Emergency – Introducing Cindy

Cindy slowly walked down the short path from her car to a shaded picnic table in the park where we agreed to meet. Though I had never met her, immediately I knew that she was my interviewee. Everything about Cindy’s gait suggested that she was tired. Understandably so! Cindy was recovering from Covid-19.

Cindy is a respiratory therapist that works at St. Mary Mercy Hospital in Livonia, Michigan. The 302-bed hospital was one of the hardest hit in the Detroit area at the beginning of the pandemic. Patients having Covid -19 began to trickle into the hospital in early March.

By Mid-March, there was a deluge of new patients daily. Cindy says that nothing could have prepared them for what was to come. The patient population doubled overnight, and the hospital, now running in crisis mode, considered closing its maternity ward to add more beds for people that required respirators.

Initially, the result of Covid-19 tests could take up to two weeks to return. As a result, Emergency doctors began to assume that each new patient had the virus, though each presented very different symptoms. Complicating matters was that no one fully understood how to treat Covid patients. However, they began to notice that the patients that did respond well to treatment had one or more co-morbidities. Co-morbidities include obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, or having any other immuno-compromised illness.

Patients that required respirators exceeded what St. Mary Mercy Hospital had on hand. Unfortunately, new respirators were not available for purchase, but emergency service providers donated theirs to help the hospital through its crisis period. To put the increased need into context, Cindy stated that there would be a need for 5 respirators at one time on a typical day. A heavy day could require 10. But a Covid day, at the worst, required  25 respirators was in constant use.

Many patients went into renal failure and required CRT (continuous renal replacement therapy). Ideally, treatment is given 24/7  until symptoms dissipate. Unfortunately, however, the hospital had far more patients that required CRT than it could provide. Unfortunately, though, with only two dialysis machines, it was impossible to keep up with demand. Nevertheless, the hospital did the best it could to provide treatment. For example, instead of treating two patients 24 hours each, four patients were given treatment, 12-hours on and 12-hours off. Daily, doctors made gut-wrenching decisions regarding which patients would receive available therapies based upon their likelihood to survive.  

PPE’s were in short supply. The hospital quickly ran out of disposable gowns and began using reusable ones. In addition, masks, typically changed after each patient, were occasionally reused. Despite this, Cindy never felt unsafe.

Cindy said that the onslaught of patients, not knowing how to treat patients, and the sheer number of deaths were stressful. Everyone picked up extra hours and did what they could to provide patient care. Death is a part of Cindy’s job, and in some ways, she has grown comfortable knowing that it is the end time for a person. However, the reality of death hit Cindy hard as they lost 13 Sisters from the Convent House next door to the hospital. The sisters were ever-present as volunteers. Cindy saw the nuns in the cafeteria every morning as they drank coffee and watched the news or a baseball game. The loss of the Sisters broke her heart.

Cindy, herself contracted Covid-19. Not as she administered patient care, but when she took a break. She and four other employees crowded into a cramped breakroom. She doesn’t have a reason why, but they let their guard down. Perhaps from fatigue or denial, but each person in the room pulled their mask down. They chatted for less than fifteen minutes and returned to work. The next day it was learned that one of the staff members that had been in the break room had not been feeling 100% that day but came to work anyway. The following day she tested positive for Covid-19. As it turns out, everyone in the room ended up with the virus.

Cindy considers her case of Covid-19 mild compared to others. Unfortunately, though, during the second week, she experienced extreme shortness of breath and fatigue. Cindy became ill on May 8th and returned to work three weeks later. Two months later, Cindy reported that she still experienced shortness of breath and fatigue at our interview.

I asked Cindy how we would get through the pandemic. Cindy is a realist that softens her opinions with humor. She said first that we need to continue to social distance and wear masks. Then, Cindy predicted that a vaccine would be created, that it would be done too quickly, rolled out poorly, and that a large percentage of the population would not be willing to be vaccinated. She even predicted that the vaccine would likely fail and that its failure would create more angst amongst people already skeptical about all things Covid-19.

Thank you, Cindy, for your participation in A Time To Heal

A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to complex topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader’s. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below.

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