Why I'm Hopeful Even Though My Mom Is on a Ventilator With COVID-19
Coronavirus Chronicles is a new series from The Mighty sharing the human stories behind the pandemic. In this installation, Marian University medical student and American Medical Women’s Association member Carolina Vogel shares her mom Lesley Vogel’s journey with COVID-19.
On April 1, 2020, I made the decision to start sharing my sister and my experiences with mom’s COVID-19 diagnosis and journey on Facebook. We made this decision together as we noticed that people we didn’t know (for example, coworkers) had begun posting things on my mom’s page like “Praying for you! You’ve got this” — messages of encouragement or dismay, referring to my mom’s illness. She is a social butterfly and well-loved human so we were worried that these posts may bring distress to distant family members or other friends who weren’t in the loop. On April, when my sister and I decided to make a post, we had no idea that this illness and our mom’s time on a ventilator could possibly last as long as it has. As I write this, she’s been intubated for 16 days and although the end is in sight, it’s still out of focus, a pinprick in the distance.
My name is Carolina and I’m finishing up my third year of medical school in Indiana. My younger sister, Meredith, is finishing up her first year of teaching first grade and lives with my mom nearby. Which brings me to the star of this story, my mom. She is a registered nurse who worked in cardiac critical care for the majority of her career. For the past couple of years she has worked at a patient transfer center where RNs connect physicians at outlying hospitals with physicians at a large hospital system in our state, arranging transfer of care and assisting with consults. She loves this job and it’s a great fit for her, monitoring conversations and hearing all sorts of interesting patient stories and connecting people to the care they need is very fulfilling.
I was on a primarily inpatient rotation in March and ended up contracting “presumed COVID-19” from March 14 to March 22. At that time there weren’t enough tests in my state so they were only testing critically ill patients. I had a fever of 101°F for eight days and developed a nasty cough. There were two days my fiancé and I considered taking me to the ER but I remained stable and able to breathe and heal comfortably at home. After testing negative for the flu, having been working in a hospital and urgent care on rotation, and speaking multiple times with the health department, they determined that they couldn’t test me at that time due to lack of supplies but informed me that I likely had COVID-19 and needed to quarantine for 14 days. I was extremely tired during my illness, but other than the fever and cough was alright. I healed up fine after a couple weeks of rest.
On Saturday March 21 my Mom started complaining of feeling unwell. I don’t live with my mom and hadn’t seen her during the period of my own illness, but we had been talking regularly on the phone. She is generally healthy and was taking social distancing precautions by only going to work and essential trips like the grocery store. In fact, she had spent a long time at the grocery store due to long lines on March 19. In the early days of her illness, we really thought she was just being dramatic. The highest her temperature got at home was only 100.2°F, never even to technical “fever” territory. Because my mom works for a major hospital system and her lousy feeling persisted, on March 27 she was referred to a large drive thru testing facility that had just been opened in our state. She was swabbed for COVID-19.
On March 28, my mom told my sister, “Something’s not right. I’m going to the hospital.” She was feeling short of breath. They did a chest X-ray, found pneumonia, her oxygen saturation levels (O2 sats) were in the mid-80s and she was admitted. That night she was stable on 2L of oxygen and her doctor told me he hoped she’d be home in a couple of days
On March 29, her oxygen demand increased to 5L. She began to tell us via text message that she was scared and didn’t want to have to go on a ventilator. Again, we assured her she was going to be fine! After all, the doctor had told me she was stable so I truthfully thought my mom was likely exaggerating because she was anxious. That morning my call with the doctor was again that she was stable and maintained on a low oxygen requirement. Things began to go downhill that afternoon. It got to the point where she was on 8L of oxygen (which some physicians wouldn’t have even tried because of fear of aerosolizing the virus) and even with that much O2 her oxygenation remained low. On top of that, they drew a blood gas and her pO2 was much too low and her respiratory rate was in the upper 30s. They made the decision to intubate her Sunday night. I was called around 10 p.m. and told that these events had unfolded. We didn’t get the chance to say I love you or goodbye for now. She was now unconscious.
On March 30, my mom’s COVID-19 test results came back: positive.
She still doesn’t even know.
We were shocked. But optimistic. But shocked. We had told her she was fine. They really thought she was! But she wasn’t. The virus is unpredictable. Neither of us have been able to talk to our mom since early on the evening of March 29. She remains on the ventilator today, though they are hoping to be able to wean her off sedation soon. At this point (April 14), they believe her lungs are capable of breathing on their own but aren’t confident in her mental status. They are trying to get her a tracheostomy so they can wean her off sedation.
People have been asking so here’s a visual timeline of Lesley Clapp Vogel’s illness, as well as it typed out. This is…
I have done countless things I never thought I’d have to do (or maybe that I’d thought I’d do when I was 42 and she was in her 80s?) in the past three weeks. From contacting her mortgage company to get payments deferred (I honestly don’t even know what a mortgage is) to enacting her power of attorney to access her bank accounts to snooping through her items to find passwords to accounts (mom, if you’re reading this that was Meredith, not me!).
I also haven’t been able to lay eyes on her, hold her hand or shake the hand of her physicians. For safety reasons, hospitals are closed to visitors and she of course is on isolation protocols. I get called once daily with an update on how she’s done in the past 24 hours. We’ve experienced joy one day and anger and defeat the next as her condition has changed. A lot can happen in 24 hours. I’ve been called sweetie by one physician and then pimped the next day because I mentioned I was a medical student and yes I did understand what FiO2 is (I think?). The physicians and nurses are navigating uncharted territory to provide patient care to sedated and ventilated patents without being able to communicate regularly with their families. I cannot imagine being in their shoes.
But I also never imagined being in mine.
Tuesday 4/21 Update on Lesley Clapp Vogel: So bad news, they swabbed mom for co-vid yesterday and it came back positive….
We made the decision to post about my mom’s condition hoping it would quickly improve. When things went downhill I realized that we could become people who very publicly watched their mother die.
I don’t think we will be. She’s still fighting. And she would want people to know what this virus can do. She would want people to stay home and take it seriously. She would want her nursing colleagues to have proper (personal protective equipment) PPE. We don’t regret the decision to share this journey and we are thankful that local news stations have shared her story. Even sedated, she’s the outspoken woman I’ve had the honor to grow up knowing. She’s an advocate and a fighter. She’s my mom.
A mentor of mine encouraged me to share my story and experience with COVID-19. It’s more complicated than I ever could have anticipated; but if you’re interested in the full story, we’ve been posting regularly to Facebook. Although my mom is a nurse and a social butterfly, many of her friends are not in the medical community so I’ve tried my best to explain things happening to my mom without medical jargon. Additionally, we trust the medical team caring for my mom and we trust in science. We also completely trust the Lord. You’re welcome to add your prayers and good thoughts to send her way.