Jane survived Covid-19. Her roommate, Elida, did not.
“I‘m not going to start the blame game … except to blame the government for sabotaging the CDC and science.”
Editors’ Note: Violinist Jane Soyka lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Covid-19 spiked dramatically in November. Her story shows how quickly symptoms can go from mild to severe, how dire conditions are in emergency wards, and how confusing the spread can be.
Jane’s first symptoms manifested on November 6. She tested positive on the 10th, and her husband, David, was presumed positive as well. She called 911 on the 18th and was taken to the hospital, where she had to wait for two days on a gurney in the ER because there weren’t enough beds to meet demand.
When she was wheeled into a room, she met Elida, whose trajectory is even more drastic: from severely ill to on the mend to suddenly dead within two days. Jane shares both stories here, on video and in diary form.
This timeline is frightening — but it is not atypical. As of December 20, there is a Covid death every 33 seconds, making this the number one cause of death in the U.S.
“Many people really don’t understand what their role in this is.”
What Jane wants people to take away, perhaps more than any other message, is this: “My conversations with the nursing staff here have been brief. But a few of them have confided in me their fears of the next wave. The Christmas travel season. There’s not enough of them. And they’re getting infected themselves. And whereas I had to stay down in the ER for two days before a room opened up, the next guy will probably be stuck down there a week or maybe more.”
Watch Jane’s hospital-room video about her experience here.
Jane’s Diary: Elida’s Story
“I had a speech prepared for her as I was going to leave: ‘You fight this thing!'”
November 27, 2020
After two days in a queue at the ER “asap” unit, I settled into a semiprivate room on the 8th floor. Another woman, Elida, was already there. Throughout the couple of days as the doctors, respiratory techs, and nurses were tending to Elida, I began to put together a picture of this woman. I overheard her birth year was 1963 — she is ten years my junior. She is a diabetic with high blood pressure, and is suffering from Covid-pneumonia, which is what probably everyone on this floor and a few others is in for.
At first Elida seemed coherent. I overheard her talking on her cell phone to her family. She lives in Texas, and for some reason they flew her into Albuquerque, perhaps because we’re better equipped to deal with overflow of Covid-positive patients with complications. She and I spoke briefly through the curtain, and she would apologize for making noise (moaning). She was making through her pain. I tried to give her a pep talk about beating this thing. I told her she needs to fight like hell. Her family needs her to recover.
Yesterday, Thanksgiving, she took a turn for the worse. They kept bringing in monitoring equipment, trying to keep track of her O2 sats [saturation levels], insulin levels, and general breathing patterns. The doctors and nurses contemplated moving her down to 4th floor (ICU? Dialysis?) to better care for her. IMHO, she really needed to be in some sort of a specialty ward. The 8th floor is merely designated med-surg, and though these nurses have taken crash courses in Covid-19 patient care, they are so overworked and stressed, I don’t know how they can go on!
Today, the day after Thanksgiving, has been scary for Elida. Her diabetes is kicking her ass. Yesterday her blood sugar was hovering around 170. Today I heard the number 55 and they gave her something for that. They couldn’t get her oxygen level up above 70, as she was lying on her back not wanting to move to her stomach, which they say does help with bringing oxygen up.
There were 3 nurses in here today, along with the respiratory staff. They kept saying, “She really looks bad.” The respiratory tech spoke with her about lying on her stomach but she resisted. I’m sure she is frightened and so uncomfortable and in pain that she doesn’t think she’s able to lie prone.
They called the doctor, who had already made his rounds, and he returned. Between him, the nursing staff, and the respiratory techs, they discussed possibly sending her to ICU and intubating her, and they tried to get definitive permission from her to do that. But I don’t think she understands the implications. The doctor spoke in a dire tone, letting her know that once she’s intubated it’s hard to get her off. She was afraid of what it would feel like, and the doctor assured her she would be sedated and wouldn’t feel it.
“A large portion of the population here has health issues that Covid grabs onto and doesn’t let go of. It seems Covid really digs this challenge.”
Thankfully, they stood around her bed weighing all the pros and cons, and eventually were able to talk her into an attempted turnover to a prone position. They collectively flipped her over. Everyone was looking at all the equipment in the hope that her O2 would rise. After a tense 10 minutes she seemed to get relief. O2 climbed to about 88. She seems now to have regained some comfort.
Elida has a long way to go. Her health history isn’t a good one anyway, and while most normally healthy adults can fight off and survive Covid, a large portion of the population here has health issues that Covid grabs onto and doesn’t let go of. It seems Covid really digs this challenge. These are the people who are really suffering and dying from this disease.
My conversations with the nursing staff here have been brief. I’m one of the lucky ones, and I just want to stay out of their way and let them do their work saving lives. But a few of them have confided in me their fears of the next wave. The one coming up in probably another week or so. The Christmas travel season. There’s not enough of them. And they’re getting infected themselves. And whereas I had to stay down in ER for two days before a room opened up, the next guy will probably be stuck down there a week or maybe more!
Many people really don’t understand what their role in this is. You want to be with your long lost relatives, so you’re willing to wager a gamble with that, “Oh, I’ll be ok. Oh, my family is careful. It’ll be ok just to visit. After all, it’s the holidays! We have to be together!” Well, Black Wednesday, as they call it at the airports — and subsequently the rest of the weekend, when people are flying everywhere across the country (the airplanes are FULL!) you can just touch a table and pick up a corona germ. That’s all it takes! I believe that’s all it took for me to get it — perhaps just touching a shopping cart at Smith’s Market.
And if you think your personal liberties are being trampled on by a government for mandating stay-at-home orders, then you are just a selfish asshole, as well as arrogant enough to think your rights trump Elida’s. Or the doctors, nurses and all of these heroes trying perhaps in vain to save one of your loved ones’ lives.
Elida is resting comfortably, for now. God knows, she can use the relief.
It looks like Elida may have turned a corner. Her O2 sat is holding in low 90s. The Dr said no dialysis needed at this time, her kidney seem to be functioning. I don’t hear her moaning, she’s snoring. She ate some Jell-O. A nurse came in after lunch and comes and braided her hair. Still pulling for her. Hope she can fully recover from this. Like me!
November 29, 2020
I am going home. Bittersweet. Simultaneously as I was being given the go-ahead, and the doctor was giving me my instructions, Elida coded. The nurse could not get a response from her. There was no pulse. She was not breathing.
Controlled instanity erupted in the room. They wheeled my bed out to another room, and no fewer than 15 people — doctors, nurses, techs, respiratory, crash team — all converged and began the code blue drill.
About an hour later one of the techs informed me that Elida didn’t make it.
This morning she seemed fine. She asked for some Jell-O and they brought some green and yellow, the usual Sunday fare here. But I learned that she had notified her family (just 2 sisters is all she had) and was saying good-bye to them. I had a speech prepared for her as I was going to leave: “You fight this thing! I want you to leave this hospital soon, the way I’m doing right now! God bless you, Elida!”
I wish I could have given her that speech.
Editors’ note: It’s December 22, and Jane is doing much better. Her recovery, however, is progressing slowly.
Covid brought some complications — including an abnormal EKG, anemia, and possible long-term lung issues. Pneumonia and pleurisy are lingering, so she needs another round of antibiotics. She has been referred to a cardiologist and a pulmonologist. She remains on 4 LPM oxygen.
She says, “Still huffing and puffing. But feeling a whole lot better!”
The road back to health will be long.
Jane Soyka was born and raised in California but left with her husband and son in order to find a healthier environment. They settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where Jane studied music education. She now gives private violin lessons.