First Covid, Then Psychosis: ‘The Most Terrifying Thing I’ve Ever Experienced’

Mr Agerton tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from the Red Sea in late November. Since the expedition team followed strict precautionary measures, he believes he got infected on the flight home. With a low fever, slight breathing difficulties, and loss of smell, he isolated in a bedroom at home on Bainbridge Island near Seattle for 10 days, protecting Ms. Agerton, 46, and her children aged 5, 11, and 16.

Then, on December 17th, an ordinary spam call on his cell phone set off a cascade of paranoia linked to technology, surveillance, and government agents.

“I got these auditory hallucinations,” he said. At night he jumped to the window and imagined voices outside. Fearing that families looking at their neighborhood’s Christmas lights were spying, he grabbed the family’s Australian Shepherd Dog, Duke, and went outside to “watch the people in the car,” he said. Then he would be convinced that police scanners were broadcasting his dog on foot and every other movement he made.

Updated

March 23, 2021, 8:03 p.m. ET

“I couldn’t control myself,” he said, adding, “I just thought I was going out of my mind.”

After two mostly sleepless days in which he had kept it to himself, he confided in his wife, who was stunned. “Having your person who is great in a crisis that is experiencing a crisis was just utter helplessness and fear for me,” she said.

He asked her to put the family’s phones on airplane mode, fearing that their house had been bugged. Mrs. Agerton, who drove him around looking for her, was concerned about an ambulance siren. “Probably every 30 minutes he had to go around outside and see what was out there.”

She took him out shopping, thinking “something as pointless as Costco would help make it just a normal day,” but said he feared buyers were plainclothes agents. “It was really torture for him.”

That evening she called a friend, a nurse with mental health experience.

“You need to go to the emergency room now,” urged the friend, adding, “lock all weapons,” said Ms. Agerton.

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