In this special feature, our friend, fellow traveller and truly talented journalist Emily Greenberger tells her family’s harrowing story from New York City – the current US epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak.
In this unprecedented time when the story changes hourly across the entire globe, keep in mind that this piece was written on 29 March 2020.
By Emily Greenberger
He had no obvious symptoms when a cautionary test was administered. Thank goodness it was.
My father, a 73-year-old retired lawyer, is no stranger to hospitals. Over the last two decades, he has undergone emergency heart surgeries, had an astounding array of life-saving devices implanted, and survived failure of multiple organs.
In January of this year, it was determined that he required a heart transplant. And so our latest journey began: he moved from the hospital near our family home in New Jersey to a larger facility in the Bronx, New York that is renowned for its transplant team.
Then he acquired an infection that bumped him off of the transplant list and in its place, he had an 11-hour surgery for implantation of an LVAD (a left ventricular assist device), and fought the resulting complications including pneumonia and a bit of lung collapse.
In this current state – older, compromised immune system, and not recovered from surgery – my father is the exact demographic that we have come to know is most vulnerable to COVID-19.
So when my father was tested for COVID-19 “just to rule it out” and it came back positive just two days ago, there was no question that it had come from within the hospital. Every doctor and nurse we have spoken to in these two days sounds completely beaten down, confused, and – most poignantly – hopeless.
This virus is as overwhelming to them as it is to us. One doctor, whom my mother named the “eternal optimist,” called us to discuss my father’s diagnosis and revealed that he, his wife, and his baby all tested positive.
Even in the Cardiac Care Unit, where my dad’s bed lies, roughly 65% of patients tested positive, and doctors believe it won’t be long until it reaches 100%.
The virus is absolutely rampant among staff and patients alike and it comes down to a simple lack of necessary resources. It’s no longer headline news that the US can’t produce enough medical equipment fast enough and that hospitals are bursting at the seams to provide beds for patients.
Instead of getting mad at state and federal government, I am choosing to see what shines.
Instead of getting mad at state and federal government, I am choosing to see what shines. There have been tremendous displays of humanity during these desperate times. From New York to London and beyond, medical professionals are stepping beyond their specialties to step into the ICU to help.
Essential mental health professionals are offering sessions over the phone or video chat. I even have a scenic artist friend who rejoined a former employer, which has turned its fabrication studio into a full-on production line for face shields for medical staff.
My own cousins and dear friends face grave fear of going to their hospital shifts every single day as ER doctors, PA’s, and nurses so that they can treat every patient possible and learn as much as they can about this virus, all while dressed head-to-toe in protective gear.
On top of their basic tasks, many are providing excellent bedside manner; now, when visitors are banned from hospitals and we need to rely on healthcare staff to help us stay connected to our loved ones, the caretakers and families of patients need that level of attention and care to get us through the day.
These are the acts of heroes, the answers to our desperate pleas for humanity in dark times. I thank each and every one of our heroes.
In the two days since his diagnosis, the conversation has pivoted from my dad’s surgery recovery and what will be required of the caretakers to make his new LVAD work to pure survival. As of today, the odds are stacked against him in every way: most patients who contract the virus with other conditions like his don’t make it through.
If the family chooses to put the patient on a ventilator, they can remain on it for 1-3 weeks and still face a mortality rate of 80%.
And most of all, there is no cure or proven medical intervention yet.
My family is struggling to grasp our surreal reality of not being with him during what could be his last days, how we wouldn’t be able to gather to mourn, and what our lives look like without my father.
Unfortunately, we know that we are not alone.
This unfathomable, unprecedented reality is far too common right now across the world.
Whilst we can’t predict the future in our worlds at home, let alone the world as a whole, let’s remember to think beyond ourselves and our boredom, to thank our loved ones for their acts of bravery and generosity, and above all, to take full responsibility of staying safe to save ourselves.
Edit: it’s with profound sadness and grief that we heard that Emily’s father passed away just four days after this story was published. Although Emily and her family are crushed by what’s happened, she wants to thank everyone for their kind words, thoughts and prayers of support and love.