Surviving COVID with the help of compassionate caregivers
In a fitting coincidence, Sandwich resident Pat Grenier received his second COVID-19 vaccination on the anniversary of the day he left Cape Cod Hospital after recovering from the virus. Grenier was the very first COVID patient at Cape Cod Hospital last March. His wife Gina Grenier was so grateful for the care her husband received at the hospital that she posted a thank-you note on the Cape Cod Healthcare Facebook page on the anniversary of his release from the hospital.
Cape Cod Health News caught up with her to ask her to share her family’s remarkable story.
“We both got COVID at the same time, at the very beginning of March (2020),” she said. “I started feeling lousy first and I went to the doctor and they misdiagnosed what was wrong because everything was so new. The news had just come out in Boston with Biotech and nothing was going on down here.
“Pat ended up going to the doctor after me. We were both diagnosed with bronchitis so we were both put on antibiotics.”
The Greniers both had a cough, body aches and shortness of breath. They both felt extremely exhausted and found their sense of smell and taste was off. But Pat also ended up with a fever and a migraine headache. Ten days into their illness, Gina called the doctor back to tell him that Pat was not getting better, and in fact, they worried he was getting worse. Their primary care physician told Gina to bring Pat to the Emergency Department.
They arrived at the ED on a Thursday night and Pat was tested for COVID, but the doctors said they were only doing it as a precaution. He was diagnosed with double pneumonia and his oxygen level was low, he was admitted to the hospital. Gina was told to go home and quarantine, just in case.
“I was completely shocked,” she said. “I asked if I could go home and get some stuff for him and they said, ‘No. you have to go home and stay home. We don’t think he has it but we need to assume it. We should have the results by Saturday.’”
That Saturday, it was confirmed that Pat had COVID-19. That night, as Gina was in the ED getting tested herself, Pat was being moved into the Intensive Care Unit. By Sunday night, his condition had deteriorated so much he had to placed on a ventilator.
For the next 10 days, the ICU staff continued to monitor him and clear out his lungs every day. Finally, after about a week, they tried moving Pat to his side instead of having him lie on his back.
“That was really the beginning of a turning point for him and he started to improve,” she said.
Doctors and Nurses as Lifelines
Pat stayed on the ventilator for two weeks, and during that time Gina was not able to visit him. She relied on the ICU doctors and nurses to be her lifeline to her husband. The doctors called every day with updates and the nurses told Gina she could call anytime. She said they not only filled her in on his condition, but once a day a nurse would put on the full protective equipment and go into Pat’s room so that Gina could talk to him on the phone. Even though he was mostly unconscious, she wanted him to hear her voice.
“Whatever they could do to help me have a connection, they did it,” Gina said. “They were so patient. They said, ‘You can call as often as you want and stay on as long as you want.’ Calling them was the only comfort I had. They deserve to be recognized. They were so compassionate and so empathetic, and I took notes of all the conversations I had with them.”
Gina also told the nurses all about the patient they were treating. She wanted them to see him as a person and not just a patient. She told them about his devotion to mission work and his love of fishing and nature, and how he loves to teach people how to fly fish.
After about two weeks, doctors were able to wean Pat off of the respirator. He stayed in the ICU for a couple more days and then was moved into a regular hospital room for an additional four days. The nurses on that floor were also amazing, Gina said. When Pat wasn’t interested in food because it didn’t taste good, Gina suggested that he ask for some chocolate pudding because that was one of the few foods that tasted good to her when she was sick.
When Pat asked a nurse about pudding, she said that she used to work at Friendly’s and offered to make him a Fribble-style milkshake. He loved it.
In addition to the staff at Cape Cod Healthcare, Gina really appreciated the support of Sandwich Town Nurse Joanne Geake. Geake helped her find a COVID test early on in their ordeal and then called every day to check in on Gina and see if she needed anything.
A year later, Pat is doing very well. The only change is that he goes to bed a little earlier than he used to. Gina had lingering symptoms over the past year, but now that she has received her second vaccine, she said the symptoms are abating.
“It’s a happy story and we are very grateful,” she said.