75 year old patient, in ICU for a week on a Bi-Pap, COVID-19 symptoms. Why wouldn't they test her?

Updated: Jul 13, 2021


Emily Andrews, age 75, retired (Houston, Texas)

This is a photo of my mom in ICU, in early March of 2020. My mom's story started on Monday, March 2nd. She woke up around 8 a.m. feeling mostly normal, with the exception of a small tickle in her throat, she figured that it was allergies, as she had light nasal congestion as well. She took an allergy pill and went on with her day. Around 4 p.m., she was starting to feel bad enough that she needed to go to bed; her body was starting to ache, she was so chilled that even layers of blankets couldn't warm her, and nothing could touch the headache that she had. My father, Tim, her husband of 53 years, knew that this was not normal for her. She wasn't the type to go to bed that early in the evening, so he brought out the thermometer and found that she had a 102 degree fever. He gave her some Tylenol and allowed her to rest a while, hoping that with rest and the Tylenol she would feel better. By 6:30 p.m., she was completely confused and couldn't even tell him who the President of the United States was, her chills were so severe that she was shaking the whole bed, she had a dry cough that had gotten worse as the day went on and she had abdominal pain. 911 was called, and it was decided by the EMT's that arrived, that likely she had a UTI, due to her abdominal pain and confused state of mind. She was taken to the closest local hospital, North Cypress.

As COVID-19 had just begun hitting the United States, the hospitals were preparing for large amounts of positive patients we noticed a large wall of plastic where the lobby used to be. Anyone with Coronavirus symptoms would be whisked away behind that plastic wall, for further evaluation. As the EMT's wheeled her into the ER ambulance entrance, we passed a number of the hospital staff members, in the hallways, who were wearing masks and gloves, to protect themselves from this unknown invader. They warned guests and visitors with lung issues or severe pre-existing conditions not to remain in the hospital, if they could help it. My father has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, COPD, (lung disease which blocks air flow and makes it hard to breathe); it was suggested by the ER staff, that he leave the hospital, and have my sister stay with my mom. I took him home, where we waited to hear that mom would be released.

My sister kept us updated by group text, on mom's condition and the tests that were being run on her. Chest x-ray, blood tests, EKG, as well as a number of tests to check her oxygen levels. By this time, she was experiencing shortness of breath and low oxygen saturation levels. An oxygen mask was placed on her face. Hours passed, with periodic updates from my sister, we were not too worried, as we felt that it was a UTI, like they had suggested. We felt confident that they would treat her and send her back home soon.

By 1:30 a.m., we received a text message from my sister, that my mom was being rushed into the ICU, as tests revealed that she had double pneumonia, sepsis, respiratory failure and heart failure; to our shock and disbelief, she was in very bad shape. The tests for UTI, a number of the flu strains, and strep all came back negative. My father (her faithful companion of 53 years) would not listen to us telling him he shouldn't be at the hospital due to his COPD; there was no way he was staying away, no matter what the possible risk to him would be, so he and I replaced my sister in the ICU around 9 a.m. the next morning. A Doctor came in and said "we have no idea what is making her so sick". By this time, she had been hooked up to IV bags of antibiotics, Tami-flu, fluids, Vitamin C, Zinc, Vitamin D,

and any other medicine that they guessed might be able to heal her. Her oxygen levels had plummeted to levels where she could not breathe on her own without the aid of a Bi-Pap mask. Her fever had increased to 103 degrees and could not be lowered, even with medication. They started to pack her in ice packs, took all blankets off of her, in an attempt to lower her temperature. I watched as my parents lovingly held hands, my father trying to comfort and assure her that she would be fine. Mom's voice could barely be heard above the air rushing into her lungs from the Bi-Pap mask. Her voice sounded unlike her own, very deep and ragged; she struggled to talk and breathe at the same time. One thing we were able to make out was her asking "What if I don't make it"? This brought tears to our eyes, as we had never seen her so sick- we there was no way that she wouldn't make it, she would recover, but, we had no way of knowing if this were true. They continued to treat the double pneumonia in her lungs, as well as the high fever and respiratory distress.

We feared for her, as she was 75 and she had diabetes, we didn't know what she had contracted to make her so ill, as the flu tests were negative. With the Coronavirus being so new to Houston, the hospital told us that she did not qualify for the COVID-19 test as she had not traveled over-seas. Even with all of the symptoms that she had, she would NOT be given the test. We were baffled. When you looked up the symptoms of the virus that had spread to the U.S from Wuhan, China, she had the majority of the symptoms. (We believe now that it was so new to the United States, that there were no real tests to be had yet. We could not imagine they would decide not to test someone with all of these symptoms that she was displaying; especially when in the Doctor's words "they had no idea what was making her so sick".) We pushed for them to test her and were told that it would be up to the attending physician whether they would test her or not. (They never did test her)

One positive thing was that since the virus was in fact so new, the rule of "no-one being able to stay the night in the hospital" with a patient was not a rule yet, so my sister Cathryn, flew in from Georgia, and due to the rest of us working, spent most of the overnights with my mom. If she couldn't stay, my other sister's Colleen and Cristin, would rotate every night that she was there. We made sure that she was never alone. (I couldn't help, as I had caught something as well and went home that Tuesday from ICU with a horrible headache that lasted 3 days, as well as high fever, slight cough, body aches and fatigue; I figured she had passed a bug onto me.)

By the 3rd day in ICU, her condition had not improved, a nurse came to my father and mother, and said "this is the last bag of antibiotics, if this doesn't work, our next option will be to put you on a ventilator"; no-one wanted that, so we continued to pray and hope that she would improve. (We had a number of prayer groups around the country that had added my mom to their daily prayer list and we attribute her quick recovery to so many people praying for her)

By day 5 in ICU, mom did not have to placed on a ventilator, to our surprise, she was getting better. She had improved enough that they were able to trade out her Bi-Pap mask for a nasal cannula, the pneumonia and sepsis in her body were improving greatly. She was in good spirits, began eating again and joking with all of us. We don't know which medicine it was or which treatment they gave her that helped her recover so quickly; the medical staff that took care of her also did not know what caused her to improve. We of course were all happy to see her somewhat back to her normal self. As she was feeling better, the Doctors wanted to check her heart, as her cardiac enzymes had been elevated and she was having excessive blood-clotting. She was placed on blood thinners, and they monitored her to be sure she did not develop a clot. Before she could leave the hospital they conducted a Cardiac Catheterization procedure on her, to see how well her heart was working and to see if she had experienced any heart damage from her illness. They told us that we would get the results in a couple of days.

By day 7 in the hospital, by the grace of God, she was well enough to go home. We found it odd that her discharge papers had instructions on caring for yourself after a heart-attack (they told her as she was leaving that the Cardiac Cath results showed that she had a heart-attack during her bout with this mysterious illness); she was discharged with directions to see a Cardiologist and today, is still under a Cardiologist's care for the damage the illness caused her heart.

At the writing of this story, August 17th, we are blessed to be able to say that mom has fully recovered. We are still confused at why the hospital did not test her for the Coronavirus. If it isn't too late, we will be ordering an antibody test for her, to see if she tests positive. As she listens to the various accounts of Covid-19 on the news, she is 100% convinced that this was the illness that overtook her body in the early weeks of March.

She and my father are now very cautious, when it comes to protecting themselves from contracting the virus. They wear masks and sanitize, even in the house, as they live with my sister who is a front-line X-ray technician, who works with Coronavirus patients. The house is disinfected multiple times a day, and they practice social distancing from her. They attend an online church service rather than attending in person, and they rarely go out, if it is not necessary for them to be out anywhere. As you may know, this virus can be especially deadly to those over the age of 65, especially if they have pre-existing conditions or are immunocompromised.

Although our story has a positive ending, we are still baffled that the hospital would not give her the test, and are looking for answers on why this is. Perhaps you have thoughts on why a 75 year old woman, with most of the symptoms of Coronavirus was not given a COVID-19 test? We are open to hearing your thoughts....

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