JEFFERSON — The mayor of Jefferson has some news for everyone and he is adamant about it. No one should take the threat of COVID-19 lightly.
Jefferson’s burgermeister, Dale Oppermann, speaks from experience — a near-death experience.
Oppermann, a normally healthy, middle-aged man, was feeling fine on Nov. 6, but within days, found himself in the intensive care unit at Aurora Medical Center Summit in Oconomowoc with the coronavirus that had morphed into pneumonia.
How he was exposed to COVID-19 is unclear.
Oppermann said he attended an early morning meeting Nov. 6 with fellow Jefferson city officials. All of the meeting’s participants had their temperatures taken before the session and no one had a fever.
“Masks were worn, but a carry-out breakfast was brought in, so eating was done without masks for 15 minutes,” Oppermann said, chronicling his COVID-19 experience.
The meeting lasted approximately one hour.
“I then went to my day job at the office of Milwaukee Plate Glass Co. and later met a customer at a truck stop in South Beloit to deliver some products,” he said. “I went to an oral surgeon in Johnson Creek for a pre-arranged tooth extraction. My temperature was taken and I had no fever. My tooth felt OK, so my wife, Karleen, and I ate dinner at a local restaurant. Masks were worn to and from the table, and the servers wore masks.”
Oppermann went on to describe his day on Nov. 7.
“It was a Saturday and I felt OK. I did some outdoor work at home, then helped a friend with outdoor work at his house,” Oppermann said. “From 2:30 to 4 p.m. I attended a fundraiser at a local restaurant. Occupancy was significantly less than 25% capacity, but few, if any people, were wearing masks, including me.”
From 4 to 6 p.m., Oppermann visited another local restaurant with a capacity of 104.
“Six people were there, socially distant, but no one was wearing masks, including me. I still felt OK,” he said. “I ate supper at home and started to feel ill around 9 p.m. I had a headache, the onset of a fever, and loss of taste and smell.”
On Nov. 8, Oppermann’s COVID-19 symptoms became much worse. He stayed home from church and additional symptoms included severe diarrhea, vomiting, cognitive impairment and short-term memory loss.
“My fever went as high as 105 degrees,” he said. “It fluctuated between that and 100 degrees. Both my wife and I stayed in the house all day Sunday.”
Oppermann said that, based on City of Jefferson and Milwaukee Plate Glass Co. protocols, and because Karleen teaches first and second grades, in person, at St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Fort Atkinson, they notified their employers that they had symptoms and made the decision to get tested for COVID-19 the next day.
On Nov. 9, the couple managed to drive to a COVID-19 testing site in Mayville. They then went home to continue quarantine.
“We stayed in quarantine from then on, but Karleen started to get a headache,” Oppermann said.
On Wednesday, Nov. 11, Oppermann and his wife were notified that they had tested positive for COVID-19.
“Karleen was mostly asymptomatic,” Oppermann said. “My symptoms got worse. Both of us stayed home the rest of the week.”
On Nov. 14, Oppermann’s symptoms had gotten so bad that Karleen insisted she should take him to the emergency room at Aurora in Oconomowoc. Oppermann has been an Aurora patient for 24 years because his place of employment uses Aurora’s health network.
“They checked me into the emergency room at approximately 11 a.m. and that is the last time I saw Karleen until this past Monday when I was discharged from the hospital,” he said.
At his time of discharge, Oppermann had lost 25 pounds.
“And I did it the hard way — in less than two weeks,” he said.
Approximately halfway through his stay at Aurora, where he was treated for an acute case of COVID-19, he began to suffer from pneumonia. A large care team was summoned to save his life, including Dr. Mohammed Elahi and Dr. Ehab El-Khabiry, Dr. Michael E. Flatley of pulmonology critical care medicine and Dr. Thomas A. Taft of infectious diseases. Many other “heroes,” as they are now known to Oppermann, also took care of him — several being from the Jefferson area.
“On Wednesday, Nov. 18, I was moved from the standard COVID-19 ward to a more intensive care unit, because they had additional resources in the new room,” Oppermann said.
He was treated and eventually discharged Monday, saying he was happy to be alive.
“I’ve never felt worse,” Oppermann said. “My doctors said I made a remarkable recovery. They said many people don’t experience the rate of recovery I was fortunate to have. Some are hospitalized for weeks or months.”
Oppermann credits God and his entire care team, as well as drug resources available, for helping him survive the ordeal. He is now on a long list of medications, including Omnicef, Decadron, Xarelto and Valtrex.
Oppermann said the outpouring of support he has received has been humbling and gratifying.
“Many friends from various religious faiths have reached out to me to offer prayers on my behalf. Non-religious friends have also offered kind words of support that helped me get through some of the darkest moments of this journey,” he said.
Oppermann admitted that he didn’t think COVID-19 could be as physically devastating as it has been.
“I figured I’d probably eventually get it, get over it and move on, once it came and went,” he said. “I was wrong.”
Oppermann said everyone must know that the coronavirus is a deadly serious health concern and that they should not be flirting with disaster by acting carelessly or recklessly.
“I would ask people to take COVID-19 seriously,” the mayor said. “I underestimated how serious this can be. Show consideration for the health of others by wearing a mask in all public settings. Wash your hands frequently. Maintain safe social distancing. Thank healthcare workers. They are truly heroes on the front lines of this battle. It takes all of us to protect each of us.”