Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts regarding an individual’s experience battling COVID-19 and the efforts of those who work at Warren General Hospital.
It started with a cold on a Tuesday morning . . . just a normal winter congestion, I thought.
Oh, wait a minute, don’t some of the COVID infections begin with colds and go into upper respiratory distress? Nah, couldn’t be me – we’ve not gone anywhere.
Dear Richard has done all the shopping and errands out of the house since March. I have a few of those “underlying medical issues” so it only made sense for him to be the go-fer.
But I commuted to physical therapy three mornings a week through the summer and since my third knee replacement surgery in September. Masked, temperatures, hand scrubbing, socially distanced, the therapists have worked diligently to keep us safe. I’ve thought they might need all new leather equipment by 2021 for the amount of scrubbing the leather receives after every use.
I canceled at the therapists Wednesday morning because the cold wasn’t improved; in fact it moved into a fever Wednesday evening. Thursday night was worse, prompting me to drive through the federal testing site at Warren State Hospital Friday morning. Sitting in the traffic line I began to lose my optimism – I felt crumby and shaky and drove home to an extra sweater and a blanket. That night my temperature went even higher and I headed to bed miserable – and pretty sure I had it.
Saturday morning I could barely lift my head. Couldn’t wash, eat, or concentrate. I lay flat all day as my oxygen count went down and the thermometer went up. By evening I told Richard that I had to surrender to the Emergency Room. I could barely walk. I know I took a shower before I went, but don’t really remember how. I was running on empty. Down and out.
A nurse friend advised me to call the ER to tell them we were coming. The ER nurse told us to call from the parking lot when we arrived. They did the basic check-in over the phone then called back when it was time to enter. “Do you need a wheelchair?” I declined. “Then walk in alone and check with triage who will admit you immediately.”
I’m still using a cane from my surgery. The most enfeebled, slowest walk of my life was into that ER. My breathing was rapid, then patchy, then gasping. I’m a strong, sensible woman. But, for the first time in my life, I felt as if I could be walking to my doom. I stopped at the door for a second, wondering if it would be the last door I’d ever enter willingly. I didn’t turn to wave to Richard – it seemed overly dramatic … but I should have. Is this it? Is this how my old age winds down – at a COVID door I’ve been avoiding for nine months? Do I get to come back out of here?
Richard watched my slow crawl from the car – equally terrified. “I really wondered if I’d ever see you again. I’ll never forget that picture in my mind as you walked soooo slowly away from me.”
Once inside, the prevailing bustle was all business. Room 4, into hospital gown, X-Ray attendant arrives to take lung pix just as they finished inserting the intravenous lines in both arms. Immediate oxygen began to calm my gasping, and frankly the anxiety that I felt. The nurses were incredibly busy, efficient and very, very kind. I felt I was in capable hands. My IVs were used for a steroid and my first dose of Remdesivir, and I think a big dose of vitamin C. – and more.
In a few hours, the Hospitalist arrived to tell me she had admitted me but there were no beds available upstairs. The nurses found a pillow and some heated blankets, but before I bedded down for the night, they asked when I’d last eaten. After learning I’d only managed a yogurt all day, they found me an egg salad sandwich and a bottle of water. The sandwich tasted just like the raspberry yogurt – nuthin’ — but it filled an empty crack as I bedded down for the night in ER Room #4.
I somehow managed to sleep from 4:30 to 10 a.m. The nurses were swamped but they tried to allow the four of us waiting for beds to sleep a bit. I heard them pad in monitoring during the night, but it was only an awareness, not an awakening. Luckily I was the first one sent upstairs around midday. And that was when I began to learn the reality of what Warren General, our award-winning small-town hospital was all about under the worst possible overwhelming conditions.
I had to tell you about this – it’s hard to imagine what the hospital has accomplished, let alone living inside the reality of it.
Our hospital has a half dozen Zero Air Pressure rooms for infectious patients. I imagine most hospitals of any size provide these necessary facilities. The rooms are initially constructed so the air sweeps all the bad germs outside through custom air-exchange systems. But six of these specialty rooms is a drop in the bucket for this COVID emergency so the hospital converted another 18 rooms – a whole wing. Naturally, given the infection rates, all patients are in individual rooms.
The nurse who pushed my bed from the ER to my new digs on the third floor COVID wing was from the detox unit. The nurse who settled me in and got my basic supplies was from maternity. Everyone else working on floor three was running — out straight.
These two helping-out nurses learned along with me:
All professionals are hard masked plus plastic shields, and most wear a third mask between the two layers. They enter the specially converted rooms by donning gloves and long, yellow plastic gowns over their scrubs. A plastic wall has been installed floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall about five feet into each room. They don the protective gear in this area and strip it all off before leaving the room, throwing gloves away and depositing the yellow gowns into a huge covered bin. No protective gear goes back out into the corridors, only scrubs. I found during my stay that nurses don’t forget much, because it means stripping down and re-dressing for every trip in and out. And of course this includes the aides, the lab staff, the docs, the respiratory therapists, everybody.
Access through the wall into the bedroom is entered by raising room-height zippers straight up from the floor; there are two zippers to allow a bed to slide through plus the nurses can access both sides. The makeshift wall cuts off the bathroom access so each room has a potty chair. A large air compressor/exchanger sits on the floor in the patient room. It processes all the room’s standard inbound air before sending it through a foot-wide aluminum tube snaking twenty feet to a specially sealed exit at the window. It all looks, and sounds, sort of sci-fi – a quiet roar.
MONDAY: Road to recovery takes plenty of hospital heroism.
Marcy O’Brien, a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, resides in Glade Township with Dear Richard and Finian, their Maine Coon Cat. She can be reached at email@example.com
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