A Texas front-line Nurse gives her family's account of their COVID-19 story, which ends tragically.

Updated: Jul 13, 2021

A Texas front- line Healthcare professional , Nurse, Jenny Sandoval shares her personal COVID-19 story. PLEASE NOTE BEFORE READING: Jenny's story ends sadly with the loss of her mom, also a front-line professional. Maribel Sandoval, battled the virus, with her daughter, but tragically did not survive. Maribel and Jenny's stories are shown below.

(Shown here, Jenny in the black dress with glasses, her sister, Marianna, taking the photo in the front, and mom, Maribel, on the far right in the green dress)

"Momma's story", written by Jenny Sandoval, her father, Oscar Sandoval Sr., Maribel's other children, Oscar Jr. , Marianna and grandson, Oscar III . " in loving memory of her mom", Maribel:

Maribel (Mari) Sandoval, age 59, Certified Clinical Hemodialysis Technician (Del Rio, Texas)

My mom's COVID-19 story started the same day as mine-June 13th, 2020. My sister, Marianna, my mother Maribel , and I, all started to show symptoms on the same day. My mom and I, both healthcare professionals, worked at the same location. I remember stopping by at her section to talk to her as I was walking to my nursing station. I said, “hey mom, how are you this morning?” She looked at me and replied, “not well, I have a headache. I didn’t sleep well last night.” That was her first symptom, I was still asymptomatic. Later that day, after work, I began to develop a headache. It was the worst headache I have ever experienced. I remember texting my sister, “my head hurts so bad I can’t even think straight.” The following day the body aches began for all of us; my sister and I also lost our sense of taste and smell that day. I remember sitting at the kitchen table talking to my mom. I asked her, “can you still taste your food, mom?” She replied, “Yes, I tasted my coffee but I'm beginning to lose my appetite.” We were starting to develop new symptoms. My mom and I called our clinical manager to inform her that we were going to start to self-quarantine and get tested the following day. On Monday, June 15th, our clinical manager called us and told us they would be testing us. We show up at the designated clinic location. My mom and I were wearing masks, gloves, and had hand sanitizer with us. We signed the authorization forms and we had the nasopharyngeal exam. The next two days, we were getting worse. I would step out of my room, only to check on my mom. She was so exhausted, that she would continue to lay in the bed and I would tell her, “mom, you need to get up, stand up and stretch.” My nursing experience made me aware that by just laying in bed, she could develop pneumonia. [A little background on my mom, she was immunocompromised and had compromised lung function; pneumonia was the last thing that we wanted her to get.] By Wednesday, June 17th, my mom was starting to decline. She told me, “I’m scared, Jenny.” I tried to reassure her that it was going to be ok. My family urged her to go to the emergency room. I suggested that she call ahead to let them know that she was coming, so that she could avoid exposing anyone else to the virus. Mom was very hesitant and fearful of going; I talked to her sternly. I said, “mom, you’ll be okay. They’ll place you on oxygen and you’ll start to feel better.” She agreed to go and made the call that she was on her way. I stood in front of her and I made the sign of the cross on her (she always did this when we were sick or leaving to go on a trip out of town) and I gave her what i did not know at the time, would be a final kiss on her cheek. My dad drove her to the emergency room. They admitted her and she began her battle in the hospital, alone. By Friday, June 19th, she was transferred from our little rural city to a bigger city, San Antonio, Texas. By this time, she was in pretty bad shape. She had developed double pneumonia and her oxygen saturation was dropping into the 80's. She was started on antibiotics, Azithromyacin, and was changed from a nasal cannula to an oxygen face mask, because she required higher levels of oxygen. She would try to call me, but she’d apologize because the force of the oxygen would make it difficult to speak and even to hear her voice. She told me, “I feel better when you explain the procedures to me.” Although she was married to my dad and he should have had Power of Attorney, to make decisions for her, my mom told the hospital that I would be making all her medical decisions. I remember getting phone calls at 3 a.m., “Do you give consent for your mom to receive convalescent plasma?” “Yes, I consent.” “Do you consent for your mom to start on Remdesivir?” “Yes, I give consent.” Three days later, I received a call from my mom’s nurse. She told me that the Bi-pap wasn't working, her oxygen levels were critically low, they needed my consent for her to be vented. Although i was filled with fear that she had gotten to this stage, my family and i decided this was the best decision to try to save her life; I gave my consent. Before they vented her, the nurse called me from my mom’s cellphone so that we could have a final conversation before she would be unable to communicate on the ventilator. The nurse said “Okay she’s here, Jenny, you can talk to her.” My heart stopped, my mind was racing, what could I tell to the strongest person I know? What can I say to put her at ease? My voice began to crack, but I tried my best to not let her hear it. I said "Mom, be strong. Please don’t be scared. Mom, we love you”. Weakly she agreed and tried her best to sound brave, she told me that she loved us, and handed the phone back to the nurse. That was the last conversation that i ever had with my mom. She was placed on a ventilator later that evening. I called each morning and every evening to check on her condition. She was on sedation, propofol and fentanyl. She was on vasopressor, Levophed, because her heart rate had dropped. They attributed this to the medications she needed while on the vent. She went into atrial fibrillation, so she was started on an Amiodarone drip. Doctors and nurses would call me at what seemed like every hour, asking for consent for a new medication. I became weak and broke down from both the stress of the fear of what my mom was going through, alone, and because i was so sick from my own battle with COVID-19. I knew that each new medication request meant that she was getting worse. I finally asked my dad, “can you call and check on mom from now on, can you take these calls from the hospital?” He took over the calls. Every time his phone rang, my heart stopped. I was terrified that we’d get the, “we did all we could, but she didn’t make it,” call. She continued to be a very critically ill patient in a Covid ICU room, 200 miles away from home and all alone. Weeks went by and we just took it one day at time. In the morning she could be doing better but by the evening she was worse. They couldn’t wean her off of the vent. Her settings were at the maximum. I’m a registered nurse, so I’ve taken care of patients on ventilators. I knew exactly what my mom was going through and how critical her condition was, but I didn’t want to take the faith and hope my family had by telling them. I didn’t want to lose my faith, as well. I prayed every day. I bargained with God for her life. I remember kneeling by my bed and saying, “God, take me, my brother and sister still need my mom.” Then on July 4th, we received a phone call that filled us with hope. They were moving her to a Long-Term Acute Care Facility, because she needed longer care but she no longer needed to be in an ICU room anymore. We thought, “she did it!! She beat the odds and we are in the final stretch!!” The following day, I overheard my dad on the phone. I heard panic in his voice, so I stepped out of my room. He handed me the phone after saying, “here, talk to my daughter, she’s a registered nurse and understands this more than I do.” It was her doctor, she wanted consent for my mom to get a tracheostomy. I gave consent because I know how to do trach care, and knew when she came home that I could take care of her. She was moved to the long-term acute care facility and our hope was renewed. We continued to call every morning and every evening. I remember the morning of July 10th well, at 8 a.m., I received a phone call. My mom's doctor was on the line and proceeded to say, “Are you alone or is there someone there with you?” I replied, “my family is here with me.” She said, “okay, good. Your mom isn’t doing well. I’m afraid she’s not going to make it.” Time felt like it stood still at that moment, my heart felt like it stopped and my eyes filled up with tears, I am sure that i stopped breathing. I quietly replied, “how long does she have left?” She said, “I think only a couple of days.” I went silent. She said, “do you understand what I’m saying?” “Yes, I understand.” (Inside my heart was breaking in two and i could only wish that this moment was a dream) I broke down and apologized for crying on the phone. She understood of course and then asked me “Do you consent to a Do Not Resuscitate order?” I stared blankly in front of me, I wanted to throw-up, thousands of thoughts were running through my mind; i couldn't make this decision, i couldn't make the decision to not try to save the life of the woman who gave me life-my best friend. ” I said, “I can’t give that consent, and i handed the phone to my father”. I can still see my dad’s face today. Quietly, he gave his consent. I have never seen my father show emotion, but that day, he broke down and it was one of the hardest things to witness. I had to be the one to call my brother and sister and give them the news; from the other end of the phone, my sister wailed, my brother screamed "no!!", and we all cried together. We rushed to San Antonio. We were blessed that her room at the LTAC facility was on the first floor and it had windows. We arrived and gathered at the window outside her room, she was asleep when we arrived. It was so hard to see her hooked to all of those tubes and lines going into her veins; the strong woman that we knew, suddenly looked so frail and sick. My brother gently tapped on her window. She woke up and turned to us. She was still on the vent and still paralytic, so she couldn't move her arms. She could only nod; we knew she was happy that we were there with her. We wrote her signs on poster board, we made a heart sign with our hands, telling her how much we loved her and she nodded, as though to return the gesture. We stood outside her window for 2 hours and I told my family “we need to leave now, she needs all the rest she can get.” As we were saying our goodbyes, my mom with whatever strength she was able to find, slightly lifted her left hand to wave goodbye to us. We returned to following day but she had taken a turn for the worse. I noticed a change in the color of her skin, I didn’t want to tell my family as I didn’t want to take the hope away from them that she could still recover. We knew she would likely not wake up that day, and we thought she should rest, so we left. We were not too far outside of San Antonio, when my phone rang. One of my mom's doctor's, Dr. Bell, was on the other line and quickly, as though he were ripping off a band-aid, said, " Jenny, I don’t think your mom is going to make it through the night.” I was speechless, he filled the silence by saying ,“This doesn’t mean that we will stop her treatment.” I mustered the strength to say, “can you please do everything possible for her?” He promised that he would and even said, " I hope she proves me wrong.” We hung up, inside the truck, we were all in shock and crying, we turned around to go back to San Antonio, we had to be there for my mom, we couldn't let her die alone. I called the LTAC facility and spoke to my mom's nurse, who agreed that once we got there, that she would answer my mom's cell phone, allowing each of us to speak to her, one last time. Once we arrived, we again gathered outside of her window and the nurse answered and placed the phone on my mom’s chest. We heard the sounds of monitors beeping as her oxygen saturation was now critically low and in the 60's, and her heart rate was in the high 100's. We each took turns saying goodbye to her. I asked her for forgiveness because I gave the consent for her to be placed on the vent and to get a tracheostomy. I asked to forgive me because I felt that i should have done more for her. We played music for her, we told her how much we loved her and said our final goodbyes. We stood guard at her window; hands pressed to the glass as though we were by her bed, holding her hands. We made sure she was never alone. Around 2:43 a.m., I drifted off to sleep in the truck while my entire family was by my mom’s window. I started to breathe heavily, and i felt my heart racing. I woke up because I felt the truck shaking, like if someone was moving it side to side, but no one was around. The first thing I said as i woke up was, “It’s okay, mom, give it all to me.” The world around me felt different. There was a sorrowful feeling in the night air. I knew that I helped my mom pass. Shortly after, her nurse came to talk to us and confirmed what i had already known, my mom had in fact passed away. We stayed outside her window until 9 a.m. when her doctor came and announced her time of death. The strongest woman I have ever known, my very best friend, my mom, passed away on July 12th, 2020 at 2:46 a.m. My mom would want me to tell her story, if it could bring awareness of the devastation that this virus could cause, if it could save even only one life, she would have wanted that.

Jenny Sandoval, age 34, Registered Nurse (Del Rio, Texas)

My Covid-19 story started on June 13th, 2020. My first symptoms were loss of my sense of taste/smell, gastrointestinal issues (nausea and diarrhea), mild fever that never dropped below 99.9 degrees, body aches that I'm happy to report only lasted for a day, night sweats, nasal congestion and drainage, scratchy throat, and an extreme headache. I also experienced shortness of breath, tachycardia (heart rate of over 100) and bradycardia (slow heart rate). My blood pressure was also affected. I tested for Coronavirus initially on June 15th, 2020, with my mom, we were both officially positive and my battle with COVID-19 began. Day 1: My illness started with a horrible headache – so bad that I couldn’t think properly. I thought it was because I had a really heavy day at work but now looking back it was my first symptom. Day 2: I woke up with horrible body aches; it seemed that every part of me from the top of my head down to the tips of my toes hurt. On the morning of day 2, I ate breakfast and realized I couldn’t taste the bacon and shortly after, i lost my sense of smell. As a nurse, i knew both of these to be classic Coronavirus symptoms; I knew i had somehow contracted the illness. Day 3 and beyond: The body aches subsided, but the fever began to kick in. For the entire first week my fever never dropped below 99.6 but never went above 100. The headaches were massive. I treated them like migraines and tried migraine prescription medicine, as well as over the counter medicines to try to get the headache to go away. I also kept my room cool and dark and also limited the amount of noise that was coming into my room. The first few days, i felt like doing nothing beyond laying in my dark room and sleeping; the fatigue was intense. I also had gastrointestinal issues: nausea and diarrhea then it would be nausea and constipation; they alternated. One of the scariest symptoms was when I began to get shortness of breath on exertion. Even talking would cause me to experience SOB. After I would get out of the shower, I had to talk myself down from the panic attacks that I felt were imminent from me not being able to catch my breath. I’d stand in-front of a small fan I had in the restroom to aid in me catching my breath. I continued to bouts of both tachycardia and bradycardia. My normal heart rate runs in the 80's; however, when i would walk 10 feet to the bathroom, my heart rate would shoot up over 120 from just standing up. The times it would drop into the 60's were also very frightening to me, as it made me feel somewhat dizzy and the slow heart rate made me at times feel like passing out. I was never hospitalized, although there were days where I felt like I needed to go to the ER ,I used my nursing judgement and I didn’t want to take a room from someone who may need it more than me. Prior to being sick, when the virus began to take hold of the US, I tried my best to keep my mom and dad safe. My sister and I would do all the shopping and run all the errands. Both my parents have underlying conditions, so we tried to keep them at home and protected as much as possible. Although i can’t exactly pinpoint where we contracted the virus, we believe it was a close personal contact of ours who passed it onto us, while they were asymptomatic. Once we felt symptoms and were confident that we likely had contracted the virus, we began to self-quarantine in our rooms, even before going for testing. If we had to step outside of our rooms, we agreed that we would wear masks,gloves and wash our hands frequently, as well as sanitize frequently. We limited exposure to each other and was able to keep my father well. Sadly, my mother who also contracted the virus, died, in early July; we felt remorseful that we were not able to keep her well, like we were able to do for my dad. Although I was officially cleared by the local health authority on July 18th; I know it took me longer to recover because I was more worried about my mom’s health than my own. I knew I had to fight this fight with her. I wouldn’t get better until she did. She’s now in Heaven with no pain and I know she is living her heavenly life alongside all her relatives and one day, we will be reunited again. At the writing of this story, August 5th, i am still struggling to be fully back to normal and am dealing with after effects such as fatigue, rapid heart rate, chest discomfort and occasional SOB. This virus has hit me and my family very hard, I was lucky to have saved for a car and have some money in the bank, which allowed me to stay at home and recover without worrying financially about not being able to make a pay-check. I know that everyone who gets this virus doesn't necessarily have that luxury. For anyone who has not yet experienced COVID-19, if i can offer any advice, i would suggest that you and your loved ones wear a mask in public, social distance, and wash your hands often. Have consideration for others, don’t be selfish be selfless. Protect those around you and don’t take this lightly. It’s very real and as it did in my case, it can take those you hold dearly, away from you. I am writing my story today, to bring awareness that the Coronavirus can turn deadly and be more than just a mild case of the flu. I am telling my story and my mom's story in loving memory of my mom and in hopes that it might help someone from contracting this horrible virus.

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