The words caught in Tommy Hottovy’s throat as he tried to explain his experience to the patchwork of sports reporters’ faces on the screen in front of him.
“I went through some really weird stages through this whole process,” the Cubs pitching coach said Wednesday on a video conference, “like depression, thinking, ‘Did I do something wrong? How could I have put my family in that kind of situation?’”
It was the second time Hottovy had publicly addressed his month-long battle with COVID-19. The first had been earlier that morning on 670 The Score, and afterwards he and his wife Andrea shared an emotional moment. It wasn’t just the illness itself that shook them. The symptoms were staggering: a fever that spiked at night and made it impossible to sleep, strength and weight loss, viral pneumonia that required breathing treatments. But along with that came isolation, self-blame, and fear of spreading the virus.
“I felt it was important for me to talk through what I went through,” Hottovy said, “because too much of what’s out there is the easy stories of what people go through with this. … Obviously it affects people differently. And if my story and my journey through this helps one person realize how severe this can get, and if that saves one life, then I want my story to be heard.”
Two weeks ago, Hottovy, 38, finally tested negative for COVID-19. He’d first experienced symptoms 30 days prior and was quarantined away from his family for that month. Their precautions worked. As Hottovy put it, “by the grace of God and (my wife’s) diligence in what she did to keep our family safe,” he didn’t pass the virus onto Andrea or their two young children Cameron, 8, and Chloe, 6.
“What my wife had to --” Hottovy started. His voice cracked, and he paused to compose himself. “What she had to endure for a month, you just don’t want to put anybody through that.”
While quarantined, Hottovy was sequestered to a spare bedroom and a bathroom. If he wanted to step outside, his family would clear the house and he’d hurry out and back in, taking care not to touch anything.
Because he wasn’t allowed in the kitchen, Andrea would bring him food and water. To cut down on her trips, Hottovy had a cooler set up in the spare room so he could keep himself hydrated.
Hottovy’s symptoms worsened at night, so he adjusted his sleep schedule. He was awake from midnight to 6am.
“Every night I’d get up at like 2, go downstairs and my wife would still be cleaning,” Hottovy said. “Every night for like 30 days.”
His mind would run wild some of those nights, analyzing every move that could have led to him contracting COVID-19. Did he forget to wash his hands after going to the store?
“What you risk putting your family through, for me was something that was hard and I dealt with,” Hottovy said. “But my wife just said, ‘Look, we did everything we could. We wouldn’t change anything. We wouldn’t take anything back.’”
Separated from his children for a month, Hottovy’s FaceTime usage spiked. His kids knew they could use the iPad to call Dad whenever they wanted. Hottovy also had a special quarantine chair outside.
“I would sit way away from the kids, masked up even outside,” he said, “and just be out there just to watch them, laugh with them and watch them shoot hoops and do things like that.”
There were times Hottovy considered opting out of the season. He has developed antibodies through the process of fighting off COVID-19, but the virus is so new that there’s no definitive proof that antibodies guarantee immunity.
In the end, Hottovy decided he wanted to be a resource for the team. He stresses the importance of supporting families during this unprecedented season, and not just the families of players who test positive for COVID-19.
“We’re going to go on six-day road trips, eight-day road trips and 10-day road trips potentially too,” Hottovy said. “There’s concern being gone that long away from your family. Do they have the resources they need, the families that are here? … What if one of our family members gets it while we’re on the road? As an organization, do we have things set up to help them? I think we’re doing that, and I think we’re getting through that process.”
As of Wednesday morning, the Cubs had announced just two recent positive COVID-19 tests that are expected to delay two Tier 1 staff members from joining camp. On Monday, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer described those two staff members’ symptoms as “mild.”
No players had tested positive, but most of their intake screening results were still pending. It’s entirely possible that at some point this season, one of the players Hottovy works with tests positive for COVID-19. He may have a family and battle the same doubts that Hottovy did.
For advice, Hottovy points back to his wife’s wisdom.
“I think that’s the one powerful message for us right now, is, we’re doing everything we can,” Hottovy said. “It’s not going to stop everything. There’s guys that are going to test positive. And we have to be able to be flexible and be able to adjust throughout that process.”