A few months ago Death Angel and their drummer Will Carroll were having one of the best years of their storied career. After decades as a Bay Area thrash mainstay, Death Angel was nominated for a Grammy (best metal performance for “Humanicide”). In February, the band started a successful European tour with their Bay Area peers Exodus and Testament. As the tour wound down in early March, things started to go to hell. A new respiratory virus called COVID-19 was sickening people throughout Europe, particularly in Italy. At the tail end of the tour Carroll developed a high fever and aches that worsened when he arrived home in San Francisco. While other members of the tour like Gary Holt of Exodus and Chuck Billy of Testament recovered at home Carroll’s situation grew dire. Carroll’s fiancee took him to the emergency room in mid-March where he was isolated and eventually placed in a medical coma for a severe case of COVID-19. Despite a 12-day coma and heart failure Carroll rallied and is now home – a blessing when you consider the majority of coronavirus patients on ventilators don’t survive. Carroll shared his story for the first time with Decibel and told us about how the illness changed his life.
Let’s go back to the tour. Had you heard about the coronavirus spreading or were you aware of it?
When the Italian show (in Milan February 25) got canceled the virus came on our radar. The final show of the tour in Hanover, Germany also got canceled. At a certain point, our tour bus became a germ incubator. Everyone was taking their turn getting sick – except for me! Near the end of the tour, a couple of the guys were really sick. I must have caught it from them because the last three or four nights of the tour I knew I had it. I felt terrible.
It sounds like you powered through and played despite the illnesses…
It wasn’t affecting our performance. But the bus was miserable. One of the drivers started puking all over the place. Our tour manager got ill. I tried to take some vitamins, took Emergen-C and stopped drinking to stay healthy because everyone was getting sick. On stage, things seemed normal. But backstage and on the bus was awful. Testament and Exodus also got sick. By the end of the tour, people were ready to go home.
Did you think it was the coronavirus or the flu?
I knew it was the coronavirus. I get colds here and there but I had a fever and aching and this intense flu. I never get sick like that. On the flight, I worried I wouldn’t get through SFO International Airport. They were testing people at the passport check. Since we travel so much in and out of there people recognized us and just said: “Death Angel – welcome home!” We looked like shit and were sweating. But since they see us all the time we got lucky.
So you get home and you are still sick. When do things take a turn for the worse?
About three days after I was home. My fiancee said I looked and sounded terrible. She said I was wheezing in my sleep and struggling to breathe. That’s the last thing I remember. I don’t remember the ambulance ride or getting to the hospital. The next thing I remember is waking up after a 12-day coma with tubes stuck in me and machines all around. I didn’t even know I was in San Francisco.
Did you have any dreams or experiences when you were in the coma? A lot of people experiencing medical trauma on this level talk about those.
I don’t believe in Bigfoot and I’m not an ambulance chaser. I’m not a super-spiritual guy. I hardly believe in any of that stuff but I did have some out of body experiences. I went to hell and Satan was a woman and I was being punished for sloth. I was this giant obese Jabba The Hut type creature. I was vomiting blood and kept on vomiting blood until I had a heart attack which is kind of weird because I had heart failure during my coma. I remember rising up from Hell and floating up above my body and once I got to heaven it was horrifying there, too. It was like a Roman orgy and the angels were scarier than the demons. I shot back down to earth and I was with some friends in a nightclub and I didn’t know why I was there. That’s the last thing I remember until I woke up. My first words to the nurse were: “Am I still in hell?” She just ignored it. As I said, I never believed in anything like that but I did see myself from above.
I’ve read some accounts that say when people go through severe medical trauma they have these experiences – it’s how their mind processes something so intense.
Absolutely. It was not pleasant at all. I hated every second of it.
When you woke up were you scared?
Like I mentioned I don’t remember going to the hospital. They didn’t want to give me too much information at once because they didn’t want me to go into shock. They were just asking me questions here and there. They were asking if I knew what year it was and who the president was. I kept asking what city and country I was in. When they told me I was in San Francisco I was very relieved. Once I calmed down I got the whole story and was asked if I remember going to the hospital 12 days ago. I guess I could barely breathe and my lungs were collapsing. When they told me I was in a coma for 12 days it was like a baseball bat to the head. But it was smart to not give me all the information at once. Once I came to grips they told me they seriously thought I was going to die. That was a scary thing to hear. I was both thankful and horrified.
You wake up and the entire world has changed – no one can even leave their home.
I was the first one in the hospital to survive a COVID-19 coma. The doctors were high fiving each other and I was a success story. I heard they were going to use some of the methods they tried on me to keep other people alive. I remember doctors and nurses coming in like “wow,” amazed I was coherent and speaking. They asked me to write my name and I couldn’t even write a W because of muscle atrophy. So that’s what I’m going through right now – physical therapy to walk again. But it’s going well.
Do you know if you received any of the experimental drugs they are using on COVID patients?
I don’t think so. They didn’t go into great detail to spare me. I didn’t know I had gone into heart failure until I almost left the hospital. I’m on heart medication right now. So I’m not sure what methods they used…just that they were surprised and pleased that I survived.
A lot of people on that tour got sick. With the exception of you, everyone was able to recover largely at home. Do you have any idea why it hit you so hard?
I snore really bad and they think now I might have sleep apnea. I know people with asthma are very susceptible to the virus so I think my respiratory issues while sleeping contributed.
What was it like to get home?
After the coma, they held me in the ICU for another three to four days. Then they moved me to a regular hospital room. I was there for about five or six days. I started losing hope that I would ever get home. I thought they might keep me there until this whole thing blows over. But they finally told me I was leaving. Being in a hospital bed that long can fuck with your mind.
Many people have reported PTSD as a result of a long hospitalization.
I believe it. It’s just endless. I couldn’t believe it when they gave me my belongings. I probably live about five blocks from the hospital so I was home in about five minutes. Just seeing my home was a blessing. Even though I can’t do much I’m surrounded by my records and can entertain myself for hours at home. The thing that blew me away was getting a message from (Twisted Sister guitarist) Jay Jay French. I’ve never even met him before. All the support meant the world to me and I believe it contributed to me surviving this ordeal.
What have you learned from this experience? Are you going to change anything in your life as a result?
Across the board. My days of heavy drinking are over. I might have an occasional glass of wine or Irish cider but as far as doing ten shots a night those days are over. Smoking, including smoking weed, is over too. I’ll still take some edibles but smoking is over. I’m eating healthier and I’ve lost a good amount of weight. That’s one good thing about being in a coma – you will lose weight! (laughs). I started partying when I was 16 years old so it’s been a 36-year ride of partying almost every day. It was fun but I already don’t miss it. I don’t miss drinking. I miss pizza but I don’t miss drinking or smoking and won’t be going back to that lifestyle.
How long will it take to get your drum chops back?
By the end of May, I should be fully mobile and walking. It might be around June before I can start practicing drums again. By the time Death Angel has demos ready to go I should be able to play again. A nurse came over to check my vitals and listen to my lungs and everything seems to be moving along. This will make me stronger.
There are still some people who aren’t taking this seriously. Given your experiences the past month, what would you say to them?
They are fools. This is not the common flu – that is ridiculous. You really need to stay indoors and follow the rules. It’s no fun to be cooped up and I’m no fan of Big Brother but we have to prevent this from spreading. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy and people need to take it seriously.