'I shouldn't be here': Wisconsin bar owner in ICU with COVID-19 blames Trump for out-of-control pandemic
Mark Schultz has been hit on both sides of this pandemic.
For six months it was his Oshkosh bar and restaurant, both of which are closed for the time being after being pounded under state coronavirus restrictions.
Now it is Schultz himself who is infected with COVID-19 and is in a hospital intensive care unit to breathe and not sure when - or if - he will go home.
"I'm not very worried about myself, but I have a 10-year-old son and my fiancée - that's all I care," he said tearfully. "My family is all home. They are all worried about me. I don't want them to worry about me."
While talking on the phone, he struggled with short breaths and was interrupted at times by coughing fits.
"I don't want you to go through this," he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I hope I can go home."
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Schultz, 64, is a co-owner of Oblio's, an Oshkosh bar that is loved by a city with the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the country, according to a September 30 analysis by the New York Times.
At Oblio, Schultz said he had three simple rules before people could go to the bar: Don't talk about politics. Don't talk about religion. And don't talk about someone's wife.
Now that he's getting oxygen from a machine, Schultz says he was pushed by President Donald Trump to break that first rule.
"I always had to keep my politics to myself, but where do I sit now? Those days are over," said Schultz.
"I shouldn't be here."
Trump, he said, should have been more open with the public about the dangers of the coronavirus from the start, act faster and encourage the wearing of face masks. If he had, Schultz believes, the pandemic might not have hit his community so hard, might not have landed on his door.
Schultz says he felt sick last Friday, the same day the White House announced that Trump tested positive for COVID-19.
On Monday, Trump said to the Americans: "Don't be afraid of COVID." On Tuesday, Schultz checked into the hospital.
"I'm just frustrated with the president - the casualness of this virus," he said. "You should be scared. It's not something to mess with."
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"If you can't breathe, you can't sleep."
Schultz thinks it is likely that he and his fiancée Sandy Ashenbrenner got the virus from his business partner. But he hopes, God willing, it hasn't been passed on to his 10-year-old son who hasn't received his test results yet.
"I couldn't breathe anymore," said Schultz of his decision to go to the hospital. "I couldn't breathe and I had a fever. I was in pain. I had a headache ... I never get a headache.
"And the tightness in my chest ..."
Upon arriving at the hospital on Tuesday, doctors told Schulz that he had developed double pneumonia that affects both lungs. He is now in a negative pressure intensive care room and receives additional oxygen.
Sometimes Schultz lies on his stomach to relieve his symptoms and blows into a machine to exercise his lungs. He's trying to do without oxygen, but when he does, alarms must be attached to a blood oxygen monitor ring, then the tubes must go back into his nose.
He said he had barely slept in five days.
"I cough or I get the sweat and the chills," said Schultz on Thursday. "I just get these hot flashes. I stay hot for hours, then I couldn't get warm last night when my oxygen thing went off. I couldn't get enough blankets on myself."
Thursday was the worst night.
"I just can't sleep," he said on Friday. "If you can't breathe, you can't sleep."
Schultz takes steroids, Tylenol, and blood thinners. He said his oxygen had more than doubled and if he continued to need more, his doctor would try experimental treatment, including remdesivir and convalescent plasma therapy.
Schultz spoke to a Journal Sentinel reporter during a "good spell" - he coughed a couple of times but was generally able to chat.
"It takes about an hour," he said. "It comes and goes and when it comes back it hits you hard."
His blood oxygen levels have dropped below 85% at times - at least 95% is normal - but he's generally feeling the same, which he at least hopes it's not bad news.
"I'm just floating with you," said Schultz. "The doctor says that's better than the other way."
But Schultz is not sure if he will leave the hospital. His voice shakes when he talks about his family being home, worried about him, but unable to see him.
"I don't like playing politics"
Schultz documents his time in the hospital through a series of videos that were recorded over the phone and shared on YouTube. They are entitled "Covid 19 Forays by an Angry Armenian".
The first begins with this message to Ashenbrenner: "Sandra Jean. I don't know if I'll make it."
He takes a few breaths.
"This is real. I want people to know."
The videos are partly diary and partly therapy. Schulz voices his grievances against the president and calls on viewers to support efforts to eliminate racial discrimination and the Black Lives Matter movement. In particular, he urges them to take the threat posed by the virus seriously.
"You have to wear masks. You have to have social distance. You have to wash your hands. You have to sanitize. You have to follow the rules. They are very simple."
Schultz's newfound activism doesn't appear partisan - just angry.
Schultz supports Democratic governor Tony Evers' mask mandate but disagrees with his order to require restaurants and bars like his to limit customers to 25% of their capacity. Schultz said business had declined 60% in both his bar and restaurant.
"These people have no concept of running a business," he said. "Right now it's incredibly difficult. ... They're trying to keep people busy and now I have two places that are closed.
"These people are unemployed right now. They have families."
Schultz said Evers' orders indicate to the public that the problem lies with the service industry: "They blame bars or restaurants too much."
But Schultz also wants people to follow the safety rules of Evers and public health experts.
"You have to follow their guidelines," he said. "People have to be comfortable going out. I don't blame anyone for being unable to go out.
"I kind of recommend it - it's safe."
Follow Molly Beck on Twitter at @MollyBeck.
This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Bar Owner In Intensive Care: Trump Is Responsible For The Coronavirus Pandemic
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