“Am I dying?” she asked.
No matter how many times I’m asked that question, it doesn’t become any easier to answer. Holding her hand and trying to console her seemed to bring all of the outside beeping of monitors and commotion to a halt. Monitors that revealed how poorly her lungs were functioning and how low the oxygen in her blood had been falling. She was an elderly woman. An elderly woman with heart failure and lung disease. An elderly woman with COVID-19.
When I arrived to the Rapid Response overhead page and saw this woman with an oxygen level of 72% with a device called a non-rebreather (that’s intended to increase patient’s oxygen levels) there wasn’t much to discuss at that moment. We needed to increase her oxygen level and fast. She needed to be intubated. But she was quick to say “I don’t want that breathing tube…I’ll never come off of it”. Just 10 minutes prior, we had just put a separate patient, previously healthy and in his 30s on a breathing machine due to the same viral infection. I thought to myself, ‘this virus, this disease, does not discriminate’. For weeks now in NYC we have personally seen how lethal it is and how the spread is not only ongoing, but it’s getting worse by the hour.
So when this elderly woman was clear she did not want to be intubated, we transitioned to asking how we could make her comfortable. She asked for us to call her husband. When her husband picked up the phone, he struggled to get out the words “honey…I just called 911…I’m having diarrhea and I have a fever”. “Oh God, oh my God” she said. It was immediately clear to her and to all us around her bed, that he too likely contracted the same virus she did.
A few moments later as her oxygen levels continued to dip, now into the 60s%, she said with labored breaths “Okay, okay, well I’ll see you soon, whether it’s here or some place else”.
Jacob Koshy, MD
PGY 3, Internal Medicine