Larry Applebee is a tough individual, with a sturdy immune system.
The Apalachicola physician assistant, well-suited and well-versed over several years of medical outreach in seriously underserved locales, is busy in one of the state’s comparative hot spots, Ocala.
"I’ve been exposed to malaria twice, dengue, typhus, cholera," he said. "Typhus is easy to treat, cholera is, if you’re not malnourished, it’s easy to treat. When I was exposed to malaria they gave me hydroxychloroquine. She thinks it’s because I had all this hydroxychloroquine.
"I want your immune system," the infectious disease doctor told him. "You seem to survive everything."
Based on an analysis of the levels of antibodies in Applebee’s blood, the doctor told him he must have had the coronavirus.
"You got the antibodies; we want your plasma," she said.
"I had four days I could barely get out of bed," he recalled, in a telephone interview, right after finishing a long day at AdventHealth Ocala. "Then I had this weird sensation in my skin, like the heebie-jeebies. I had these hot flashes, but I didn’t have a temperature.
"She likes my immune system anyway," he closed. "They don’t know if that gives you immunity or not."
Immune or not, he’s been exposed to several carriers of COVID 19, 16 at last count, a few days ago, but he is well-protected, two masks, the outside one featuring The Incredible Hulk action hero.
"The hospital called me and said you were exposed again yesterday," he said. "I knew she was going to be positive."
Applebee, who now lives and works fulltime in Ocala, is working in the testing tent, screening people at the Marion County hospital.
On other days he’s working in the main emergency room. The sixth floor at the hospital tends exclusively to coronavirus patients.
"I kinda of know how to do this," said Applebee.
That’s because he’s tackled ebola in Sierra Leone, the tsunami in Sri Lanka, a hurricane and an earthquake in Haiti, and lots of health care challenges in everywhere from Jordan to Iraq, from Uganda to the Philippines, all through volunteer work with disaster recovery.
His current group is Third Wave Volunteers, a non-government organization dedicated to disaster response medicine. His involvement with the organization has led to them sending him thousands of face masks which, during a break from his medical care workload, he’s been distributing throughout Central and North Florida.
The 63-year-old, originally from Kansas, started his career as a hospital corpsman with the Navy, and then worked as a nurse for 25 years before becoming a physician assistant.
"I’ve been giving out masks, giving them out like crazy," he said.
Marion County Monday saw a spike in positive tests, to 126, one in eight of these patients requiring hospitalization, three of whom have died. Most of the positive tests are of county residents.
"We don’t really know what this thing is doing until we open up testing," he said, noting that a doctor in Marion County has been working to open up drive-through testing sites,
"We really need to test everybody; we don’t know what’s out there," Applebee said. "We have one reliable test and you can’t get many of them.
"A lot of people are coming in just because they are afraid," he said. "They have mild symptoms, and we are starting to be a little more liberal with the tests.
"One lady came in yesterday to the testing tent," Applebee recalled. "She said I just drove here from New York City because I know I’d get better care in Ocala.
"My husband has that disease you’re talking about," she told him.
"She’s getting better," he said. "She was sick."
Applebee said he’s seen his colleagues doing remarkable work, under pressure, to address the pandemic, and that it can be a strain on health care providers.
"You have to remind yourself who’s the most important person in this room? Me," he said. "You have to keep yourself healthy."