Hospitalized during COVID-19

Posted7/26/2020 12:01 AM

I was due to have a mammogram. I skipped it. I was due for a follow-up chest MRI. I skipped that. As a former smoker, I had scheduled a CT scan for May. I skipped that, too.

The woman who helped me raise my children, who has been with me for 30 years, who I love with all my heart, has been in chemo since last fall. She can't avoid going to the hospital, and I could never live with myself if I were to give her COVID.


So I had done everything I can to keep her safe. No hospitals for me.

But my body gave in.

Faced with clear evidence that I was bleeding internally, somewhere, my (ex) family doctor told my son to call an ambulance and get me to the hospital, ASAP. My kids stood outside as the ambulance and fire truck pulled up to my house. The paramedics in Santa Monica were great; not only did they know exactly what they were doing, but they did it with kindness and compassion, both toward me and toward my children.

That was pretty much the end of kindness and compassion. And who could blame them?

I tested negative for COVID and was ultimately given a room on a non-COVID floor. I've been in the Santa Monica hospital before. That time, three years ago, the doctors and nurses could not have been better; I marveled that the smaller hospital (smaller than Cedars-Sinai, where the celebrities go, where most of my doctors have privileges) was so much easier to manage, for me and for my family, than the supposedly "better" hospital I was used to. So I wasn't afraid when the ambulance driver told me they could only take me to the hospital closest to my home. No problem, I thought; my family doctor even had privileges there.

The good news is that the doctors I'd never met diagnosed the bleed -- two large ulcers -- and that my new family doctor (from Cedars), who I met on FaceTime, put me on medicine that seems to have stopped the bleeding, and relieved me of the chronic stomach pain I've been enduring (with the help of pain pills) for years.

The bad news is that being in the hospital, even for something that was not nearly as frightening as COVID, is absolutely miserable.

The nurses, with one exception, were at best one step away from being abusive. I either called for help too often (why do you have to go to the bathroom so often?) or not often enough (why did you get out of bed without calling?). My favorite aide looked on in horror as the nurses chewed me out, crossing the line from frustration to abuse.

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Outside my door during shift change, I could hear myself being described as a problem patient, not only for the bathroom business but also because, in the ER, they hooked up my IVs in the crook of each elbow so that if I so much as bent my arms to pick up a book or make a phone call, the alarms would sound. Keep your arms straight! Don't even think of asking for food and water! No one bothered to change the order for days after I had the procedures.

And who could blame them? Even on a non-COVID floor, fear, frustration and loneliness ruled. In normal times, a friend or family member would be there to help. In these times, it all falls on the nurses, who have good reason to worry about themselves and their families, and who are left to do everything.

One night, late, I tried to change my gown, drenched with sweat from the new medicines. But undoing the snaps, getting myself out of the old gown and into the new one, was nearly impossible. My door was open, in the hopes that I would see a nurse walking by. Instead, I found myself looking at a middle-aged man who was watching my struggle. He didn't look like a nurse. When a nurse finally came, she told me that no one who could help me worked on the floor. And then she hurried on to the next patient.

To keep myself calm, I started a list, keeping track of which nurses and aides were the most brutal. When I got home, I tore up the list. It is no time for complaints. I'm out of the hospital. I'm lucky. The men and women who took care of me are not so lucky. I am grateful to them.

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