As CEO of a hospital during the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve experienced a wide array of new challenges. It has taken every one of our employees acting as a team to tackle those challenges and continue to provide care to our community. But Covid-19 hit so close to home recently, I wanted to share my own experience with this virus.
Unexpectedly, I contracted Covid-19 a few weeks ago. To date, I still have no idea where I was exposed and can only assume I was around someone asymptomatic. I will share that I received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine shortly after they were approved, and throughout the pandemic considered myself to have been very cautious.
Even after becoming fully vaccinated, I felt precautions such as social distancing, diligent hand hygiene and masking were still appropriate, based on circumstances. When around my family or those vaccinated, I was less cautious. When walking into a busy retail space, for example, I was considerably more cautious.
In early September, I was incredibly anxious for the arrival of approved Covid-19 booster doses and had planned to receive one myself as soon as they became available. You can imagine my dismay in learning I was COVID positive on the very day Fitzgibbon Hospital received our standing order for boosters.
On a Friday, several days before I tested positive, I had a few sniffles and a scratchy throat. The symptoms were not unlike ones I had experienced here and there over the last two years. I didn’t give it much thought. On Sunday, I felt completely drained and began running a fever. In denial, I thought I would stay home on Monday and, hopefully, my symptoms would just “go away.” I would be good to go for the rest of the week. That was not to be.
I remained home on Monday, still feverish and feeling incredibly drained. I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed, let alone travel to get tested. On Tuesday, having moved past my denial, I dressed and made my way into the hospital with the intent to test first thing that morning. Still hoping that I had some other kind of ailment, I was optimistic and hoped for a full day of business as usual.
I arrived a little later than normal, as I had to just sit down several times while getting ready due to a lack of energy. Once on site, I went directly to the Fitzgibbon laboratory where they did a rapid COVID test. I then headed back to isolate in my office while waiting on my result. Very shortly thereafter, an individual from our lab told me my test turned positive as they touched the swab to the test kit.
I have to admit that in that moment of hearing …. “you are positive,” I was completely and utterly gripped by fear. We have witnessed so much over this pandemic - in the media and right here at Fitzgibbon Hospital and The Living Center nursing home, where so many of us work each and every day - I was just overwhelmed by anxiety in that moment.
After hearing the news, I quickly reached out to arrange to receive the monoclonal antibody infusion. I do have high blood pressure (no surprise when you work in hospital administration during a pandemic), so I knew I would qualify for the infusion. I also knew this treatment has been incredibly effective in mitigating hospitalizations.
While I was waiting to be cleared for the infusion, the fear and anxiety once again took over. I realized I felt a bit sick and light-headed. As I braced myself against the wall, I knew I was about to pass out. To avoid passing out in a room with no one around to assist, I made my way to our administrative offices. I recall uttering the words, “I don’t feel well,” to a group of office mates who had no idea I was COVID positive.
The next thing I recall is that I was in my own office chair with a team of people around me calling my name and offering me a cold cloth. Others were arranging to wheel me to the Emergency Room. As the fog cleared, and I struggled to get my bearings, I recall only that I asked for a mask and shared that I was COVID positive.
In the ER, they quickly identified that my blood pressure had dropped incredibly low: the reason I passed out. I am sure that my reaction to being positive and dehydration from the preceding several days all played a role in that terrifying experience. The ER providers administered a couple of bags of fluids, returning my pressures to a level that allowed me to leave the ER and move to the infusion area where I would receive the monoclonal antibody.
I returned home that afternoon, lost my smell and some of my taste and spent most of the next two weeks sleeping. The depletion of energy was like nothing I have ever experienced for such a sustained period of time. I was fortunate that I did not experience any issues with breathing or oxygen levels, which I attribute to my vaccination status and the infusion.
More than three weeks have passed since I have recovered. Yet I still am not quite at 100% in terms of energy, and my sense of smell has not yet returned.
Perhaps what was most profound about my experience was the range of emotions I felt throughout the illness. I went through them all: denial, fear, sadness, anger and guilt.
What stood out the most for me were the feelings of anger and guilt. I was angry about everything… about the delay in approving boosters, about those who don’t take appropriate precautions to protect others, about those who put faith in sensationalistic sources of information.... and so on.
I felt an incredible amount of guilt about people I may have unknowingly exposed. That weighed heavily on my conscience. I made personal contact with the folks I had been near, notifying them of the exposure and apologizing for any culpability I may have had if they contracted the virus. Of course, they were all gracious and assured me I should not feel that way. But I just could not help but worry.
I am a faith-based person, and I prayed each and every day that no one would contract the virus from being around me. And, if they did, that God would protect them.
In terms of severity, I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate. I cannot imagine the magnitude of fear that those who become hospitalized face. I still worry about so many things associated with Covid-19. When will I feel 100%, or will I have any long-term effects from the virus? It is tough to keep your perspective and to be optimistic. On the other hand, those worries seem minor compared to the worry of those who struggle to breathe, or who face the fear of going on a ventilator and the chance of dying from this disease.
I remain thankful that I decided to be vaccinated and intend to get my booster as well. I simply hope that you might add this testimonial and my experience to all the other information you have sought out in making your choices about whether to be vaccinated. If it compels even one person to seek out the vaccine, then it has been worth it.
What I know to be true is how incredibly grateful I am to everyone at Fitzgibbon Hospital. I continue to be so proud of our team. I know from my personal experience how compassionate and competent the team is at our hospital. I also hope that everyone reading this will realize the vital role the staff at Fitzgibbon Hospital and The Living Center play in our community. They really are there for you in the moments you need them most. What they do is meaningful, and how they do it is outstanding.