A Heath Emergency in the Time of Covid-19

by Barb, writing from a family vacation in Stone Harbor, New Jersey

Bill and me and our granddaughters

When we owned our house in Boothbay Harbor, our family–my husband, Bill, our two kids, their spouses, and their kids–used to get together there over the Fourth of July long weekend. When we sold the house, we said, “No worries, we can rent.” Renting a house for a week seemed like a much better idea than paying for a house over the course of a year, especially given the maintenance required by a Victorian by the sea. The first year we rented the house right next to our Boothbay house. But this year, with a baby and a toddler coming with us, we had decided a place by a lake would be better. We made reservations at the campground where we had camped when our kids were little.

The house

By the end of April it was obvious no one was going to be comfortable going to a campground. But we hadn’t all been together since Thanksgiving and longed to see one another. My son and his wife hadn’t met their newest niece, and their seven year-old daughter missed us all. We decided to rent a house in the country that everyone could drive to in one day. We found a place on the Massachusetts/Connecticut border with enough bedrooms and a pool and a pond. The Fourth of July wasn’t available, (a downsized wedding had snapped it up), but the last week in June was. Plans were made. We had all been pretty isolated up to that point. It was our first social venture in months.

The place was great. We were thrilled to be together. My granddaughters were so excited to have another kid to play with that the more than five year difference in their ages wasn’t an obstacle.

Cooking

I started feeling sick around day three. Nothing serious, but lethargy and no appetite, which was annoying because every night a different person cooked and the results were delicious. I finally confessed to Bill. He took me through the covid checklist. The lethargy was my only matching symptom. But I started taking my temperature.

By the fourth night I had a fever of 100.3. We waited until the grandchildren were in bed and called the adults into the living room. I told them I had a fever. I felt terrible. I had been hugging and kissing their kids and preparing food.

They were enormously relieved. “We thought you were going to say you were dying!”

“I wouldn’t tell you I was dying in the middle of a vacation,” I insisted.

Everyone started looking up where to get covid tests, but every place we found required proof of Massachusetts residency, something I couldn’t supply. I felt worse as the night went on and in the morning called a friend with connections to the healthcare industry in Massachusetts. She forwarded an email I wrote describing my symptoms to a friend who is a hospital administrator and a former emergency room doctor. He got right back and said I certainly should have a covid test, since I was staying with so many people, but given my symptoms, the low community transmission rate in Maine and how careful I had been, he thought something else serious was going on with me and I should go to an emergency room right away.

A boatride

My husband dropped me at UMass Memorial Hospital’s emergency room and I walked in on my own. They put me in a covid room with negative airflow since I had a fever and my status was unknown. On that last day in June, the emergency room seemed perfectly normal. There was someone who’d had a heart attack in the next room. There was a kid who’d broken his arm.

My rapid response test came back two hours later as negative. I was happy to be able to call my family and report that. The hospital continued to treat my status as unknown, awaiting the results of the longer test. Aside from the fact that the medical personnel put on fresh PPE every time they entered my room and discarded it when they left, the biggest difference I noticed was I was cared for by a very small team. Two nurses, the attending physician and a resident did all the work, whether it was starting my IV or wheeling me down to have a CAT scan. I assumed this was so the smallest number of personnel had contact with me.

The results of the CAT scan showed a large kidney stone, dangerously infected and going nowhere. At six at night the urologist called to say I needed a procedure to put a stent around the stone. By that point I was starving and lonely and my phone was dying. I thought he meant a procedure while I was awake and I didn’t think I could handle it. I was panicky and weepy until he assured me I would be unconscious for the surgery, at which point I said, “Oh, then do whatever you want.”

Now I’m embarrassed for falling apart. When I think about what must have gone on in that emergency room all spring, and I’m there crying because I’m hungry. I am deeply grateful to have been in a Massachusetts hospital on June 30th, and not on March 30th, or April 30th, or even May 30th.

By the time I woke up in recovery my second covid test had come back negative. They moved me to a non-covid floor in the hospital and the next day I was back at the rental place in time for dinner, with no restrictions except not to lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk.

All recovered

After a couple of courses of antibiotics, I had a second day surgery to remove the original stent, blast the stone, and put in a new stent. The day surgery place at the hospital was pretty normal, except fewer people than usual and everyone wearing masks. The second stent was removed a week ago.

Now I’m at the beach with my brother’s family and my son’s family. I feel fine and I’m so happy to be here.

Readers: Have you had an unusual experience in the time of Carona? Tell us about it.

The whole family together!

62 Thoughts

  1. I am SO glad you didn’t have COVID-19, Barb, and that you got to spend time with family! I have escaped any brushes with it, and after negative tests last week I spent all day Saturday with my family. Mask-free hugs and a delightful toddler were just what I needed.

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  2. Oh, Barb, what a horrible ordeal. I would have fallen apart too. I’m so glad it turned out to be nothing serious and you can get back to enjoying the grandkids.

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  3. Oh, Barb! Kidney stones are horrible! I’ve never had one, but I’ve been through several with my usually tough-guy husband. Considering how they affect him, I don’t WANT one! Very glad you tested negative!

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  4. Barbara, I’m sorry to read about your health troubles but I’m glad you came through it relatively unscathed in the end.

    Here’s to your continued recovery and good health.

    As for me, because I lead a very dull and boring life, I haven’t had anything unusual going on so I have no stories to share with everyone.

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  5. Thank Heaven for the good result, Barb! As for coming apart slightly, that’s called being human instead of fake-y. I was a little Spartan a few weeks ago while a rescue crew got my husband, unhurt, out of a car wreck. Then I whooped like a hyena.
    Stay well!

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  6. Just so glad you are all right! Thank you for sharing such a painfully honest story. As for me, our family just got word that we WON’T have to return to the healthcare system for major treatment, at least for a while…which feels like a huge reprieve in the time of Covid.

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  7. Barb, like all of your stories, this one had an intriguing title, a perfect hook, an attractive locale, a good cast of characters, a mystery, several red herrings, a terrifying antagonist, a moment of danger, and a happy ending! Life imitating art? The happy ending was the best part! Well told and well lived! Love to you and yours.

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  8. I’m glad to hear you’re okay Barb. My brother has had kidney stones and says they are definitely no fun.

    And don’t be embarrassed! You were alone and not well and tired and hungry – of course you were weepy!

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  9. Glad you are well… enjoying family… and beyond what had to be a terrifying time (fearing you might have brought Covid to the family you love). I see the emotions of this somehow working itself into one of your books…… Better to be fiction than happen again. Debra

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  10. What a horrible way to spend a vacation! so glad this had a happy ending Barb. We are all so stressed by this relentless pandemic and sometimes just a little more pressure is all it takes to spring a leak…

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  11. Glad to hear you are better, Barb. I had a similar problem. The ER recommended staying home because they were so busy that it wasn’t safe to go in. I finally found a small satellite ER. It felt creepy, but the staff was amazing. We owe so much to the nurses and doctors who are putting themselves at risk to get us through this crisis. Stay well!

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    1. Here’s the the medical professionals and everyone who works in our hospitals and other facilities. That they had so much kindness and caring left over for me brought tears to my eyes.

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  12. Good grief! How scary for you and how very glad we all are that it could be taken care of so efficiently in the time of Covid. This HAS to go into one of your future (fictional) stories. Stay healthy and enjoy the family!

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  13. I too have battled with my first (and hopefully last) kidney stone this year. In fact I just had a procedure this past Friday to blast it. Not sure how well it worked, but it must have done something because I’ve had no pain!!! You should be very happy that you didn’t have any pain. It’s NOT a fun thing! During the time waiting for the procedure, I went to the ER twice, which has never been one of my goals of life! I’m so thankful that we are both on the mend and glad you got to see your family!!!

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  14. Anytime someone runs a fever, the top of the list of suspects is COVID. It says something about the age we live in at the moment, that kidney stones, which are no small problem, are viewed as the better alternative to the COVID plague. Glad you’re back to normal and having the time to enjoy your family.

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  15. Barb, I am so very happy and relieved that you’re OK. Getting sick in these times is really terrifying, and I know everyone here is so relieved that it was not COVID..

    I’ve had kidney stones twice, and it’s an experience I wouldn’t wish on Donald Trump. The first time, I was staying in Washington, DC at the home of friends of friends. The attack came in the middle of the night, and I had no idea what was going on. The sensation felt like having a medicine ball in the middle of my abdomen. I swear that if I’d had a knife in my hand, I would have tried to remove that medicine ball myself.

    After a couple of hours of agony, we decided that I needed to be taken to the hospital, so we called an ambulance. I remember that I couldn’t bend over to tie my shoes, and was mortified that these friends of friends had to do that for me.

    At least in those days, street maintenance in DC was nonexistent, and it was rare to find a block without at least one pothole. I was loaded into the ambulance and we headed for George Washington hospital. I thought I wad going to die during that ride. Or to put it more accurately, I HOPED to die and be put out of my misery. The bumping and bouncing during that ride were agonizing.

    Once I got to the hospital two things happened. The doctors there quickly diagnosed a kidney stone. (I remember apologizing profusely to the doctors for being such a bother. It’s amazingly funny how we behave when we’re in such pain.) And, within fifteen minutes of arriving at the hospital, I peed about a gallon. That ambulance ride had dislodged the kidney stone. Once that happened, the pain disappeared almost immediately, and I felt fine for the rest of my trip.

    Barb, let me express my fervent hope that neither one of us ever gets a kidney stone again! I’m so glad you survived this with only some post-surgical discomfort. We need you, so please stay safe!

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  16. So glad you’re okay and didn’t have COVID! (By the way, your grandchildren are adorable. Such cuties!)

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  17. Hurrah for family and friends helping you through. ❤ I've put off routine care, as have many others, which should make things a bit easier for helping those who really need it. IMHO, you are entitled to a do-over on the vacation.

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  18. So glad it all worked out and you are well and enjoying your NJ vacation! What a lovely family you have!

    No need to be embarrassed by being weepy. It’s the medical mystique. All the questions and so few concrete answers are enough to get on anyone’s emotional last nerve AND you were on vacation. Big hugs!

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  19. I too was in the hospital during COVID. Appendicitis issues. Twice, eleven days total. It was eerie. No one could visit me and I never saw the staff’s full faces. I did get some writing done, though, thank goodness. Had two deadlines in June.

    I’m glad you’re doing well, Barb!

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  20. OMG, how terrifying! So glad you’re feeling better!

    When my parents were on vacation in Israel, my father had an attack of kidney stones and wound in a Hadassah hospital. My Italian mother was so impressed by the care he received during the emergency that she joined her local Hadassah chapter when they returned to the U.S.!

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  21. I’m very glad your ok. And not C-19. These times make it very hard to go to an ER, even when you need to. There’s a unique fear involved.

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  22. A LOT of rescheduled doctor and procedure appointments, but mostly just slashing away at emails and ARCs.

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