Personal encounter with COVID-19 and the bewilderment of health care
My 87-year-old father has COVID-19. We have no idea when, where, or how he contracted the virus, but here in southeastern Connecticut, the Wuhan Flu has struck again. Victor Elci may be part feline, complete with the requisite nine lives, as he has survived a history of health-related issues including high blood pressure, hypertension, fibromyalgia, diabetes, high cholesterol, and coronary heart disease that led to open-heart surgery.
On any given day, he may be on 10 prescriptions, ingesting dozens of doctor-prescribed medications in an attempt to control a seemingly myriad of conditions. In addition to all of this, he has lived his life in unimaginable pain after a construction site accident in 1979 left him in a body cast for over a year. An unsecured scaffold gave way and an entire wall collapsed, smashing his lower extremities, setting up an eternity of attempted corrective surgeries.
As a result, I spent hundreds of pre-internet teenage hours in waiting rooms and ERs. I watched dozens of clergy perform last rites (twice on my dad), so I know my way around a hospital. What I share today is not necessarily an indictment against Lawrence +Memorial Hospital in New London and its nurses or doctors, but rather an indication of a certain level of disarray, apathy and malaise in our health care generally concerning the dissemination of information; the result sometimes causing an aftermath of psychiatric destruction.
At 8 a.m. Tuesday, July 28, my brother Steven called 911 when my father complained of being weak, dizzy, and unable to stand. The ambulance transported him to the emergency room at L+M Hospital in New London where, over the next three hours, doctors, nurses, and technicians performed a battery of tests and procedures: CBC and differential; CBC auto differential; comprehensive metabolic panel; continuous pulse oximetry; EKG; NT-proBrain natriuretic peptide; two Troponin (POC)s; X-Ray chest or AP; and iSTAT Troponin (LMP).
What they didn't give him was a COVID-19 test!
Around 1 p.m. Tuesday, complete with fluid in his lungs, shortness of breath, and a high temperature, my father was sent home from the ER with a simple prescription for antibiotics. Less than 36 hours later, we rushed him back to the emergency room distressed, disoriented, and presenting with a fever, dizziness, and exhaustion. The second go-around at L+M finally resulted in a late-night positive COVID test and dad was immediately admitted into the hospital, instantly unleashing a surge of panic that rippled through my family.
Similar to the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” every person who’d come into contact with my father was considered potentially infected, and each person they contacted was also at risk. A dozen people scrambled on Thursday and Friday to get tested, not only to ease their own concerns but to quell the hysteria of co-workers and extended family members. Full Power Radio, where I work, shut down for 24 hours and my wife, my neighbors, my aunt, my co-workers all scattered to find the nearest testing facility. By some small miracle, nobody in my old man's inner circle tested positive for the virus, but without question, a certain level of emotional damage was already done.
For the next five days as my father sat in the hospital, I vigorously attempted to ascertain information on his progress only to repeatedly hit multiple stone walls. Doctors were MIA, aides and nurses were too busy, and every time I called for an update I felt like I was getting the runaround. Since COVID-19 patients are not allowed visitors, it was a lonely, helpless feeling for my dad and the rest of us. Ultimately, it took the tenacity of Assistant Director of Nursing Chris McKibben to free up some information and open up better lines of communication.
My respect for nurses and doctors is immeasurable. These men and women step into a battlefield enduring the new post-COVID weights and pressures risking their lives every day. They are heroes, who have too much on their plates. Maybe it’s time to lighten the load and create a permanent patient-hospital-family liaison equipped with an arsenal of information that can be readily disseminated to family members. In any event, what’s in place now is lacking.
I thought for sure on Sunday he wasn't going to make it. His voice was shallow and his hope seemed lost. But, amazingly, Vic Elci is exchanging life number seven of nine and has been upgraded and moved to a COVID friendly medical facility downstate until he clears all the protocols to return home.
Lee Elci is the morning host for 94.9 News Now radio, a station that provides "Stimulating Talk" with a conservative bent.
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