Rotary Club of Portsmouth NH

Portsmouth
We meet In Person
Thursdays at 12:15 PM
Portsmouth Country Club
80 Country Club Lane
2nd Floor
Greenland, NH 03840
United States of America
Below is Shari's amazing COVID survival story, which she shared with us during the Zoom meeting last Thursday July 9th:
 
I caught Covid 19 and ended up having a "severe" case; hospitalized for almost three weeks, with three ( or four?)  torturous nights in the ICU.   I will recount my experience here because everyone I tell my story to wants to know more;  because no one (including the "expert" doctors) know anything about this disease yet;  what happened to me could happen to you, or your wife, husband, son, daughter, grandmother, grandfather, best friend.   There is no rhyme or reason to who seems to get it, and why some are asymptomatic, and others, like me, are felled.  
 
I'm athletic.  I'm 5'4" and until I got sick, I weighed about 135.   I was training for some high-altitude hiking in Peru for much of the winter as we were to leave on our trip April 7th.  The weekend before I got sick, we snowshoed up Mt Washington (harder than hiking it), and the next day we did more hiking in the White Mountains.   We saw about 5 people the whole time, 6 feet or more away.  
 
 Monday, I went running with my running partner and she asked me why I was coughing.  Just a lingering cough I guessed, not thinking about it.
 
By Thursday, I could barely participate in my Zoom book club I was coughing so hard.  I emailed my doctor who advised me to come in for a Covid test the next day, which I did.  The next day I was called by my doctor's office who told me my test was positive and I should isolate, which I had already been doing for weeks.   I figured that I'll have a mild case, I'm in great shape and health.
 
By Monday my diaphragm was killing me from my nonstop coughing.   I couldn't eat.  All I did was cough and sleep.  I was running a little fever.  I had diarrhea.  My doctor called in some cough medicine with codeine that did nothing at all.  It was hard for me to get out of bed Tuesday morning to email her that, but I was harassed by one of my best friends until I did it.
 
I probably would have continued to tough it out at home had my friend not been so insistent I reach out to my doctor.  She bugged me until I did.  (It was hard getting out of bed to do it, too.)
 
My doctor wanted me to immediately come to the ER for a chest x-ray; she advised them in advance that a Covid positive person was coming.   I drove myself there - no big deal.  The doctors attended to me in their PPE, taking an x-ray first thing:  Covid pneumonia.  I was admitted and put on oxygen.   WHAT?  Another girlfriend texted me asking when I'd be home from the x-ray...where was I? Why wasn't I answering?  
 
I texted my family, my sister, and my best friends, and then my phone died.
 
5 hours later in my Covid hospital room at my community hospital in NH, I had been delivered a phone charger.   5 hours offline and I barely noticed.  Too sick to care.
 
The next week is now a bit of a blur.   I spent my days coughing, with fever, on oxygen, and sleeping.  I stopped eating; I didn't even think of food.  I couldn't drink enough ice water though; the oxygen dries you out.   No one came into my room unless they had to (my nurse came in about twice a day maybe?, and someone came in to take blood every day.)  Other than that, I was alone.  Which was fine.   Too sick to talk or care.  Doctors called me on the room telephone.
 
I later learned I was the third Covid person the hospital had admitted.  My hospitalist, the very nicest man, wasn't sure what to do (no one knows with Covid) ...he was working with my sister, an OBGYN, who lives across the country in California, trying to decide.  Because I am a supreme optimist, I believed I would be better soon.  He told me, in most cases (true) you turn the corner at day 8.  I was almost there.  I would turn a corner tomorrow.   I didn't want to be transferred to the mayhem of Boston; maybe if I needed a transfer I should go to Dartmouth Hitchcock, the teaching hospital in my own state?  I was too sick to understand that other hospitals could care for me with diagnostics, therapeutics, and equipment that I couldn't access in my hospital.  (Though affiliated with MGH, my hospital did not have access to the anti-viral or the anti-inflammatory drugs.)  My friends kept harassing me to ask for a transfer to a Boston hospital which have more options.  My hospitalist asked me what I wanted to do and finally I told him to please just ask my sister.  I was too sick to think.
 
Also, I think it’s interesting to mention, since they didn’t know what to do, they put me on a course of hydroxychloroquine.  That did zero.
 
Then I deteriorated and was transferred to the ICU.  They put me on a BiPap machine:  the air pressure keeps the throat muscles from collapsing and reduces obstructions by acting as a splint.  The machine pushed more than 12 liters of oxygen into my face while I was told to "prone" (lay on your stomach) on an uncomfortable hospital bed not built for stomach sleeping.   It sounded like a jet engine and I begged for earplugs, I thought I'd be deaf by morning.  The poor nurse had to suit up in her hazmat PPE just to deliver ear plugs and leave.    Then I started to hallucinate.   I hallucinated that I went to my nurse's back yard for a BBQ and she told me she was sorry but they really had no plan for me.   Later I got up from my prone position and knocked on my Covid room ICU door and said "my virus is gone!"   I either hallucinated or the nurse then told me to get back into my prone position or they would have to vent me.
 
I've since been told that I was really sick;  Dartmouth did not have a Covid bed for me, nor did they the  experimental anti-viral drug Remdesivir  available in an "open-label" study, where you are guaranteed to get the drug and not a placebo.  Details sketchy here on my end, but somehow, they found me a bed at Brigham and Women's ICU, where a Remdesivir clinical trial was underway for "severe" Covid patients.  All in the study would receive the drug.
 
Then (I heard later) I was too sick and unstable to be transferred.   Suddenly, a brief window of stability occurred, and I was in an ambulance headed to Boston.
 
I spent a day or two in the ICU at Brigham.  While I was there, I was approved for the Remdesevir clinical trial.  Awesome!, my doctors told me I'd start feeling better the next day.  My optimism re-kicked in.   I was also told that though it was a 10-day course, a lot of patients got better and left within 5 days.  Yippee!
 
They gave me my first IV dose; within a few hours I have NEVER felt sicker.   One of the major side effects of Remdesivir is nausea.  They could only give me a drug for nausea every 8 hours, but it lasted about 4 hours, so I was extremely nauseous for most of each day.  Anyway, apparently something was getting better because I was transferred out of the ICU into a regular Covid room.
 
 At one point I asked a nurse, does it matter that I haven't eaten any food in 15 days?  She said just stay hydrated, which was easy.   I was always thirsty and never hungry.  
 
Then, sadly, I was re transferred into the ICU again.   My sister put a good spin on it saying I would get better oversight and care, though I'm sorry, I just did not believe that going back into the ICU was a GOOD thing.  It was very demoralizing. 
 
Apparently, this particular night, I had deteriorated to the point where I needed to prone (OWWW) and get 14L of oxygen smashed into my face at 40%.   16L at 60% is the maximum they can do and then they move to you a ventilator.  
 
Then, suddenly (no idea why) I was moved OUT of the ICU into another Covid room in the hospital.  Yay!
 
 A thing about Covid hospital rooms.  No one ever comes in.   The doctors tend to call you on your hospital phone, though my wonderful doctors did come in twice and talked to me directly.  I also had an ipad in my room so if I called the nurses station for help, someone would appear on my ipad so we could see each other.  My nurses were wearing a lot of PPE and sometimes we had a hard time hearing each other.   But I have to say my nurse and the people who took my blood were all AMAZING people, really the kindest and most gentle natures.  One nurse of mine helped me take my first shower and then braided my hair so it wouldn't be the rats nest it had become.  I know everyone always says that about health care workers, but I had never experienced it firsthand.  And it's true.  I guess you don't go into that profession unless you are truly an altruistic person.  
 
Another thing.   My company had sent me the most amazing tower of food:  pistachios, brie, all sorts of fruits.   It must have cost $250.   My night nurse said it was so beautiful I just had to see it.  I think I said please just take a photo and show it to me, but she brought it in to my Covid room for me to see.  Since I was not eating, and now it was Covid, we eventually had to throw it out.  If it had stayed at the nurses station, they could have picked through it and taken things home.  Sorry about that.
 
I continued to get the Remdesivir and it make me feel horribly sick every day.   No 5-day course and leave the hospital for me!   I was a 10-day patient.   On the 10th day I wanted to refuse the dose.   My friends and my doctor talked me into that one final dose.  I was really on the fence, that's how sick it made me.  
 
Although I had tested positive for Covid on April 3rd, the hospital administered another test on April 14th, and I was still Covid positive.   However, the day I was to leave April 24th they did not retest me. They were concerned about the validity of the test, so I didn't know if I was still positive and contagious or not.  My own doctor also said she wouldn't test me again for a few weeks so she could be sure the test was correct.
 
I went home not knowing if I might infect my family.
 
Now I've been home for two weeks.   I have memory issues (docs say ICU Covid patients tend to get some PTSD, and maybe that's what it's from, though I have no other symptoms; I’m so happy to be home!)   I am connected to oxygen 24/7 and my doctors don't know how long that might last.   Covid doctors don't know a lot because they are infectious disease doctors that were thrown into this thing 3 months ago and the information keeps changing.  To almost every question I asked, their answer was "we don't know."
 
Am I contagious?  "We don't know."
Will my lungs heal completely?  "We don't know."
Can I get it again?  "We don't know."
How long will I be on oxygen?  "We don't know."
If I have antibodies do they protect me?  "We don't know, and we also don't know if you do have them, how long they might last.
 
There is not a Covid survivor alive, that is 10 months out yet, so they don't know.
 
In the end I lost 23 pounds.  When I got home, I weighed what I weighed as a freshman in high school.  I had run 3 miles in 30 minutes 4 weeks ago.   Now I couldn't stand up from a seated position.
 
My doctor offered a possible 6-9 week recovery time (I'm still on oxygen 24/7 and I get exhausted at the end of each day.)  I read in a John Hopkins journal it can take 3 months to a year.   I still bought my ski pass for next year in a fit of optimism yesterday. 
 
That was part of my experience but I'm forgetful of a lot of what happened.  Maybe that's a good thing.