COVID-19 patient leaves hospital

Published 5:13 pm Wednesday, April 15, 2020

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One of the first COVID-19 patients in Suffolk was released from Sentara Obici Hospital to great fanfare on Tuesday afternoon.

A video posted on Obici’s Facebook page on Wednesday morning shows the gentleman being wheeled through the atrium to the front doors of the hospital, waving to dozens of cheering and clapping hospital workers. Although it’s barely audible over the joyous sounds, the theme from “Rocky” is playing in the background.

The man, in his 50s, had been in the hospital for more than two weeks and spent much of that time intubated in the intensive care unit. However, he never gave up and eventually recovered enough to step down from the ICU and to go home a few days later.

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“For him to be able to celebrate was paramount,” said Marianne Walston, nursing director for Sentara Obici Hospital Patient Care Services. “It was just really emotional to see him coming down and leaving the hospital.”

The reunion with his wife at the hospital doors was the best part, she said.

“To see her and him see each other again in person, it was very emotional,” she said.

The patient gave permission for hospital staff to speak about some aspects of his care, which they did on a conference call with the Suffolk News-Herald Wednesday afternoon. The News-Herald may be able to speak with the patient himself at a later date.

The man first went to the Sentara BelleHarbour emergency department in North Suffolk in late March, according to Vicki Bishop, an emergency department nurse there. He told the workers that he had received notification from a cruise line he had been on that someone else on his cruise tested positive.

“He looked pretty sick, so we kind of suspected from the very beginning that he was going to be positive,” Bishop said.

The goal with all patients who are suspected of having COVID-19 is to keep them safe, as well as staff and other patients who are there for other issues, Bishop said. They are separated from other patients, and certain staff each day are designated to take care of only those patients who have COVID-19 symptoms. In addition, when a caregiver enters the room, another stands outside to fetch any needed supplies.

“We try to minimize how many people come in contact and are going in and out of the room,” Bishop said.

The patient was transferred to Sentara Obici Hospital within hours.

“Once he got to Obici, his condition fairly quickly worsened, to the point he was transferred to ICU and put on a ventilator,” Walston said. “These patients can get pretty sick pretty quick.”

The patient was tested for COVID-19, and the test eventually came back positive. Although some tests were taking nearly two weeks, his came back in less than a week, Walston said.

The hospital staff who spoke Wednesday said different departments involved in the care of COVID-19 patients are having regular calls — some daily, some weekly — to talk about best practices.

“All the minds tend to work together,” Walston said.

Jim Carr, a respiratory therapist at Obici, echoed that sentiment.

“I have such a strong team here throughout the system that has helped make this successful,” he said.

Carr was among those helping care for the recently released patient while he was intubated. He spoke to the difficulty of caring for patients while covered in protective gear.

“Even though on a daily basis we take care of people who are critically ill … it made it even more difficult to have all of our protective gear on while performing some pretty critical maneuvers,” he said.

Olivia White, a night shift nurse in the Obici ICU, said she had an emotional moment with the patient the first night he was off the ventilator.

“The only thing I could think about was, ‘Hey, do you have a phone?’” she said.

She found his phone in his belongings, charged it up and was able to contact the man’s wife over Facetime. She had been receiving updates from nurses, but it was the first time she had seen her husband since he went to BelleHarbour.

“That was awesome,” White said. “To know that it had been so many days since his wife had seen him … she had been in communication with the staff, but she hadn’t laid eyes on him. That was amazing.”

White said the man and his wife were both crying — and she was too, under her protective gear.

“My goggles were foggy,” she said.

White then helped the man Facetime with his daughter in North Carolina before going about her regular duties.

“It was an awesome experience to be able to help him and help his family see each other,” she said.

The man had a graduation ceremony — complete with “Pomp & Circumstance” and a certificate — when he left intensive care. He got another great celebration when he left the hospital Tuesday, which was the one posted to the hospital’s Facebook page Wednesday morning.

David Vendt, the emergency department director at Sentara BelleHarbour, said all of the community support for health care workers is helping them to be able to support their patients, and each other.

“I’m very thankful for what the community has done for us,” he said. “It makes your job a little easier on those more stressful days when you’re taking care of these patients and some of the unknowns.”