HughE Dillon’s Next Chapter
Only days after our April profile, HughE Dillon tested positive for COVID-19

Last month, we featured celebrity photographer HughE Dillon to tell of his extraordinary work as a celebrity photographer. (If you’re one of his 60,000 social media followers, you already knew.) Just as the April issue was going to print, HughE tested positive for Covid-19. He was one of the first high-profile people to speak publicly about his experience. We spoke with the Cherry Hill native on video when he was starting to feel better. Here is an excerpt from that interview.

My experience with the virus started before I even contracted it. For days, I had panic attacks in my sleep. On March 16, I woke up with a sore throat, excruciating back pain, a slight fever and a lot of anxiety surrounding COVID-19. That week alone, I had photographed 3 charity events with more than 100 guests each. I’m constantly surrounded by people, and that weighed really heavy on my mind – both for their safety and mine.

I got tested that day and, a week later, learned I was positive for the Coronavirus.

I immediately contacted the public relations team for every event I photographed and reported to the Philadelphia Public Health Department on everyone I could think of who I had been in contact with in the last 72 hours while I was infectious. Then, naturally for me, I logged onto Twitter.

My family didn’t want me to share my diagnosis so publicly. But what if I ran into someone in the past few days that I didn’t remember? I couldn’t bear that. I was among the earliest cases in the area, and at the time all we heard was dire stories of victims in the hospital on ventilators. We weren’t hearing from the survivors, and I wanted to share what mild symptoms looked like. So I shared my story with a few local news stations.

Then, they stopped being so mild.

That night, my fever jumped up to 101-102º F for three days straight. My body ached and moved involuntarily. I had these terrible Charlie horses in my legs, and my hands hurt when I moved my fingers. I was nauseous, dizzy and exhausted. My sense of taste and smell went haywire, which I didn’t even know were symptoms.

And I was scared. I mean, that’s the worst symptom. I was so concerned it would go into my lungs. I had shortness of breath and a pressure in my chest like someone was stabbing my lungs, but luckily it never got worse than that.

Because here’s the scary part: I’m 56 years old, a diabetic with underlying kidney disease (because I’m heavy) and liver disease. I knew I was incredibly high risk, and I absolutely did not think I was going to survive this. I had my bags packed for the hospital at all times.

As I kept telling my story through interviews, tweets or on Instagram, I got more and more phone calls, texts and DMs from anyone and everyone who could have come in contact with me and their family members. Where have I visited? What elevators do I use in my building? What have I touched?

Then I got a DM that devastated me. A woman had been in the elevator with me the night before I had symptoms – while I was still contagious – and I completely forgot. She was in her 70s. I told her to call her doctor right away. She tested negative, but what if she hadn’t?

But overall, people were really supportive. A group of people from an event in Berlin, NJ sent me a video of a prayer circle. It was really encouraging – I felt all the love.

Having been through this, I want to give back to other patients, but it’s hard. Because I’m gay, I’m not allowed to give blood unless I practice abstinence for 3 months – even though I’m in a monogamous marriage and have been with my partner for 25 years. People are dying now, and if we’re flattening the curve (which I hope we are) they need blood now, not in 3 months. It’s really disappointing.

Now I’m sitting here thinking about what I’m going to do before life gets back to normal, before people want to be in groups and pose together for a photo. I’m booking fall events but we still don’t know what the world will look like then.

Before this, I never spent much time looking out my window. There are so many different stories happening down there.

I saw a man wearing a face mask walking a three-legged dog sniffing everything in his path, and I smiled. There’s so much tragedy going on, but here’s a man taking it seriously and doing his part. It gives you hope.

May 2020
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