When news broke last week of Plano Fire Chief Sam Greif being admitted to Medical City Plano for COVID-19 in early January, his message to the public was, “This is not a hoax.”
He since made a triumphant return home after a 16-day hospital stay, and while he adamantly stands by his previous message, he now has a new one: thank your local health care workers.
“The underlying message is: I’m here. I’m a survivor. I’ve had the most amazing health care worker team you could imagine taking care of me. [They’re] the unsung heroes in this epidemic,” he said over the phone on Thursday. “I’ll never be able to say thanks to them enough.”
Greif’s hospitalization started on Jan. 3 and continued on a bitter note as he suffered pneumonia in both lungs. He also lost significant weight and muscle mass.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life before,” he said. “I’m almost 58, and I’ve certainly had my challenges like everybody. I’ve had spine surgery due to some traumatic events, I’ve had pneumonia before, I’ve had smoke inhalation, I’ve been hospitalized before, but I’ve never had anything that’s been as tough as this.
“Somewhere, I let my guard down … For that, I’m regretful.”
His stretch at Medical City Plano also took a toll on his mental health. In addition to going 16 days without any contact with his wife, Greif was sequestered in a single room. It was at this low point that hospital staff provided invaluable emotional support. He explained, “When they come in the room, they know you’re starved for human contact, so they spend some time with you. They hold their hand. They cry with you.”
Health care workers were even gathered around the halls with Plano Fire-Rescue personnel to greet Greif with applause as he was wheeled out of the hospital on Tuesday, an event which drove the chief to tears.
He has since dedicated his time to incrementally recovering at home while in the much-needed company of his wife, a process that he estimates will last for three-to-four weeks.
“It’s a slow and humbling process,” he said.
Medical City staff told him his recovery would be a “long-haul event,” but as he put it, “To me, long-haul meant five to 10 days and you’re back in the saddle.”
It may be at least one month before he goes back to work, but until then, Chris Biggerstaff, assistant chief of emergency services, will continue acting in his place.
“Right now, things are events,” he said. “You take any shower, it’s now an event. Getting out of bed, getting clothes on in the morning – that’s something you plan and work your mind up to.”
Still, he remains in good spirits and has continued to live by the mantra, “Count your blessings.” He has also endeavored to make publicity stemming from his hospitalization and recovery focus on the steadfastness of health care workers manning the national pandemic response.
“There [are] no TV shows about COVID wards,” he laughed. “If there were, people would be glued to it.”
Greif has been the chief of Plano Fire-Rescue since 2015. After getting his start as a paramedic in 1982, he became a firefighter for the Fort Worth Fire Department in 1985 and worked up to the rank of assistant chief of operations until his retirement in 2015.