By Robbie Owens

by Robbie Owens | CBS 11

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Often, even the most carefully chosen words are inadequate for the moment.

Such is my struggle as I work to convey the lingering emotional wounds of a months long battle with COVID-19, waged by my longtime CBS 11 coworker, Sal Rios.

“It’s nothing like you see on the news,” says Rios, the emotion heavy in his voice, just minutes into the interview. “I didn’t think I was going to make it.”

And Sal knows a lot about news.

The veteran CBS 11 photojournalist has spent decades covering North Texas’ stories: never expecting that COVID-19 would become his own.

Sal Rios (CBS 11)

“I didn’t go to a party, I didn’t go somewhere to put myself in jeopardy,” explains Rios. In fact, he says he initially had no symptoms after his December diagnosis, telling me he had gotten the COVID test almost as a fluke as he accompanied his wife. And then he began struggling to breathe.

“Basically [I] collapsed in my wife’s arms, and I had no more breath. I couldn’t breathe.”

Matilda Rios called 911 as a last resort.

“You hear of people going to the hospital and they’re not coming back!” explains Rios’ wife– the fear once again leaping into her eyes as she recalls the family’s journey.

In fact, Sal was hospitalized twice since December, admitting that he didn’t want to go back either.

The memories of that second stay still traumatizing.

“Just the moaning. I mean, it was something out of a horror film,” recalls Sal, “the screaming, the screams. The bells going off… somebody’s not making it.”

Even as he fought for his life, all around him he could hear others’ losing their battle with COVID-19.

“It was a nightmare, and I was trying to wake up.”

Matilda Rios spoke with me one day while Sal was resting, the worry and the heartache of those long days, still so very fresh.

“First of all, he was alone. And that was scary for both of us… what would I do if something were to happen, and he’s alone?” asks Matilda, her eyes filling with tears. “He couldn’t even talk because he couldn’t even catch his breath to be able to talk. So we would communicate by text message whenever he was having a good day, so when he wouldn’t text, that’s when I would worry.”

Too weak to text, Sal says he would lie awake wrestling with worries of his own.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it. It got that bad,” he admits with a shaking voice, “and pretty scared and [I] started to try to make peace of what was happening.”

Sal says he remembers the doctors and nurses encouraging him to keep calm, to keep fighting, while faith did some flexing as well.

“I knew that our family, our friends and everyone–our work family–they were all praying for him.. and I had a sense of peace,” shares Matilda, losing her battle of moment to hold back te tears. “I knew that everyone was praying for him.”

“And then I just decided. ‘No, I’m not going to go’,” recalls Sal.

His Covid battle is still not over. But at least he is now recovering at home. The family, meanwhile, is beyond grateful to those who choose to fight for others, every day.

“I just want to tell them ‘thank you’ because they’re giving up a lot, and putting themselves at risk as well,” says Matilda, adding, “if the CDC tells you to stay home, then stay home!!!”

“This is no joke,” shares Sal. “It’s for real, and it’s very very scary.”