Even in normal times, critical-care specialists know they can’t save all their patients. But they’re used to more hand-holding. With this virus, even garbed in spacesuit-like protective gear, health workers must minimize time with infectious patients to avoid getting sick themselves. And family members are largely barred, too.
“My general way of doing things is, no one dies alone,” said Osborn, who holds her phone in front of dying patients so loved ones can say goodbye.
She paused to compose herself, and added: “If this is going to happen, and you can provide some comfort that maybe they wouldn’t have gotten if you weren’t there, that’s important.”
The newest lesson: Recovery takes a lot longer than surviving.
Back in Dallas, Donelson spent 17 days on a ventilator. When it was removed, he was too weak to even sit without support and the breathing tube had taken away his ability to swallow.
“He would try to pick his head up off the pillow and it would lob to the side just like a newborn baby,” said his wife, Terri Donelson, who for the first time since his hospital admission finally was allowed to connect with her husband through a videoconferencing app.
For days after waking up, Donelson had tremendous delirium, a dangerous state of mental confusion and agitation. He didn’t know where he was or why, and would try to pull out his IV tubes. Then a bacterial infection hit his lungs.
Then one morning, worried that Donelson suddenly was too quiet, his doctor donned what she calls her “full-helmet, Darth Vader-style mask, which cannot possibly help anyone’s delirium,” and went in to check on him.
“I rubbed his arm,” Goff recalled, asking him to wake up. “I said, ‘Hey are you OK, are you with me?'” and Donelson started trying to talk, at first too raspy to understand.
Eventually, she made out that he was wishing her a happy Easter. She can only guess he heard the date on TV.
The doctor and patient cried together.
That was Donelson’s turning point. He still wasn’t deemed virus-free but physical therapists cautiously spent a little more time helping him gain strength and learn to swallow. His first bite: chocolate pudding.
Terri Donelson countered the long periods of isolation by keeping the video app running non-stop, talking to her husband, and giving him quizzes to stimulate his memory.
“Little by little, with each day, he gains something new, something else reawakens,” she said.
Finally, on June 19, 90 days after the frantic ambulance ride, Donelson — still weak but recovering — went home. His doctor is humbled by his survival and anxiously awaiting better science to help guide care as the pandemic continues.
“If you have one patient who leaves a really strong impression on you, you may interpret that patient’s experience to be the hallmark. Until we have large, population-based studies of actual outcomes, it’s really hard to know what’s real and what’s not real,” Goff said. (VOA)