of friends and even people I never met before, nursed me back towards health.
I’ve always looked at comedy as a “Healing force” and they always say that laughter is the best medicine. I still have a ways to go, but at least I feel like I’m going in the right direction.
I just finished my third course of Z-pack again because since I’m home I developed a Pleurisy-like condition where I still had pain every time I breathe or cough.
But I’m GRATEFUL beyond belief for having come this far, and for all the people that helped me. Thank you to all of you who have been kind enough to take the time to send love, prayers and messages of hope. You have no idea how much it means when you’re so sick to know that you have touched people’s lives in a meaningful way.
Sending major LOVE to you all!