Marilyn Hoeckel was the editor of the Boca Beacon from 1990 to 1998. She was the director and curator of the Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum from 1998 to 2003. She moved to Bucks County, PA in 2003, where she was born and raised. She is a volunteer for the Doylestown Historical Society and works part-time as a caregiver and mentor for four special needs women.
BY MARILYN ARBOR HOECKEL – It’s been six weeks since I first got sick. In the beginning I believed that there was no way I could have the dread COVID-19, but it turns out I did.
I started feeling bad on or about April 1. My symptoms were a complete lack of appetite (I couldn’t bear to even look at food), back pain, lethargy and fatigue, coughing and shortness of breath. There was no fever – my fever never rose above 98.9 the whole time I was sick.
The respiratory symptoms worsened, and I entered Grand View Hospital in Sellersville, Pa. via ambulance on April 6, in severe respiratory distress.This, of course, was very concerning to the doctors there, because I was getting hit with a “double whammy” – lung disease (the virus) on top of lung disease (a severe COPD flare-up). Putting it mildly, my breathing was not great. I was immediately begun on “oxygen therapy,” which gave me some relief.
I went from the emergency room to isolation on the fourth floor in short order (a day later the Covid test came back positive). This began a rather surreal time for me, of being (how can I put this) in some weird, kind of almost dream world. For 10 days the only folks I saw were blue-gowned, basically faceless (with the masks and shields) nurses and doctors who gingerly entered my “jail,” did their medical stuff, and left my room as fast as they could (who can blame them?).
What I vividly remember is a 24-hour constant round of nurses entering my room to take blood and more blood, check my heart monitor, take my vital signs, give meds and bring in my meals (very forgettable, thank you).
Looking back, it seems like those 10 days were a kind of waking dream happening to someone else. Thank God my “jail” had a window looking out at the southern sky. Without that window I think I would have lost it early on in my stay at Grand View Hospital.
(Lest you think I am denigrating my stay at Grand View, I’ll set the record straight. I believe I received compassionate and competent care there, from the nurses and doctors with whom I had contact. I use the term “jail” because that’s what it felt like to me. I didn’t leave that 20 x 10 foot room for 10 days, and was not allowed visitors).
Almost losing it
There were three times when I really did “lose it,” in some sense. I might as well record those, because looking back, I realize that this SOB virus affected not only my physical body, but my emotions as well. For the longest time, I cried at the drop of a hat, honestly – whether I was anxious, happy, sad, mad, disgusted, whatever … I cried. This is not me. Weird.
The first time I lost it was when I really let loose on the phone with the Director of Nursing, when I learned that some idiot in administration had called my son Ian – on Day two, I think, of my lockdown – to ask him a question about my Medicare policy, or if he had “Power of Attorney” or some such crap. Of course Ian immediately thought I was dying, or in a coma or something, because why else would they be asking him this when I was a fully-functioning adult, and all they had to do was ask me! This was highly upsetting to my son, needless to say.
When I found out that this had occurred, I had a few choice words with the aforementioned director of nursing. I got a hold of her on the phone, and told her the whole business was a stupid travesty, and that my privacy, and that of my family had been grossly invaded. She abjectly apologized for what she called “a mistake,” and she said that the “inexperienced” administrative assistant who had made that phone call would be “reprimanded,” and that “this should never have happened and would not happen again.” I demanded an official letter of apology from the hospital but of course never got one. So that was the first time I pretty much freaked out while a COVID victim.
The second time was the next day (I think). Someone from what I was beginning to think of as “downstairs” called me and began to talk to me about ventilators. To paraphrase, as near as I can recall, they said, “Do we have your permission to put you on a ventilator,” if necessary. This time I really lost it. Without going into detail, I told them under no condition was this going to happen, that I was going to get better, that this was not something I was going to discuss, and that it was something that I would have to discuss with my family either way. I think I must have scared them, because there was no more talk of ventilators.
I continued to do well on the 24/7 oxygen therapy they were giving me, and other meds designed to help me breathe. I will say at this point that some doctor who believed that hydroxycloroquine – the malaria drug that was being touted by our president on national tv for use in treating COVID patients – might be a good thing for me to take. So guess what? It was added to my meds without my even being consulted about it! I thought this was weird, but I think at that point the fight had gone out of me, so of course I took it. Turns out I took the drug for five days, and who knows whether it helped or not.
So the last time I freaked out was the day they decided to turn me loose. It was the morning of April 15. I had been on oxygen and all the other meds for 10 days.
The respiratory specialist came in and said, “We’re taking you off the oxygen.”
I told her, “No! I’m not ready!”
It was quite scary. I asked her how she knew I was ready to go off the oxygen, and she said that she had been doing this for 37 years, and she could just tell I was ready to breathe what they call “room air.” Turns out she was right. I left the hospital at 6:30 p.m. and never looked back.
Special people who threw me lifelines
There are a lot of folks who (via text messaging and phone calls) “came to my rescue” during my 10-day incarceration, with words of support and love, with prayers and well wishes, and with gifts. Dottie sent me clothes and toiletries (I absolutely refused to wear those atrocious hospital gowns). Helene sent me books and three blouses. Carol delivered to the front desk beautiful flowers, an Easter basket and more reading material. John & Marie sent a beautiful white Easter lily. These are gifts that helped me over the rough spots.
And how can I find words to tell how grateful I am for my wonderful pulmonologist, Dr. Rubina Haidar. Dr. H. called me every single day of my 10-day stay at GVH. She called to check up on me, and to tell me to stay calm, to pray and meditate, and most of all, to fight the nasty virus that was attacking my lungs. I heard her, and I tried to do everything she said. It must have worked – I got out of there pretty quick (only 10 days).
I will say here that more than one nurse and doctor said to me, towards the end of my stay, that I was a lucky girl and that they were surprised that I was doing so well (I think it was a combination of my fighting spirit, my desire to see my new grandson grow up, all the love and prayers that were sent to me, good drugs, and good doctoring).
Technology saved me
Here’s where I have to make note that modern technology saved me from freaking out during my 10-day incarceration. I don’t mean medical technology, although there’s a lot to be said for that! I mean that without my phone and my laptop I would have gone bonkers. Thank God I had the presence of mind to throw both, and their chargers, into the tote bag that went with me in the ambulance. These two devices allowed me to stay in touch with friends, family and co-workers, and reminded me daily that there were people “out there” who were living normal lives, and who cared about me. My laptop allowed me to send and receive emails with a select few folks (although I didn’t feel much like writing anything during that time), and more than anything, allowed me to stream jazz and classical music all day, every day.
Now, about my phone. This little wonder allowed me to send “group texts” to friends, family and co-workers nearly every day, in which I would update people (who actually wanted to know) about my condition and progress. I taught myself how to do this while incarcerated! (Amazing, considering that I’m pretty sure my brain wasn’t operating at full capacity.)
Here is are the (verbatim) “group texts,” for the record: I include them because they show my state of mind while my body was waging an internal war between my immune system and the Coronavirus.
April 9 (third day): “Slept well. Not worse. Doing OK. On that new HCQ med. Guess I’m a statistic now, ha.”
April 10: “Saw nice pulmonary doctor. Am no worse but also no better. Changing some meds in an effort to speed recovery. Very tough being in isolation. Taking Ativan for anxiety. I think it helps. At least I have a nice window and can see the sky. Food sucks. Will be here several more days. Care is excellent.”
April 10 (later): I am a Viking, and am my father’s daughter. This is a war which I intend to win, with some good doctoring and modern meds.”
April 11: “Greetings from jail to all. Update: Looks like recovery is slowly progressing. Breathing a tad better, all vital signs strong. O2 needs remain same, bowels and appetite improving. All good. They will not release me until they are sure I can survive on my own and not relapse. This virus is a nasty SOB. I’ve never been knocked so low. All of your love and prayers are helping, believe me. Love to All. Let us all rejoice in the gift of life this Easter.”
April 13: Today’s update: “I’m doing OK. Maybe a teeny better breathing. Moving around a bit. Will be here several more days. All in all, better than might have been expected, they tell me. I am grateful. Good genes and good drugs and good doctors. xoxoxo”
April 14: Update: “A restful morn. Coughing a bit less. Reading, napping, washed out my leggings and two shirts. OMG, I grow used to my prison! LOL. This is day nine. All’s well. My flowers, books, music, laptop, nice chair and window all contribute to my well being, as do all the love and prayers wafting my way. I grow a bit stronger each day. Love to all, M.”
April 15: Going Home Day! “Turned the corner. Took me off oxygen an hour ago. O2 is 96, all vital signs good. No word on discharge yet. Doctors seem quite amazed at my progress, based on what they’ve been seeing.”
(Two hours later I was in the wheelchair van on my way home, with two vases of flowers – sent me by Carol – in my lap).
I came home at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, April 15. I have never been so happy to be in my own cozy little apartment. Things were different; I was different. It’s hard to explain, but in coming days everything seemed new. Everything was a joy, even doing housework and chores became not work, but a chance to be glad that I could.
Anyhow, a few days into being home I wrote a list of “Wonderful Things to be Thankful for upon Being Released from 10 Days in Isolation at GVH.” Here it is.
1. Being Home!
2. My bed!
3. First cup of good coffee in weeks … heavenly!
4. Making my own breakfast first morning home.
5. My flowers still looking beautiful.
6. Having Margie next door.
7. Driving to the egg farm and post office on third day
8. Having enough energy to clean the bathroom and vacuum the house
9. Having a lavender salts bath … heavenly!
10. Sitting in the sun on my deck
I guess that having a brush with death really does give you a different perspective on life. I am still recuperating after this long battle, but am well on my way to a full recovery.
Monday, May 11, 2020