The physical and emotional toll that caring for COVID-19 patients takes on caregivers can be unimaginable for those not in the field or who do not have a loved one in an intensive care unit.
But on Monday, the staff at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center took time to celebrate a huge win with two patients who have fought every bit as hard as they did.
Tasnim Shaheen was wheeled out of the lobby to her waiting car seven weeks after being admitted with the coronavirus — and just more than two after giving birth while on a ventilator to a baby girl, who was born more than two months premature.
Staff members including her doctors and nurses, some holding signs, cheered and applauded as Shaheen was wheeled out by Dr. Kavitha Ram, ICU nurse Yesenia Rivas and others.
Shaheen was 24 weeks pregnant when she was admitted with symptoms, and quickly took a turn for the worse.
“She was intubated, in kidney failure and in septic shock,” Ram said. “At 28 weeks we had to think about delivering the baby.”
Actually, the staff in intensive care had been thinking about the child all along while treating Shaheen.
“I’d talk to her,” Rivas said of the baby. “We knew she was having a little girl.”
Doctors told Shaheen’s husband — the couple has two sons — that performing a cesarean section might allow them to save his wife and daughter.
“We also told him we could lose them both, on the operating table,” Ram said. “He was very brave.”
They told him that delivering the baby might allow Shaheen’s body to focus completely on herself.
And it did.
Within days she had the tube removed and was breathing on her own. Her kidney function returned. She fought off the infections ravaging her body.
“Now she’s going home,” Ram said, with tears and a huge smile adorning her face.
Rivas, standing outside the hospital as the car pulled away, also was crying happy tears beneath her mask and glasses.
Dr. Medha Chunduru and therapist Karen Codd of JHMC’s palliative care team said one of the horrors of the COVID-19 outbreak is the isolation people in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities must endure, shut away from personal contact with their families. In hospitals, there is not even the opportunity to visit from the door to a room, and for bedridden patients, not even through a window.
Codd had the idea of trying to set up a tablet that would allow Shaheen to hear and see her family over the internet, even though she might not be able to respond because of her illness and medication.
“I got permission to set it up,” Codd said.
She and Chunduru said they were able to set up a fairly regular schedule for the linkup between Shaheen and her family.
“She was able to see her husband, her sons,” Chunduru said. “Relatives in Bangladesh.”
Codd’s initiative has now been turned into a regular program in the hospital’s protocol when possible for COVID-19 patients.
Ram said the final task is for the baby to return home and reunite the family once and for all. Their daughter, born at two pounds, could be going home in about two months.
“She’s a little toughie,” Ram said. “She and her mom are both fighters.”