On July 8, KNUS afternoon-drive host Steffan Tubbs returned to the airwaves after coming down with a serious COVID-19 case that landed him in the hospital for nearly a week and kept him away from the studio for fifty days. The recovery process has been long, difficult and frustrating, and he admits that it isn't over yet.
"I'm still not at 100 percent, but I've been cleared by doctors," Tubbs says. And while he continues to suffer from what he refers to as "brain fog and fatigue," he stresses that "it's not going to keep me from work."
While still hospitalized, Tubbs shared his experiences in a text interview with Westword; speaking was difficult for him at that point. But he doesn't recall that exchange or a lot of other things that happened after he was admitted. "I really can't remember," he says.
Here's what he does recall.
"My son's high school graduation was at Red Rocks on May 19," Tubbs says. "My last show was Tuesday, May 18, and I remember signing off that day by saying, 'Tomorrow is a big day for my son — talk to you on Thursday.' But I didn't go back. The next ten days are a blur, but on Wednesday, my family tells me that I started to talk about not feeling well, and on Thursday, we did a family outing, and I started getting sicker and sicker, and I knew something was wrong — so I got a COVID test, and even before it came back, I knew I had it. I've never been that sick so quickly."
Tubbs wasn't vaccinated, but he points out that "I wore my mask in public and wherever there was a mask order. I was never an anti-masker, so I have no idea how I got it."
A drive-through COVID-19 test at a site in Centennial confirmed Tubbs's fears, as did the symptoms he began to experience: "I started losing my sense of smell and taste. But everything hurt, from my toenails to the hair on the top of my head."
Two family members and a friend who was with the Tubbs clan around the time of his son's graduation eventually contracted COVID-19, too, but they didn't become as ill as he did; Tubbs estimates that they were feeling markedly better within 96 hours. But he was hospitalized for almost a week, and while he was never put on a ventilator, he needed oxygen for the majority of his stay and received a three-day treatment involving the anti-viral medication Remdesivir.
"I know I talked with people, too," he says. "I got a lot of very kind get-well messages from, literally, all around the world: Germany, Japan, the U.K. Jared Polis was one of the first three calls I got, and I also heard from my good friend Congressman Ed Perlmutter and Lauren Boebert and a lot of other people. It's only been in the last couple of weeks, since I've been getting better, that I've been able to fully appreciate that anybody, from a politician to a listener, took a moment to wish me well, and for that, I'm forever grateful."
Over the past month-plus, Tubbs has also been able to reflect on "all of the people around the world who have died from this, and all of the people they left behind — family members who are dealing with the death of a loved one, or dealing with somebody who's so sick that they're still in the hospital months later. So I feel lucky. KNUS and Salem [the company that owns the station] have been wonderful, my health care was wonderful, my primary doctor was wonderful."
Nonetheless, symptoms have lingered. While Tubbs no longer has difficulty speaking and his sense of taste has returned (he estimates that his sense of smell is within 75 percent of normal), he gets tired quickly and sometimes struggles to focus and concentrate — problems associate with people termed COVID-19 "long haulers." Does Tubbs belong in that category? "I think it might be too soon to know," he says. "But I've read studies about the brain fog and fatigue, and I check a lot of those boxes."
At this point, he's hopeful that he'll be able to fight through these issues during his 3 to 7 p.m. weekday slot, "and if I'm not quite there, our listeners will be the first to let me know," he says. "I've been watching from the sidelines, and that's hard when you want to play and get in the game. It's hard to be patient on the sidelines. But I'm ready to power through."