Maryland Department of Health
Fighting Back from the ICU
For Chrissy, 36, what began with feeling “a little bit off” one day at work ended with an 11-day ordeal in the hospital fighting for her life against COVID-19.
Chrissy, a dialysis nurse, said that in late March a colleague of hers began to show symptoms of illness and left work. When Chrissy went to work the next morning her coworker noticed she didn’t look well.
Chrissy left the office immediately and visited her doctor. By the time she had arrived home, her fatigue had increased and she began to notice it took time and effort to leave the car and walk anywhere.
Although she hadn’t eaten all day, when she got home Chrissy couldn’t even manage to eat a handful of crackers. She made her way slowly upstairs to her bedroom on the second floor and went to sleep. She woke early the next morning, with trouble breathing and a fever. Chrissy knew it was time to get to the hospital.
The single mother gathered herself, asking her teenage son to pack a bag for her and to call 911. Fearing the worst, she gave him all of these instructions via telephone, asking him to stay out of the room and to carefully clean the house after she left.
Upon arrival at the St Joseph Medical Center Emergency Room, Chrissy was tested and learned she was positive for COVID-19. She was quickly moved to quarantine care and isolated.
She understood why she was isolated, but said it also left her isolated from her own care — not knowing what was happening or would happen next. Human contact came by way of occasional medications and food trays. Doctors updates came via FaceTime.
“I felt forgotten,” Chrissy says.
As her symptoms progressed Chrissy felt herself growing weaker and weaker. “I felt like I was drowning,” she says.
The level of oxygen in her blood kept dropping and she was told they may have to put her in an assisted coma, intubate and begin ventilation. “They asked me to review my power of attorney. I asked for a chaplain. I was positive that I was going to die,” she remembers.
Things improved when she was moved to the hospital’s ICU, where she was given a diuretic to stimulate kidney function and begin flushing the accumulated fluids out of the body.
“As a dialysis nurse, I was really worried about kidney failure during my time in the hospital,” Chrissy explains. She began to feel her oxygen levels improving just a few hours later.
She also met her own COVID hero, Nurse Barbara who encouraged her to keep fighting with a mixture of empathy and tough mothering. “She deserves some recognition. I know she works a lot and was a big part of why my own recovery happened. She reminded me that I was strong and that I still had a lot of fight left in me when I was ready to give up,” says Chrissy.
Once her oxygen levels were improved, Chrissy was moved to a step up unit where she began walking and progressing bit by bit. She also had time to connect with both her son and her boyfriend using Facetime.
She gradually caught up with the text messages and missed calls from concerned friends she received while hospitalized. “It was a bit overwhelming,” admits Chrissy.
Chrissy returned home from the hospital on April 11. Although she had beaten it, COVID-19 had taken a toll. She lost 15 pounds while in the hospital, but her senses of taste smell and her appetite all returned after a week. Her lungs are not at full capacity, leaving her winded after simple tasks.
Chrissy worries that some of the scarring from the virus may be permanent, but is working hard with her Incentive Spectrometer to increase lung function.
Things are somewhat normal for Chrissy now. After two weeks home, she was able to see her boyfriend. She also felt comfortable sharing the news with her two elderly parents.
On May 8, Chrissy returned to work at the dialysis clinic. She is still careful with infection control both there at the clinic and at home too.
“I’m still sanitizing, using good hygiene and wearing a mask. It’s not clear to me that I can’t get this again. I had to fight so hard to get out of the ICU, I’m not going back,” she says.