Bernard Robinson thought he was going to die.
The paramedic administrator, who returned to the field to assist with the pandemic, had tested positive for COVID-19 in March and was battling double pneumonia. Quarantined in the basement of his Valley Stream home, Robinson blew through seven oxygen tanks. Frightened he would never wake up, Robinson refused to sleep.
After nearly a week in the hospital, Robinson, a regional director at Northwell Health’s Center for Emergency Medical Services, was sent home to his wife and two sons.
He was back on the job less than two weeks later.
On Saturday, NASCAR superstar Kurt Busch will honor Robinson’s heroism, placing his name on the passenger side of his No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE car as he races in the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Virginia.
"It’s awesome," said Robinson, a sports fan who occasionally watches NASCAR. "I am very excited. To be part of NASCAR is not something I ever thought I’d do."
Busch, a former Daytona 500 champion, has put the name of a health care worker on his vehicle in each of the past five races in the 2020 NASCAR playoffs, which conclude next month. None of the previous honorees had survived COVID themselves.
"It’s a small thing but it felt like the right thing to do," said Ron Gaboury, chief executive of Yorktel, an IT services management company, and Caregility, a health care company, which together sponsor Busch’s Chip Ganassi Racing.
Robinson, 50, a licensed EMT for the past 28 years, put aside his administrative duties in mid-March and decided to rejoin paramedics in the field as the virus began to sweep through the region. Robinson believes he contracted the virus during a March 23 patient transport.
It started with a dry cough but rapidly deteriorated. Fatigue. Loss of smell and taste. An inability to catch his breath. A fever of 104.
"I literally went through every symptom day by day," he said.
Eventually, he was admitted to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, where he stayed for six days. Robinson participated in a hydroxychloroquine clinical trial and was treated with prednisone, oxygen, albuterol and other medications.
Robinson was discharged Easter morning and returned to work April 21, just one month after his positive test.
While it’s been a slow recovery — Robinson still struggles with the lingering effects of the virus — he’s now running six miles three to four times per week.
"I’ve learned to appreciate life more and not to sweat the small things anymore," he said. "I honestly thought I was going to die. And now I have a new outlook on life."