No One Should Be at Risk of Dying Alone

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My wife is currently alone in a Colorado Hospital room, suffering with pneumonia in both lungs that resulted from a bacterial infection. I’m not allowed to be with her. Why?

Elizabeth is 40 years old, and in a high-risk category due to autoimmune issues and pulmonary hypertension. Since COVID-19 became a serious threat, we’ve not gone out. Friends have dropped off groceries. We’ve had no visitors in our home.

When Elizabeth became sick in early March, her symptoms closely mirrored COVID-19. She was treated as if she had the virus while we waited for test results. Negative. Immediately, her long-time nurse practitioner performed additional testing. Infection was the diagnosis, and a round of antibiotics was prescribed along with virtual visits with her, our Internal Medicine doctor, and the rest of Elizabeth’s medical team.

For weeks, Elizabeth’s health went up and down. Some days she’d be walking around, others she could only leave bed to use the restroom. Every time she seemed to turn a corner, she’d decline. Because of her pulmonary hypertension, we have an at-home oxygen condenser. We kept her on oxygen 24/7, and her blood oxygen levels rarely dropped below 90%.

Then, on April 28th, things took a dramatic downward turn. She told me it was her worst day thus far. After waking at 3am the next morning, vomiting and unable to keep any fluids down, she went in to the ER. She was quickly diagnosed with a double lung infection, pneumonia, and was sent from Colorado Springs to Denver to be with her pulmonary and rheumatology doctors.

She is allowed no visitors. No exceptions.

Clearly, we are in an unprecedented time. So many decisions have been made, including by hospitals and healthcare systems. Most were made in the prospects of worst-case scenarios, with every effort made to prevent our systems from being overwhelmed. Those were understandable steps at the beginning of this crisis, but what about now? Colorado hasn’t been hit like New York City, or any of the hot spots. Our hospitals are not overwhelmed. As we begin to open up our state again, do our hospitals have a plan to allow family and loved ones to visit those that need them?

The most frustrating part is no one seems willing to even listen. Neither the CEO of UCHealth Elizabeth Concordia, nor the CEO of Univ. of Colorado Hospital Christopher Gessner, nor the Chief Nursing Executive Kathy Howell will take my calls. No one will talk about whether hospital policy is being reevaluated in light of recent developments. No one is willing to offer an exception on the basis that both my wife and I have tested negative for COVID-19.  

My wife is desperately sick, and her pre-conditions make her even more vulnerable. I need to be with her, and yet, I’ve been stonewalled at every turn. “We’ll send you to a patient advocate or the head nurse on her floor,” the operators have told me. So far, I’ve received no call from patient advocates (who are likely overrun), and the nurse said, “No exceptions, except in some cases of imminent death.”

“But that first night, my wife told me she genuinely thought she was going to suffocate to death from the phlegm and mucus,” I pleaded.

Nope.

“But I’m negative for COVID. That test came in yesterday.”

Nope.

“But I have my own personal protective gear. I have masks and gloves provided by our insurance to change the bandages on her Hickman line every week. The nurses at your hospital trained me on how to do this and take care of my wife. I’ll abide by whatever restrictions you place. Please, let me hold my wife’s hand. She looks like she’s getting weaker and weaker by the day … she looks worse than when she was at your hospital with congestive heart failure. Please. Please. Please.”

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Patients need family. Patients need someone to hold their hand, encourage them, and speak life to them.

Skype/FaceTime/Zoom/phone isn’t enough. I understand the need to protect patients and healthcare workers, but now is the time to start to rethink policies and allow patients the companionship they so desperately need and crave.

No one should be isolated in the hospital without a loved one. No one should give birth without the father/partner or a family member there.

And no one, no one, no one should be at risk of dying alone.

Steve Reiter is a 21 year internationally syndicated broadcasting professional. He spent over 12 years working on the internationally syndicated radio show, Focus on the Family. Steve was overseeing the production department in 2008 when FOTF was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame (beating out Howard Stern, Bob Costas and Dr. Laura).

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