I awaken and see by the clock next to me that it’s nearly 7:00. My first thought: morning or evening? I am clearly disoriented. Then it comes back to me. Last evening I had been so tired for so many hours, but had valiantly tried to remain awake in case I was needed somewhere. I recall that by about 7 pm I could no longer keep my eyes open and had succumbed to exhaustion—which means that I have been asleep for almost 12 hours.
The six other people in my family of friends all have COVID-19; I’m the last person standing. This must be some kind of cruel cosmic joke, because when it comes to a health crisis I would be the last person out of a thousand that anyone would choose to attend to them. There are reasons, but that’s another story.
As I get myself out of bed my entire body seems to be rebelling in pain. I go first to May to check her breathing. I feel her forehead. Unlike other mornings, a time when her fever typically spiked, today her temperature seems closer to normal. Although I’ve been able to buy an oxygen generator at an exorbitant price, a simple mercury thermometer is impossible to find. For many days she’s also had a persistent and painful cough, but I hear nothing at the moment. Given the deep sleep that I was in, if her cough had been bad during the night, I would have had no idea.
I make a cup of coffee and sit on the balcony outside my front door. All is relatively quiet at this hour, except for occasional coughing emanating from other apartments. My confusion persists as I sip my coffee and contemplate what I need to do next. May begins to cough, but it’s less jagged than in days past. At times it became so painful for her that she tried to resist and contain it as much as possible.
I finish my coffee and head over to the apartment of my old neighbour. I quietly peep inside, and instead of finding him lying on his bed hooked up to oxygen, his granddaughter is dozing there, and the oxygen generator is sitting idle. My first thought is that he had passed away during the night while I was unconscious, but within seconds his daughter appears and lets me know that everything is alright, for now. An underground nurse had come by to give him an injection of Enoxaparin, an anticoagulant, after which his blood oxygen level rose significantly and they were able to take him off the oxygen and move him to another room.
Yesterday I had the great good fortune to get this crucial piece of advice from two distant Canadian doctors. Among their recommendations was to remove the patient from the oxygen generator when his blood oxygen level rose above 90, so that he didn’t become dependent on it. When using an oxygen cylinder, this also helps to preserve the supply. Because his natural oxygen level remained at an almost normal level throughout the night, he was able to manage without supplemental oxygen.
I return a few more times during the day and each time find him sleeping. His respiratory rate seems a little high, but he’s resting peacefully. Unfortunately, May’s condition has deteriorated since this morning and she now seems no better than yesterday. Her blood oxygen level however continues to hover around 95, which is normal. It’s difficult to keep her in bed because she so very much wants to help, but for now I’ve been able to persuade her to stay put. She too is sleeping quietly.
As I assess my contribution, I’m hoping that during this health emergency heaven is helping those who have me as their care provider. I’m OK dealing with the science behind the issues, but everything else remains beyond me.