Coming Up for Air

The heavy cost of COVID on the hot tub industry

I heard someone say the other day, “How bizarre that every single person on this planet has spent the last two-plus years living through the same thing.” We hope the following stories resonate not just because they are hot tub industry people, but because they are people. Because they remind us of other stories we’ve heard about how COVID bulldozed life as we knew it.

As we move toward something resuming normality, we are honored to share a few of the many stories of people in the hot tub industry who are still rebuilding the lives they almost lost, or coping with the loss of people they loved. — SPH

Abner Lamy

Head customer care/technical support
Chandler, Arizona

Hospitalized with COVID

When I came down with COVID at the end of 2020, science still didn’t know too much about it. It was a very challenging time. We had to come to work and didn’t have that luxury to stay home. You exercise, eat well, you think you’re healthy and strong — but things happen even when we protect ourselves.

 They’d check our temperature every day at work, but that didn’t stop it. When I went home — it was a Thursday in November — I felt different. By Friday, things were very difficult. I went to see my doctor that Saturday, because I couldn’t breathe. By Sunday, I was in the hospital. 

 At the time, the hospital was not a good place to be. My fever was above 104 for two days; I didn’t even remember how I got there. The doctor asked me, “Do you know where you are?” I learned my family had called an ambulance to take me to the hospital.

 Doctors and nurses made me scared. All the [personal protective equipment], it made me feel deep inside that I was in trouble. I was in the hospital for about two weeks. There were not vaccines. People drew my blood every now and then for testing, and they came to check on me all night long. You cannot leave your bed to go to the restroom. I wanted to sleep on my back, but they had me sleeping on my stomach.

During that time, you’re by yourself. My family — I live with my wife and two kids, who are 27 and 24 — talked to hospital staff, but nobody could see me. I’m close to my family, and they didn’t know if I was coming back because the news was telling you people are dying.

 It was difficult then, but after, it was worse. You have to fight with yourself, talk to yourself. Life goes on. But deep inside, I was still scared I would pass it to somebody. You have to say for yourself, “Come back to life.” My friends, they were saying, “Let’s go to the gym, let’s go hiking.” In the hospital, deep inside, you feel you’re weak in every way. But, praise God, things are moving pretty well, and I’m healthy now. Strong. Getting back to the way you were prior is a fight. I used to travel heavily. I’m a church minister, so I’ve been to a lot of countries. 

 No one in my family got it from me, and I’m glad. It’s still there, and people are still dying. We just don’t talk too much about it. The vaccine can give you more confidence and strength that even if you get it, you’ll survive.* But it’s still a scary feeling, up until now.

*While CDC studies have indicated that the chances of dying due to COVID-19 infection while fully vaccinated are comparatively rare, no vaccine is 100% effective at preventing infection. For more information, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/

Cathy Czajkowski

Big John’s
Kalispell, Montana

Lost her husband and business partner, John Czajkowski, to complications of heart failure and COVID in September 2021

We just had John’s celebration of life in June of this year. My daughters picked out all these favorite pictures of their dad for a slideshow and many pictures of the store. His favorite songs played over it. 

 We started Big John’s in July in 1974. We were childhood sweethearts, married for 52 years. During those early years, we spent long hours taking care of our customers. John would stay until the last call was returned for that day. We are one of Sundance’s oldest dealers; we have been with them for 43 years. John really was a legend in the industry and mentored people who were just starting out. 

 COVID affected our store really hard. Many of us who work here had COVID. Some of us are lucky to still be alive, to be honest with you. Many of our older customers with health problems were afraid to leave their homes, so we offered curbside pickup to keep them as safe as possible. We had the masks, social distancing, all of that. I’ll be 75 [this year], and my whole life, I’ve never gone through anything like COVID. When they ordered the stores closed, I couldn’t believe this was happening to us after all these years in business.

 We lost John after a long battle with heart disease. COVID was a contributing factor, a secondary cause of death. His heart condition was so bad that it weakened his immune system. John had heart trouble for years. Even with his heart stuff, during COVID, John worked in our home office at least six hours a day, Monday through Friday. 

 He had not been feeling good all week. His food didn’t taste quite right, and he was fatigued. I had COVID at the same time. I’d been feeling tired all week, and I had buttered toast for breakfast, and it tasted like someone had dumped a whole shaker of salt on it. My family took me in; John and I were actually both in the hospital for a few days.

 John came home for a couple of days, but he was going into congestive heart failure, so we took him back to the hospital. While in the hospital, he had a major heart attack and he never came out of it.

 John was proud of his Polish heritage and really loved living in Montana. He loved fishing, hunting, camping, photography and riding his 4-wheelers. Our favorite place to go together was Glacier National Park. We all miss his great smile and his Polish jokes.    

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 He considered every customer a friend. His handshake was his word. As a family, we will move forward and honor his legacy.

Thomas Irving

General manager
Pool & Spa Superstore
Mobile, Alabama

Lost many customers to COVID-19

At the very early stages, we weren’t sure what was going on. We were professionally cleaning, we had masks, we were keeping everybody outside. We wouldn’t be around without this community, so we needed to be sure we were taking care of this community. In this area, we’re the biggest presence, and several people who worked here fit the category that COVID would be dangerous for them. 

Customers in here were yelling at us, about just wacky stuff. People were saying this was a hoax, and the next day they were dead. Across 2020 and 2021, we had 19 customers die. I’m sure there have been more we don’t know about. A few were old, or had heart issues or were overweight, but the rest? They were just regular 47 – 65-year-olds. 

About half of them, I knew pretty well. One of them was this super nice guy. He had been told COVID wasn’t a problem, and he believed what he was hearing. The next thing I knew, he was dead. I can track a lot of the people who died back to that sort of thing. 

Me, I’d just gotten over cancer. I lost my young son in 2018. When my daughter was born at 26 weeks, she was 2 pounds and was in the NICU for 90 days. I got all my shots and have been boosted. I was coming home, taking off my clothes and putting them in the washing machine, then taking a shower, all so I could hold and hug my little girl. That was so hard, thinking I’d bring this home and we’d lose somebody else.

Some customers came in and later said they were sorry for the way they acted. Some of the “this is a hoax the Democrats cooked up to kill us” stuff has gone away. My belief system is not typical for this area, and I have trouble reconciling a lot of these phenomena. But it’s the South. People will find ways to get along.

Chris Ogden

General manager
Time Machine Hot Tubs
Longview, Texas

Briefly hospitalized with COVID

In February 2020, I attended the dealer conference at Marquis Spas’ factory in Independence, Oregon. Hundreds of people. Two days later, I was at my son’s track meet, and got a sore throat and chills. 

Now, I’m not one to go to the doctor. Ever. I think I went in the 1970s one time. But I went in, and they said I had a virus. They gave me a steroid shot and put me on antibiotics. I didn’t feel great for three weeks, but I got over it. After that, I started paying more attention to COVID and thought, “Wow, I had the coronavirus.”

Fast forward to August 2021. I tested positive after we’d been at Six Flags, and so did my fiancée, Pene, and two of our four kids. It felt like a giant rubber band was tied around my chest. I had a pulse oximeter, and my oxygen levels were 85%. A nurse friend told me to go to the hospital.

They put me right away into a room. They said if I’d waited another day or two, I wouldn’t have been likely to survive. I was there for four days. The only reason they sent me home was because they had 143 other patients who needed treatment. 

Pene and the kids said I looked gray, terrible. I was just so tired and disoriented — the COVID fog. When I’d read at night on my iPad, I felt like I was floating above myself, above the bed. I lost my taste and smell for a week. Panda Express tasted like eating out of an ashtray. When I was sick, all I wanted was pears. And I hate pears. 

I did not get the vaccine. Maybe I’m a bit of a conspiracy theorist, but what I’d heard in the media did not add up.*

At home, I was on oxygen for about eight weeks. We had to close the store for two weeks. We just put a note on the door and on social media. My biggest fear was there was no way we’d bounce back, but the first day I came back, somebody gave me a check for $30,000, and the next day somebody spent $60,000. I mean, we sell hot tubs; it’s not life or death. But there was always a little, “What if people don’t come back?”

I’m feeling fine now. It took probably three or four months before my lung capacity came back, and it’s still not where it was. It was a miserable feeling I wouldn’t wish on anybody.

*According to the CDC, currently available COVID-19 vaccines remain the single most important tool in protecting people against serious illness, hospitalization and death. For more information, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/