Richard Soliz developed multiple blood clots on his lungs after catching the coronavirus this summer, and the staff at the Seattle hospital where he was being treated told him they were concerned one might move to his heart or brain.
The 54-year-old was on a heart-rate monitor, oxygen tank and eventually a ventilator. After being admitted to the hospital in late August, he spent 28 days at Harborview Medical Center, including two stints in the intensive care unit. His life, Soliz told The Washington Post, was "literally hanging on a thread."
Once he was well enough to leave in September, Soliz said he couldn't stop thinking about the staff.
"My goodness, they saved my life," Soliz said. "In hindsight, I felt bad. And I knew in my heart, in my mind and my consciousness that it all could've been avoided."
Soliz returned to Harborview Medical Center late last month with a message for his doctor and others who'd treated him during his stay: He was sorry.
"I deeply regret not making the decision to get vaccinated," he told one of his doctors.
Soliz, an artist, had opted against getting a coronavirus vaccine when they became widely available to anyone over the age of 16 earlier this year. At least 223 million people in the United States have received at least one vaccine dose, according to The Post's tracker. Health experts stress that the vaccines are not only safe, but also protect people from severe illness during the pandemic that has killed more than 5 million globally.
Still, Soliz said he was confused by conflicting information. He'd see one thing in the news, he said, only to have it negated by something he saw on social media or heard in the grocery store checkout line.
"You couldn't go anywhere without somebody having something to say about it," Soliz said.
Vaccine skepticism has been fueled by misinformation shared online, where social media companies have struggled to spot and remove anti-vaccine propaganda. Fox News viewers have also gotten mixed messages about the vaccines. Soliz recalled hearing several now-debunked theories about the shots, including that they contained microchips - a claim The Post previously reported "would be physically impossible as they wouldn't fit through a needle."
So he put off getting immunized. When Soliz started feeling sick in August, he initially brushed it off as a flu bug. Then, the headache started.
"I can't even explain to you the intensity of that headache," he recalled. "I've never experienced a headache like that before ever in my life."
A fever followed and then shortness of breath, "and I realized, 'Hey, this is not the flu. It's covid,' " he said. He was admitted to Harborview Medical Center on Aug. 23.
While there, Soliz said he focused on beating the virus. But once he did, he said his mind returned to the health-care workers who cared for him and countless others. Opting against getting the vaccine, he said, "put fuel on the fire unnecessarily."
"I didn't do it deliberately - that was the bad part; that was the part that really disturbed me quite a bit," he told The Post. "I did not know the proper thing to do."
Fighting covid was like "a roller coaster," Soliz said, but the hospital staff treated him with compassion and kindness at every stage.
"You can't take people like that for granted," he told The Post.
James Town, a doctor at Harborview Medical Center, told CNN that spirits have been low among some hospital staff members. Covid cases spread "like wildfire" in Washington state this summer when the highly contagious delta variant was prevalent, KING 5 reported. Soliz's apology and gratitude for the care he received "was the kind of message that our staff needed to hear," Town told CNN.
Soliz, who is now fully vaccinated, was left with scarring on his lungs from his time with covid, which causes him to become winded easily. He also still has trouble sleeping. He's urging those who are skeptical about the vaccine, as he was, to speak directly to their doctors.
"Don't be misled," he said.