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  • Writer's pictureHoosier Doc

Covid is a Tornado

Como Turbo Specialized E-Bike on a Bridge
Edith on my last ride before I got sidelined.

Sorry I've not been sharing much about my bike this last week and a half. It's been too hard. My last ride was a full on beast-mode 18-miler and I regret nothing. I had no idea that would be my last ride in 3 weeks. You see, my life was flip-turned-upside down by gallstones last week. This led to me being hospitalized in limbo waiting on a Covid swab so they could operate. I saw things I've never seen and I left both incredibly thankful for the health care professionals working around me and terrified for the health of the general public. On Wednesday last week, I began experiencing excruciating pain - worse than anything other than labor or a kidney stone. It was horrendous. I was terrified, lying on my bathroom floor puking and then doing work while I watched R's scared face bob in and out, checking on me. I worried for awhile I was going to die right there. As a parent, this was a worst-case scenario. I suffered through a Zoom meeting with her because I knew she needed it. I will be forever grateful I did that - as hard as it was - because it was the last moment of love, bonding, and peace I would have with my baby before the roller coaster ride that has ensued since. By Thursday, the pain was worse. My insurance nurseline told me to immediately go to the ER and I, grudgingly followed. I was terrified to present at a hospital in the middle of a freaking pandemic. As an asthmatic, this felt like a worst-case scenario and contrary to what I should be doing. I'd been home - isolated - for eight weeks. I had done everything right to minimize contact and here I was. And, worse, I was alone. Completely alone at this hospital because no visitors were permitted. My husband, a person who hates hospitals, has never had an IV, and is generally terrified when I end up in one, was at home trying to keep it together. It was so hard on both of us. I was discharged and told I had a gallstone but that it would get better and eventually I'd need surgery. I was sent home with a bit of pain medication. I never should have been discharged. About a day later, I came back. Again, the nurseline told me to go in immediately or call an ambulance if I could not. We woke R up from sleep and went to the ER as fast as we could, knowing that at this point, I had to be admitted. I was scared and afraid. The pain had morphed into something unbearable. I literally screamed waiting for help. This was something I didn't even do on a pitocin-induced labor after having my water broken before I got an epidural. I'd endured that pain for 14 hours before I agreed I needed help during labor. I couldn't endure even a moment more of this. I eventually got pain meds and met with a very confused and concerned surgeon who told me my stone was at least 2 cm long based on my imaging from just shortly before returning and why wasn't I admitted last time? I moved upstairs, again scared. I was all alone. My only contact with my family was via my cellphone which was losing charge. R's dad had packed my charger smartly as we were running out of the house. I was told by a kind nurse I'd be having surgery as soon as they could schedule me, and as it was still early in the morning, that looked likely. I was relieved. Then, a few minutes later, my world blew up again. Confused, the nurse returned to tell me I needed a Covid swab. Change in policy. I needed a negative swab. I protested because I had been isolated for 8 weeks and was totally asymptomatic. I had taken every precaution. Nope. Had to be swabbed. My surgeon gave me a legitimate reason why. This thing is like a tornado. Who it hits often makes no sense and being put under can lead to death in patients with pre-existing conditions like mine up to 20% of the time. This was a risk the surgeon didn't want to take and it also meant if I later was positive, anyone else who had used the ER or operated on me would be at-risk. I agreed to the swab and was told I should have it back that night or in the wee-hours. I sincerely doubted this because I knew with the economy "opening up" things were about to get real. And, unfortunately, they did. Sunday seemed to come and go. My surgery was moved back and then, basically, I asked them to level with me because if I wasn't getting in that day, I needed to eat. It had been 5 days since I had kept down food. My body was so, so weak. I felt my body shutting down and had already lost 10 lbs. I was also suffering from pretty bad caffeine withdrawal which my doctor suggested we remedy immediately with some caffeine pills. That did help immensely. However, my surgery was postponed. My doctor had to call in a favor at the state lab for someone to retrieve my swab and expedite it. It was put in for the next batch but processing these labs still takes hours. It was infuriating. The lab had been hammered with tests. The idea that this was slowing in Indiana was baked and if you look at the numbers coming out from tests submitted on Sunday and Monday, you will see they are exploding. My test was in limbo just like all of those people were in limbo. We were all just waiting for the tornado. Of course my swab came back negative just before 10PM - a full 36 hours after it was submitted. Had my doctor not called in a favor, it would have gone on even longer, I tell you! This experience showed me how bad the testing system is. Our labs are understaffed, underfunded, and do not have enough machines to run tests. It seems like more people are being tested and the numbers finally reflect this. That's great. However, our labs cannot keep up. We need to realize this before people go out willy-nilly to eat at restaurants and hit the mall. I eventually got into surgery in what can best be described as an incredibly chaotic state. I was notified 5 minutes before I went in on Monday morning. I had no time to process my situation and it was unlike any surgery I'd ever had. I had had emergency surgery before but I can say I was never as terrified about dying alone and never seeing my baby again as I was in this moment. I didn't even get to call my husband or say I love you to my kid. I thankfully woke up and was alone but alive. Again, very scary. I did get discharged and was in a great deal of pain but I climbed into our car thankful to see my husband and my baby. R was actually acting TERRIBLE and causing me pain - due to the fact that she missed me - by kicking my seat. This was awful. We got my pain meds and then my husband insisted we do the one thing I really wanted post-surgery which was get me an iced mocha from Starbucks. I hadn't had Starbucks in 8 weeks. I insisted it would take too long and be a bother but he was right. It was glorious and worth the 25-minute wait. The recovery has not been smooth and I'm thankful my husband has been home with us because I could not have cared for R on my own at all. I am not up to walking all over or making food or lifting things. I cannot lift anything over 10 lb for the next 2 weeks. Nothing over 25 lb for the next 6 weeks. Thankfully, we taught R not to be picked up by me back when she was only 40 lbs and I started having mysterious back pain in December. While some of that was definitely ergonomic-related and that was confirmed, I'm also sure some of it was due to the massive (more than 1 inch) gallstone that I was carrying around unknowingly. I will not be able to lift her for at least 6 weeks but at least we have established that as normal now. I am very concerned about developing Covid despite feeling that my nurses and doctors did everything they could to keep me safe. However, I was still in a hospital. And, moreover, I heard things. Nurses - the good ones, not the nurse who refused to believe I needed to talk to my husband or have access to my computer or phone - confided in me about their fears. My room was a safe place people came to chat. I needed social interaction. They needed a place to watch bad tv, which was always on. Most of my nurses had come to this wing after working a month in a hot zone. They were not usually assigned to deal with heart attack and lung patients. I was put there to cocoon me on my way to surgery. These were highly-qualified nurses who had been treating Covid patients and then opted to take a 2 week time off to be reassigned. Many expressed dealing with what they could only attribute to PTSD and generalized anxiety. They even treated other medical providers - young, healthy doctors and nurses - some which did not survive. They helped families of patients talk and facetime relatives as they died. They expressed this was other-worldly. It was not like the flu. It was not anything they were prepared for. My nurses and doctors worked in 3 masks and when they did my swab had to use head-to-toe PPE. This takes a toll on them. I have asthma and wearing a respirator just lying in bed meant I suffered from lower O2 levels. I cannot imagine wearing a cotton mask, a respirator, and then a surgical mask all the time. These nurses sweated a lot and had to be prepared to change scrubs because of the sweat. They wore masks from the time they left their cars until the time they returned - hospital policy. The kept saying Covid was a tornado. It would hit old people hard but also those who had no apparent risk factors. This was unlike any other sickness. People walked in one morning displaying their first symptoms and then some would leave in a day or so after oxygen while others would stay a week or more, end up on a vent, and some would die. Unlike with the flu, it was unclear who would be an "easy case." It was hard on them, I'm sure. They were thankful I was a "stay home forever" person because it meant I was less likely to end up taking up a bed. They also reminded me that no one seems to care about the long-term implications of Covid. There are real impacts - scarring, decreased lung capacity, stroke risk - that we're just learning about. It made me fearful for people who are willfully ignorant. The thing is, I know more than ever my family is doing the right thing by staying home. We are reducing our risk and the burden on the health care system. However, as states open up, we're at risk of getting rid of that safety net. I do have hope that with actual testing - not just more testing but fast and accessible testing - and contract tracing we can open up more. I do not have hope about the way we've done it here. The numbers here are not promising. Please, please stay home, folks. If you can. I'm not talking about essential workers who have no choice but to go out. I commend you. However, those of us who can stay home should actively attempt to stay home whenever possible. Now is not the time to go on vacation or be selfish and hold large social gatherings. Now is time to stay in and do your part to stop this. Just because you can go to the mall, should you? If you do not need to, please don't. And if you have to go out, wear a mask. For those around you who also have to go out, you're showing respect. Continue to distance yourself. Your children cannot social distance on a playdate so don't put them up to this. This is not about your individual need to be social or have "fun". It sucks. It's actually life-or-death, though, even if you think you're immune. I'm going to be back on a bike as soon as I can and feel okay - probably on the 18th. I can't ride for a least that long. It sucks. I miss that mental health break. However, it's going to happen sooner or later. I just have to let it go. I've gotten 850 miles in, my mileage for May will suck, but stuff happens. I couldn't help needing emergency surgery in a pandemic.

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