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“The texts were unsettling.”

A hand types a message on a smartphone against a black background.
By Dr. Jeanmarie Perrone

Philadelphia , PA
United States

[Read about this story from the perspective of Jacqui, the patient, here.]

[Like others close to Jacqui, who was hospitalized with COVID-19,] I too received one of Jacqui’s confusing text soliloquies containing bizarre rants like “get me out of here.” It was completely unlike her. The texts arrived around 3 AM, when she knew I'd be working. I thought maybe she was reaching out to share her support for me as a health care worker in the throes of a pandemic. The texts were unsettling.

When I called her in the morning, she could tell me pieces of what led her to the hospital, but she was a little incoherent. She wasn’t able to tell me how many days she had been in the hospital or any details of her condition. She told me the “bad nurse was coming,” and that she had to get off the phone. She promised to call me back but she didn’t. She didn’t answer her cell phone later that night.

The next morning, I called her. She answered but a nurse quickly came on the line and told me it would be better if Jacqui and I spoke a bit later. The nurse gave me her direct number. Before I hung up, I could hear that Jacqui was very upset and was resisting the nurse’s guidance, but the nurse sounded like she was handling the situation appropriately.

Jacqui seemed paranoid and delusional. How sick was she? Thirty minutes later, I called the nurse and she told me that Jacqui was, in fact, hallucinating and that they were waiting for a psychiatric consultation. I spoke with Jacqui later that night, and it was clear she had been sedated but otherwise seemed okay.

The next morning, I called the hospital and was advised that Jacqui had been transferred to the ICU [intensive care unit] and was on a ventilator. I wanted to reach out to her sister Carolyn, but I didn’t know how to contact her. I googled her name, found her professional website, and requested an appointment with her as a new patient.

Carolyn responded and we were speaking by phone a few minutes later, piecing together the chronology of the last few days. I was so worried for Jacqui and felt just terrible for Carolyn, knowing the two of them had always been so close. I shared Jacqui’s story with my whole family; she had spent the past Christmas Eve with us and had made such an impression, and they were all sending prayers and love every day. The next 6 days of daily check-ins with Carolyn, the doctors, nurses, and my family were frantic as we saw the pandemic manifest in our beloved Jacqui, who was our age and totally fit. It didn’t make sense. It heralded lots of terror about the next several days, weeks and and months as the virus raged in nearby New York City and in Philadelphia where we live.

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