Episode 11: A Pittsburgh punk rocker’s case of COVID-19

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Courtesy photo. (Photo illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

Courtesy photo. (Photo illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

The coronavirus pandemic had already shut down Piper's Pub manager and punk band member Alex Peightal on many fronts. Then, he was dealt another blow: He contracted COVID-19. On this episode, Alex discusses the illness, recovery and his outlook.

JOURDAN HICKS: A few weeks ago, Alex Peightal wrote something on his Facebook page that went viral in Pittsburgh.

ALEX PEIGHTAL: “I kind of didn’t expect that. I just felt like talking about it — like I didn’t tell anybody. Nobody knew. People got stuff to worry about I didn’t want anyone to worry about me. And not because I’m some martyr, like don’t worry about me. It’s not like that at all.”

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JOURDAN HICKS: Alex had COVID-19. And he really wants people to know: it was bad, really bad. Here he is reading from his Facebook post:

ALEX PEIGHTAL: “DM me if you need to hear about the taste/smell issues, extreme fatigue, the relentless headache, the high temp, the loss of appetite, the color of my urine, the uncontrollable cough, the pain from the uncontrollable cough, the phlegm that came with the painful uncontrollable cough, the shortness of breath, the shorter shortness of breath while uncontrollably painfully coughing, or the last gasps of lingering symptoms that finally let go... I will most likely just reiterate that it sucked.”

JOURDAN HICKS: Alex is the manager of Piper’s Pub, a bar on the South Side. And he’s been in the punk band Submachine for 30 years. While businesses in Allegheny County are starting to reopen, and the county is entering the state’s green phase on June 5th, Piper’s is closed for now. Alex says they plan to reopen for take-out only near the end of the month. There’s also been no band practice for months. But all of this meant Alex could put all his energy into getting better. Here’s his story.

ALEX PEIGHTAL: I'm Alex Peightal. I live in Mount Washington. I'm married, play in a band called Submachine. I work at a place called Pipers Pub, manage there and yeah.

When I got a temp of 103 the first time, I'm like, how old is that thermometer? Does that thing even work? You know, if you're going to the store, just grab another one from Rite Aid. And it said the same thing! And I was like, oh.

I was just out of if. It feel like it was like this weird fever dream. I just kind of meandered through these days, but I didn't realize how crap it was until I was able to stand back away from it. Then I realized I was like, man, I was really sick, you know?

So the restaurant had shut down. We shut down before the order was given. You know, there was couple of weeks, you know, where we're just helping people fill out unemployment; figuring out what was going to, you know, what was going to happen next. I was kind of already expected to be not there as it was, because I was having shoulder surgery on the 23rd. My wife and I went out, and while I still had two hands, went out and did a grocery store shop the day before. Distancing and masks were 50/50. People kind of really hadn't had their heads wrapped around the idea or what they were supposed to do. Stores weren't instituting anything quite yet. You know, I was probably soaking in it at that point. So that grocery store trip was the only place that I think that we really kind of, you know, tracing back could have figured that it came from.

So, you know, had the surgery, go home, normal post-op meds. The surgery really took it out of me this time and I've had unfortunately, a few soccer-related injury surgeries and but this one I felt really tapped out from. And then the headaches started the next day. That Saturday, you know, 103 degrees. The cough had started. And then with that came the breathing. You know, not being able to get the oxygen. The cough was wet and at that point, they were talking about a dry cough. And I'm like, nah, this couldn't be that. . .

I called the doctor I think April 1st, I was tested that morning. They gave me the results the next day. Even after the fever broke, that cough, the cough and the breathing and the headache, those three things hung on. There became a certain point where you kind of feel the cough coming on and you just dreaded that it was coming because it was going to hurt so bad. But you also kind of felt the need to get whatever was going to come up out. It wasn't like croupy like my mom would say. It was sharp and it wasn't like this multi-colored, you know, , green and yellow and brown phlegm coming up. It was just clear. It would almost be thought of as kind of, you know, like there wasn't any kind of badness attached to it in a weird way, I don't know. It wasn't normal. It wasn't anything like I ever experienced.

I couldn't get hydrated. Didn't matter how much liquid I got in me. Nothing was soothing anything. It didn't stave off the coughing. The Tylenol wasn't keeping the fever down, as far as I could tell. You know, I was probably late paying attention to it. And even when I was temping 103, you know I was so delirious at that point. As compromised as my breathing was, it just never even dawned on me to think to go to the hospital. No brain, no pain? I don't know. I don't think I was thinking straight enough to know why I was doing anything.

You know, I talked to my surgeon and I was real worried that I had brought it into the hospital. Technically, you know I could have. When I talked to him though, nobody there associated with the surgery got sick.

I realize there’s privilege attached in being able to walk into a hospital or call or a doctor or have a doctor you’ve know for a long time. Lots of people don’t. And I remember what it was like to not. It’s bothersome to me.

So there's Piper's Pub, the Pub Chip Shop, and Just Good Donuts. You know, everybody pretty much is on unemployment. Out of the whole entire staff, there's only a few people working. But there's a group chat. So, you know, everybody is able to communicate. Everybody can check in. You know, people that are like, you know, where the fuck's my employment? What's going on? Is somebody else late? You know, that kind of thing. It feels like people were, you know, in good spirits. This is kind of weird. You know, it's people that you see. I see them normally, you know, more than I see my wife. You know, and then so they're all of a sudden kinda there's just been this like, schwoop (sound effect) you know, and I'm not seeing people. I feel really detached in a way that, you know, kind of don't know what to do about. But I don't think there's anything I can do about it. I feel like I should be doing more, but there's nothing more that I can. I don't think there's anything more they can do. You know, I'm trying to use my time constructively for sure. It's hard to wrap my head around, really.

Some days you think you've had your fill of people, but then you realize that there's some very necessary ones in your life. And you kind of lament that a little bit. It's weird because of work. Certainly there's a lot of great people that come in the Pipers. It's one of those places where your customers are their customers and then there are acquaintances and then your friends. You see them all the time. So, you kind of miss that. There's a certain amount of that interaction. There was times where I would come home and just feel like not talking because I've talked all day. So now I'm kind of like completely opposite.

More than that, though. You know, I haven't seen my band since the beginning of March, since our last practice. I've been part of a band called Submachine for 30 years. Way longer than what is normal for a punk band. We kind of like to say that we didn't think we were going to be alive past 30. But here we are.

Our drummer, Greg, he's a social worker. He got sick. He's a week symptom-free or so now. But we haven't been together. That part of my life is very balancing for me. You know, these are guys that I've been in a van with for 30 years. That's kind of strange. You know, I don't know how -- just like the pub. How does that work? I don't know if we're we're going to do the song where everybody's playing from their house. I appreciate bands doing that. It feels so sterile, but I guess there's connection with it. I don't know. I have a thing that muffles, that I can kind of sing loudly into. I don't sing very quietly, but I kind of practice because we were recording a new album when this happened and I was halfway through vocals. Whenever I can finish vocals, we'll finish a record.

Walking around, I was like, I'm not going to write a song about this (coronavirus), not going to write a song. I was walking around cleaning one day. And there I was putting the framework together for a song and I'm like, goddamn it.

So there's probably something that's gonna come out of that. A lot of what we write about is sociopolitical-type stuff.

In a weird way, I think maybe the world needed a little bit of pause. As weird as that sounds. Having a pause like this, I mean, there's real-life collateral damage. People who are just getting by and just trying to make ends meet all of a sudden, it's even harder. Landlords aren't exactly going to say wait ’til this blows over before you get the rent to me, you know? But the bills never stop coming. I don't know. I don't know if a moment of pause gave anybody any kind of reflection on anything. I guess maybe for a second it was nice not to, you know, feel like you're killing yourself, getting off to work, whatever, twelve hours and two jobs, three jobs, that kind of thing. So.

Even if I knew that I was immune, I would still wear a mask just for optics, just for the mental health of the people around me. You know, I know how it looks to me when I see somebody half-assing it. You know, because I don't want to be sick like that again. We all have people that we love and people who don't need to be sick like that, you know? And I don't think we need to push the envelope and test the waters of, well, it affects everybody differently. There's a lot of people that died. The cavalier mentality that a small percentage has -- it's kind of tedious, boring. You're not marginalized in this. There's this one thing -- this one thing that -- you know, maybe, could have, in a strange way, unified people. And it didn't. It further divided. It's astounding to me. You know, we've got some work to do, I'll tell you that much. Maybe sometimes the punkest thing you can do is give a shit a little bit these days.

This podcast was produced by Andy Kubis and edited by Mila Sanina and Halle Stockton. If you have a story you'd like to share, get in touch with us. You can text a voice memo to 412-432-9669. Or email it to jourdan@publicsource.org.

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