Mike Sanders’ booming, baritone voice is familiar throughout East Idaho.
For decades, he’s read the scripts of countless local commercials, served as master of ceremonies at community events and played in a well-known local band, Eaton and Sanders.
On the tail end of a battle with COVID-19 that nearly cost Sanders his life, his distinctive voice has become hoarse and weak. But he’s still speaking out, imploring Americans that compassion, civility and cooperation will be critical for the nation to weather the escalating health pandemic.
Sanders, who moved from Pocatello to Nampa three years ago but still owns a Pocatello advertising agency called MSVM Group, is saddened by the current vitriol in the national political discourse. He’s worried by images in the news of Americans publicly carrying automatic weapons in a threatening manner. He’s also disgusted about the controversy that’s emerged about the wearing of face masks to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“The one thing I really do want to do, I hope I can stick around long enough to maybe help facilitate in some way people starting to care about each other again,” Sanders said. “That to me is the most important thing in my life right now. I want to see my grandkids grow up in a place where people care about each other — where they love each other.”
Sanders is convinced he would have succumbed to COVID-19 if he hadn’t been craving a hot drink at the height of his fever.
He went from having cold-like symptoms to burning up with a 105-degree temperature in the course of a single night. Taking a deep breath was an excruciating experience, akin to smacking into a brick wall at 100 mph.
“It was so painful it was like a concussion almost,” Sanders said.
Delirious from his fever, Sanders called his son and asked him to come over and make him a cup of tea. His son took his temperature and immediately began packing necessities for the emergency room.
“I was losing my ability to think,” Sanders said. “I probably would have laid there and died.”
Sanders believes he contracted COVID-19 in late October, while dining with some friends from Pocatello in Mesquite, Nevada. They were outside, and Sanders removed his face mask only to put food in his mouth.
“I don’t wear (a mask) for me,” Sanders said. “I wear it for the other person, hoping they’ll care as much about me as I do them.”
All three people at his table got COVID-19. His friends, however, had mild cases.
Both Sanders’ 40-year-old daughter, Michaela, and his granddaughter, Maggie, got sick with COVID-19 a few months before he contracted the virus. Michaela, whom he describes as an elite athlete, tested positive in July, and she’s still going in for electrocardiograms to evaluate related heart problems.
“When I saw how it affected her from a breathing standpoint, I was pretty sure it would kill me,” said Sanders, who will turn 73 in a month.
He added, “I don’t look at myself as being in a particular group because it’s killing people in every age group.”
Once at the hospital, physicians controlled Sanders’ temperature with Tylenol and steroids and also gave him supplemental oxygen. He was in the hospital for six and a half days, including three days in intensive care.
He’s still on steroids, as well as blood thinners to prevent clotting. He feels “beat up” and he tires easily. He plans to quarantine for a while longer and then continue wearing a mask and maintaining a safe social distance, noting there’s no guarantee that he’s immune just because he’s had COVID-19 once.
“(COVID-19) may not have killed one person, but it doesn’t mean this won’t kill you,” Sanders said. “Because you were blessed enough that it didn’t take your life or you weren’t that sick with it, to suggest it’s not a big deal to someone it might kill is irresponsible.”
Sanders emphasized that people also protect frontline emergency responders by taking simple precautions to avoid contracting the virus. He said frontline workers have been getting sick with COVID-19 at a high rate, which is beginning to stress Idaho’s ability to assist residents in the midst of an emergency.
“My son is a captain for the Nampa Fire Department. He’s working his fourth shift in a row with no break because over 50 percent of the firefighters and EMTs are out now,” Sanders said.
During his hospitalization, Sanders was struck by a recurrent comment he heard from the doctors and nurses.
“It was amazing,” Sanders said. “You could tell how tired they were and they would stand there and shake their head and say, ‘It doesn’t have to be this way; if only people would just take the proper precautions.’”