Archive for the ‘Corona City’ Category

Urban Prayer
Brooklyn, April 16, 2020 (Photo by Walter Wlodarczyk)

Lorraine Ash 
May 8, 2020  

The long hand of COVID-19 snatched Barbara from our family. Barbara, one life of 8,952 lost, according to the latest death chart. Barbara, who I just found after untangling reams of genealogical records and crossing a desert of family estrangement. Barbara, who I was never supposed to meet.  

In 2015 I called her husband, Gene, my cousin, and introduced myself. We decided to meet some weeks later at an Atlanta Bread on a highway. Barbara came to support him that day, standing by his side, pretty as a picture with short blonde hair and a red outfit. She extended her hand.  

We all sat in a booth where she listened to us trade more than a century of stories and pictures. We filled in blanks for each other. I had a huge one. Barbara, mother of four, had met the grandmother I never knew. She understood the wound and scrambled for a connection. 

“I have her roasting pan at home,” she told me, her easy smile lighting up her face. “I use it every Thanksgiving. After all, she was Gene’s aunt. Sometimes she came over to the house for picnics.” 

After decades of no contact, she produced the only tangible thing left to bridge three generations—a roasting pan. In the moment her acuity and sensitivity delighted me. Not everyone would have been as thoughtful or as willing. 

“You must come to the house,” she said. “We’ll have lunch.”  

So a few weeks later I ventured to their house on a lake. At age fifty-six, for the first time, I set foot in a home from that side of the family. Just walking over the threshold felt magical and right. We sat in a room like an art gallery, eating a delicious gluten-free meal she’d lovingly prepared as Gene and I talked on. After a time, we moved past the ancestors and into our own lives—who we were, where we’d been, what we’d done. Just like a family does. 

Even at eighty, Barbara, a painter, still worked in an art gallery. She loved her art. It was everywhere in their home. She loved her home. She loved her husband, her children, her grandchildren and, very clearly, her life. She had love to spare. 

Just as she was to end a successful treatment program in a rehab facility, the virus came. Having no mercy for the weak, it killed her quickly. We’d had no past. It took our future. The news of her death jolted me. The jolt affirmed the connection, so I was glad to feel it.   

Like a black wave, death had taken unreconciled family members for decades. No one was ever notified. No one cared to notify. Many times, news of a death would have been like news of the death of a stranger, anyway. 
Like all the memorial services, Barbara’s will be sometime in the future. Whenever it is, I will be there to mark her passing, to say goodbye, to say, “I knew her.” 

I started my quest to find my long-gone grandmother, who had abandoned her own children. Barbara had given me a piece of that long-lost past. But the truth is, she gave me more than my grandmother ever would have. She gave me a piece of herself. She stood in that terrible void and imbued it with her grace. And no virus can kill that kind of humanity. 

Lorraine Ash, MA, is a New Jersey-based book editor, author, and literary coach.

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Dr. Ferreras in his hometown of Lumban, Philippines giving a holiday meal, December 2017 (Courtesy of Nico Ferreras, MD)

Nico Ferreras, MD 

My father, Jessie Ariel Ferreras, MD, worked a long weekend March 20-23, 2020. A family physician in Waldwick, New Jersey, he was very proud to be an everyday doctor who specialized in everything. The four-day stretch was no different as he tested many patients for COVID-19.  

That Monday, upon his return from work, he didn’t feel well. His own COVID-19 test had come back positive. Yet he sat at his home desk on March 24, and every day thereafter, with a long list of patients’ names. Following each was a “+” or “-.” One by one, he called to give them their results and instructions. That’s the way he’d been with his patients for twenty-five years—devoted.  

“If there’s no improvement or if you have any concerns, don’t hesitate to call the office,” he always said. 

On April 2, supposedly his tenth day with COVID symptoms, he had a fever but said he was fine, not short of breath. He had dinner and went to bed. So it was a shock when the next day, April 3, his health took a turn for the worst. He passed away at home in the arms of his loving wife and my mother, Madonna, a nurse. He was only sixty-two. 

His passing marked the end of a short yet wonderful life. The eldest of six, my father grew up in Lumban, a small provincial town in Laguna, Philippines. From the start, he dreamt of becoming a doctor and serving those around him. Knowing the path wouldn’t be easy, he worked tirelessly to make his dream a reality for himself and his family, friends, and future patients.  

He studied medicine at the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Medicine and Surgery (UST FMS). After graduating, he pursued medical training in the United States and completed his residency in family medicine at JFK Medical Center in Edison, New Jersey. He found a second home at work where he managed patients from children to the elderly and cases from the common cold to chest pain.  

His clinical skills, ranging from suturing lacerations to ear irrigations and Pap smears, were matched only by his kindness and compassion. Everyone he came into contact with loved him. One of my father’s colleagues called him a “trusted friend and the backbone of the office.” Nurses admired his dedication. He often called patients on his free time, as he did the week before he died. He gave them lab results and updates; he knew they were waiting. He refilled prescriptions; he knew they needed their medications.  
To patients, he was more than an approachable compassionate doctor who took his time to address their concerns. He was a friend, a shoulder to lean on, an extended member of the family. 

And yet he was more than a family physician. He was a family man, happily married for thirty-two years. Even with a busy schedule, he found time to go to sporting events with me and my brother, Ryan, and to see Broadway shows with our mother. As a family, we traveled the world. He encouraged my brother and me to enjoy our lives and pursue careers we’d enjoy. Ryan, an avid hip-hop dancer, works as a software engineer. Like my father, I’m a doctor in family medicine. 

I will never forget my beautiful upbringing, just as my father never forgot where he came from. In 2008 he and his siblings started a yearly family tradition: they donate a holiday meal to three hundred fifty families in Lumban so no one goes hungry during the Christmas season. He visited as often as he could and was very fond of family get-togethers and class reunions.  

After his passing, my mother, brother, and I learned of hundreds of people who loved and cared about my dad. His medical school classmates created a Facebook tribute page and posted memories and pictures of him. On April 12, Easter Sunday, his coworkers and friends formed a drive-by procession in front of our house. They got out of their cars and, one by one, left pictures, flowers, cards, and candles in honor of Dr. Ferreras.  

Beloved patients have sent cards and letters recounting memorable experiences. One wrote about her lack of follow-up from a specialist.  

“Your father persisted,” she said. “He did not give up calling me till he got a response. He told me I had pneumonia.” 

Another told the story of how Dr. Ferreras had helped in every aspect of his life for more than twenty years.  

My dad’s passing was made more memorable when people donated on his behalf. The money went to COVID-19 response efforts, including PPEs. He would have liked that. 

Though COVID-19 took his life at the early age of sixty-two, he had checked off all the boxes for a meaningful life. He’d found his true calling, married his one true love, and seen his sons become men. He healed the sick, traveled the world, and made the lives around his better. He lives on through the lives he touched, so he goes down in history as a hero.  

And I do my best to follow in his footsteps as the next “Dr. Ferreras,” though, for now, hearing people address me that way always reminds me of him.  

Nico Ferreras, 30, graduated Boston College and, like his father, earned his medical degree at UST FMS. He is currently a first-year resident in family medicine at Meadville Medical Center, Pennsylvania.

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Sharing the Love
This #WeWillHugAgain yard sign, created by a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania printing service,
appears throughout the New York Metro Area, May 2020 (Photo by Lorraine Ash)

Jean Sheff
May 12, 2020

I hear him as he slides the key into my front door lock. The sound of metal on metal makes my insides lurch, but I swivel my desk chair to face the door. Michael and I have navigated the twenty-five minutes between our homes for four years with a boldness we no longer possess. 

When the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders went into effect, we were each in our own homes.  

“Jean, with your autoimmune issues, I’m the worst thing for you,” he said. “I couldn’t bear it if you got sick.”  

That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. Though I’d been working from home, I’d lost my job because of the virus, just as millions of others had. I was looking at painfully empty days. Yet, he was right. Michael works in the medical field and he’d been seeing patients until our world shuttered closed. Yes, quarantining for two weeks was judicious. 

We called one another two or three times a day. We relied on each other to ease the endless hours. Things were grim. New cautions were issued daily. The rules changed by the hour. If you dared to go outside, you had best suit up like an astronaut walking on the moon. We got skittish and held off getting together for another week, then another. People we knew were getting sick. His aunt and uncle, who lived in a local senior center, were whisked off to a hospital. Five days later they were both dead. With funerals banned, we couldn’t gather to find comfort. Everyone cried at home alone.   

Before we knew it, another several weeks passed. We kept flip-flopping on when to break the quarantine. Where was my bravery? I felt shallow. One night I invited him to dinner for the following day. He called early the next morning. His throat was sore, he said, and his eyes were watering. We cancelled. Paranoia had found a home. A cough felt fatal. I vacillated between feeling ridiculous and not cautious enough. The separation was getting painful. We consulted doctors, friends, and family. No one could reassure us. No one knows what safe is anymore. To get together, we’d have to just take our chances. 

So here we are. He’s arriving for dinner, and I’m jumpy. He creaks the door open, as if he’s afraid, too. I stand. We look at each other. We try to smile. He extends his hand, offering me a dozen ruby roses cradled in cellophane. I want this scene to be different. It should evoke the iconic 1945 Eisenstaedt photo of an impassioned sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square at the end of World War II. Or if not that, then why not the scene in countless films and a legion of novels—two amorous people huddled tightly together as the bombs drop around them? 

But in this time of COVID-19, touching is dangerous. I try to will the dread away. Yet fear is insidious. It creeps into every chink in the foundation of my soul. I step forward and take the roses, then open my arms to him. We hug. It feels like there’s a saguaro cactus wedged between our chests. It hurts. I turn my head into his shoulder and grab him tighter. For the rest of the evening we’re careful with each other. After dinner we watch some television and relax enough to hold hands. He rises to leave and we hug again, but we don’t kiss.  

Being deprived of touch feels cruel. In so many ways it sustains me. I miss human contact, from a dear one’s hug to a friendly handshake to a lover’s embrace. With masks shielding us from one another, I even miss seeing the smiles of people I don’t know. But this is the new human condition.  

Later, I get into bed and cocoon myself in the covers. I’m lonelier now than at any time during the seven weeks we spent apart. I turn over, wondering how we’ll come together again. Still, we’re just two. How will everyone in this country, in this world, ever come together again?   

I challenge myself: if I weren’t thinking so much about this, what would I be feeling? I can’t go there. I shut down. An anthem enshrines this pandemic—“We’re in This Together.” Maybe that’s because, as in birth and death, the truth is, we’re in this alone.  

Jean Sheff holds a BFA from Adelphi University. She is an award-winning, New York-based writer and editor. Jean is devoted to her daughter, Juliana, and enjoys teaching Pilates.

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Suddenly Sick

Deaths Soar in New York
SoHo, April 4, 2020 (Photo by Walter Wlodarczyk)

Laura Carriere

When the first announcements of a strange new virus called COVID-19 hit New York City’s news, I was working. We allergy/immunology nurses stopped what we were doing and watched the Channel 7 broadcast with fear. At that point in January, the first case was being reported in the United States. I explained to the other nurses that I’d been working in infectious diseases when Ebola hit the US. 

“This feels similar,” I said, noting that Ebola was quickly contained. “We had more deaths from the influenza that year than Ebola itself.” 

We resumed working, hoping this situation would be similar. 

March 15
I wake up with gastric symptoms and a fever. I’d drunk a bit the night before and had Blue Ribbon fried chicken a bit too late, an unusual combination for me. Another nurse I work with, who had shared the meal and drinks with me, wakes up with similar symptoms. As of now, the CDC is only reporting three symptoms for COVID-19—cough, fever, and shortness of breath. I’m already asthmatic and know I have no respiratory symptoms, but I still stay home from work for a week. The symptoms continue. 

March 22
I wake up coughing, wheezing, and short of breath. My fever has spiked again after being absent for a couple of days, so I head to an urgent care center. I explain to the physician there that I was informed the day prior that a nurse and a physician I work closely with tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week and that another physician is awaiting results. He states he feels I have the coronavirus but will not swab me due to lack of testing. Besides, he says, the treatment would be the same anyway—fluids, rest, Tylenol. 

March 25
I wake up feeling like my lungs are working extra hard. My fever has reached 103.7. I contact my director of nursing and the allergist/immunologist I work directly with. Both advise me to head to an ER. I arrive at a hospital in downtown Manhattan just as the Motrin I took is breaking my fever. I know this because I’m profusely sweating. My Albuterol has taken effect as well, as my breathing does not feel as labored. I look around and see patients in worse distress than I’m in, so I know I will not be admitted. I am put on the antibiotic Azithromycin, given IV fluids, and sent home. 

March 27
I am coughing up bright red blood. My chest is heaving with every breath. Neither of my two inhalers is helping and my fever has spiked to 104.5. Both my superiors are now begging me to call 911, as it is clear I need to be hospitalized. I am hesitant because I have never stayed overnight in a hospital before, but I can feel my body shutting down systemically, so I dial 911 and am rushed by ambulance to a hospital in Brooklyn. 

March 28
At 5 a.m. a physician comes to tell me my nasal swab is positive for COVID-19, as I already knew. He then throws me off-guard by asking if I have family in the nearby area. I should call them, he says, and tell them I love them, tell them what’s going on with me. I am so scared, I text my fellow nurses, not my parents, because I want a second opinion and know a shift change is happening in a mere two hours. I am on 15 liters of oxygen and still heaving. My fever remains high and they are not giving medication. They forget to give me an IV until I remind them at 6 a.m. I have now been there for nine hours. At 8 a.m. I’m told I will be moved to the ICU. At 3 p.m., still in an overcrowded Critical Care ER, they tell me there is no bed for me and they need to find another ICU in New York City somewhere. Every hospital they call is completely full. They finally locate an ICU bed in the Bronx, forty-five minutes away. I have to get transferred and the oxygen tank cannot give me the amount I’ve been receiving for the transfer. I am not warned. I only know this from my own medical knowledge. 

March 29
At 12 a.m. I arrive at the Bronx hospital gasping for air, only to be told my ICU bed was given away. I am then put on a newly renovated geriatric psych unit that hasn’t even had patients yet. I am put in a room with no oxygen attached to the wall, just a completely bare room. Not even a trash can. They are trying to find a large oxygen tank for me, as I keep running out. This is not an ICU unit and this is the first time I feel I may die. I don’t sleep. My fever spikes again. I cough up red blood.  

They are not feeding me by 9 a.m. and I last ate on Friday, March 27. I just want cold water. I ask for some. It comes two hours later. Someone in full PPE comes into my room and steals my oxygen tank. I am gasping for air for five to ten minutes. They bring it back. It happens again—for more than ten minutes. I am trying to yell that I can’t breathe, but no one can hear me in an isolation room with no call button. I am choking. I know I will die tonight if I am not moved out off this floor immediately. At 7 p.m. I start to choke on blood. I feel my lungs shutting down as well as my kidneys, my whole body. I press and press the newly made call button. No one comes for over an hour. I know a normal adult’s O2 saturation levels should be 98–100 percent. Mine are now at 86 percent while on oxygen, then drop to 80 percent.  

They call the ICU. I’m rushed down and put in a glass isolation room with all of the ICU physicians and nurses crowded around me. The doctor says he needs to intubate me immediately. I say no. He states they will watch me for an hour and if I can keep my O2 levels above 90 percent, they will not intubate me. I spend an hour staring at the wall, practicing deep, slow breathing while clutching my necklace that stores my only sister’s ashes. I make the decision then and there that my parents will not go to a hospital and pick up another dead child with tubes down her throat. I succeed in keeping my O2 sats above 90 percent, so the staff lets me rest. 

March 30
I wake up to two medical researchers shoving a stack of papers in front of me. They ask me to sign my name to try an IV transfusion for a blinded clinical trial. They state no one will know if I receive a placebo, 200 milligrams or 400 milligrams of a medication called Kevzara, made by Regeneron. I recognize the pharmaceutical corporation, as they make a biologic medication I use daily at work. I’ve personally seen that medication dramatically change patient’s lives. I accept. I receive. I am still considered critical at this point: high fever, diarrhea, dehydration, kidneys not functioning, and labored breathing while attached to an oxygen mask. 

March 31
I feel a bit better. I am not coughing up blood anymore. My fever is lower. 

April 1
I wake up with no fever. I am able to eat a little bit. I am able to talk a little bit. 

April 2
I now know I will not die. No fever for two days. My nurses say I look so much better. Two physicians come in and ask why I refused intubation. I explained my family’s last image of my thirty-year-old sister: she was dead on a hospital bed with tubes down her throat. When I arrived at the hospital back then, I had pleaded with the nurses to take them out of her and to clean the blood off of her so my parents didn’t have to see her that way. They stated that since she overdosed at home and was so young, there would be an investigation and they could not touch her body. That image will be forever embedded in my brain. I told the doctors I would not allow my parents to go through it again. They stated that had been the smartest move because it saved my life. I was the sole survivor of the ICU on the night of March 29. The other five patients who were intubated before me died. They change their “intubate immediately” policy. 

April 3
I can smell again. I am tasting certain foods. I speak with my voice to my parents for the first time. They cry. I don’t tell them that I have no TV or window, that I just watch all day and night from my glass isolation room as bodies are rolled in, code, and rolled out with a sheet over them. I haven’t cried yet. 

April 4
Today I turn thirty-six. My ten girlfriends who I grew up with create a Dropbox video of them and their kids, across the country, singing me “Happy Birthday.” I finally cry. A lot. 

April 5
I am moved to a medical surgical unit, as they have dropped me down to 4 liters of oxygen and I am talking without my mask. Doctors and nurses come into my room to ask my story. I become some sort of phenomenon, mostly because this trial medication saved my life. Today is the first day my medical researcher will admit I did not receive the placebo and was given either 200 or 400 milligrams. She states my markers went up dramatically all week after the IV transfusion I received and the areas of my lungs with damage can be seen improving on my chest Xrays. My arms are bloodied and bruised from twice-a-day blood draws and I am sick of taking so many medications, especially the blood thinner injections to the stomach. 

April 6
They take off my oxygen mask. An hour later they tell me I am having an early discharge. I am not prepared and know they should keep me another twenty-four hours, as per protocol with the oxygen. They state they are scared I will get another infection from the hospital and that I need to continue lying in bed all day while at home. No one sends me home with oxygen and I don’t get a wheelchair. I have to walk for the first time in ten days. I’m so weak. The nurses cheer for me as I leave the unit. I cry uncontrollably.  

On the street I see a nurse who took care of me in the ICU and cannot believe she recognized me with my mask on. We both cry and she states she thought I would never walk out of here alive, as most doctors and nurses have already told me. I take a forty-five-minute Uber ride back to my apartment. I have a bad asthmatic episode on my second-floor apartment stairs. I take my inhaler a couple of times. I run into the shower. My roommate helps me stand as I scrub all the tape and electrode pad residue off me. 

It has taken me more than two months to recover. I am still not at work but hope to be by July. I had to do a lot of breathing exercises in the beginning and was sleeping fourteen to more than eighteen hours a day, due to chronic fatigue and not sleeping for more than three hours straight in the hospital. I am now able to take small walks around the block and not use my rescue inhaler. I continue to read articles about lengthy recoveries from other healthcare providers who also almost died and who, like me, were also immunocompromised prior to getting COVID-19. I have hope and faith I will return to work soon to help the sick people of New York City, the reason why I got into this profession.

Laura Carriere is a nurse working and living in Brooklyn, New York. She has been a nurse for fourteen years and is currently attending a CUNY college to further her education.

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