LONG BEACH, California – As an ICU veterinary nurse whose job is to care for the sickest patients at her hospital in Long Beach, California, Merlin Pambuan was well aware of the deadly ravages that COVID-19 can cause. the human body.
Last spring, in a tragic reversal of role, Pambuan became one of those patients – admitted to the intensive care unit of St. John’s Medical Center. Mary, her workplace for the past 40 years, where she was unconscious from sedation that induces paralysis and placed on a ventilator to breathe. A feed tube was then added.
She came close to death several times, her doctors later revealed. Her condition was so serious at one point that end-of-life options were discussed with her family.
When she woke up and could breathe on her own again, she was too weak to stand. But he fought back and struggled through weeks of painful therapy to regain his strength and mobility, celebrating 66 years in the St. Mary’s acute rehabilitation department in late October.
On Monday, Pambuan surpassed the chances of his eight-month trial by walking out the hospital door, attracting cheers, applause and cheers from colleagues lining the hallway to enjoy his discharge.
“This is my second life,” Pambuan said moments earlier as she prepared to leave the hospital room with her 63-year-old husband, Daniel, and their daughter, Shantell. A 33-year-old social worker who spent months at her mother’s bed as her patient lawyer and personal cheerleader.
The spectacle of Pambuan walking slowly but confidently through the hospital lobby — he had insisted on getting out without the assistance of a wheelchair or walker, though still connected to extra oxygen — marked a transformative victory for the tiny but tough intensive care nurse. .
“What we live for”
The outpouring of affection she received from colleagues – including many doctors, fellow nurses and therapists who took part in her care – also reflected a rare moment of community triumph for pandemic-tired hospital staff.
“That’s why we live … seeing our patients go home alive and well,” said Dr. Maged Tanios, a specialist in lung and critical care at St. Mary. He said Pambuan’s recovery was particularly gratifying because he was part of the hospital’s extended “family”.
Tanios said he was unaware that other St. Mary’s medical staff had been admitted to the ICU for COVID. However, studies show that frequent and close contact of healthcare workers with coronavirus patients puts them at greater risk of contracting the disease, hence the decision to give them top priority in immunization.
Pambuan’s discharge, ironically, coincided with the recent launch of COVID-19 vaccines to health care workers, as well as a crushing increase in coronavirus infections that have plagued hospitals, and especially intensive care, across California. .
Pambuan said he did not remember the four months he spent on a breathing machine – from early May to early September – but recalled the first time he woke up from a deep sedation unable to and moves the extremities.
With encouragement from the health care staff and her daughter Pambuan, she said she had become determined to regain her mobility and life.
“I said, ‘No, I’m going to fight this COVID,'” she said. “I start moving my hand (and) a physical therapist comes and says, ‘Oh, you move your hands,’ and I said, ‘Oh, I’ll fight, I’ll fight. I try to move my toes. I’m going to fight her. ‘ “
Pambuan has spent the last months of his hospital stay undergoing physical and respiratory rehabilitation and will continue his recovery from home, making peace, she said, with a change of pace.
“It will be very difficult for me,” she said. “But I have to admit, I’m going to run out of oxygen for a while and I’m going to slow down a little bit.”
When or if he will return to work at the ICU remains an open question, she said.
Meanwhile, Pambuan said she felt indebted to her “truly professional” care colleagues, grateful for the support of her loved ones and recently convinced of the power of optimism.
Her message to others in her place – “Don’t lose hope. Just fight. Fight, because look at me, you know. I go home and go. “
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