Hospitalized in New York during the time of Corona

Four days in a New York City Hospital during a pandemic

Photo by T. Sportiello

New York City is in the midst of a global pandemic, as is the country, as is the world. At the time of this writing 2.87 million people have been confirmed to have the corona virus and more than two hundred thousand have died. 953,000 have it in the United States with New York, always looking to be top dog, accounting for 282.000 of those cases. This has obviously put a tremendous burden on our health care system, especially for those of us who live here in New York City, and unfortunately that system was taxed by one more individual as I found myself an involuntary guest of the Mount Sinai Hospital on 59th and 10th right here in Manhattan. Now personally, I don’t recommend you go to ANY hospital if you can help it but if circumstances dictate that you do have to go, Mount Sinai is as good as it gets. This is the story of my four day stay at a busy New York hospital in the middle of a pandemic.

New York City
Photo by T. Sportiello

My symptoms started on Monday with an on again, off again tightening of the chest and severe stomach pain which I thought was bad, but not bad enough to go get it looked at, and certainly not with all the other nuttiness that was going on out there health wise. But Tuesday came, and it was worse, and I mean it was MUCH worse, so under my wife Kelli’s orders I sort of wobbled over to City MD on 42nd Street and 9th Avenue. The waiting room inside was empty, and I mean shockingly empty. I’m not sure what I expected, but let me tell you, there’s something jarring about being in a seemingly abandoned waiting area during the worst health crisis of our times. I was taken in immediately. I told the nurse my symptoms and they promptly took an X ray. I then waited for a short while until the doctor came in and said flatly, “Your X rays are a mess”, which is not something you ideally want to hear from a doctor while you’re having chest pains. When I pressed for specifics she said, ‘Let me put it this way. You are the sickest person we’ve had here today.” I did not mention the fact that this was actually no more specific than her first comment but before long she launched into detail about lack of oxygen, possible pneumonia, some other number I knew nothing about being particularly bad, blah, blah, blah and finished by saying I needed to go to the hospital that minute. Being a New Yorker I took ‘that minute’ to be more of a suggestion than an actual directive and first I went home, where my wife packed some clothes and food, got the electronics and chargers, my passport (I haven’t had a driver’s license since 1998) and I proceeded to admit myself into Mount Sinai Hospital.

The emergency room bed, Mt. Sinai
Photo by T. Sportiello

Ok, as too many of you unfortunately know, going into an emergency room under the best of conditions is not ideal and when you are in the middle of a global pandemic it becomes ten times worse. There is an order, extremely admirable under the circumstances, but even with that there are doctors and nurses running everywhere, patients coming in and out, alarms going off, bells ringing, loudspeaker on constantly….for the people who work there this is all probably just routine, but if you haven’t been exposed to the environment it seems more like a war zone. The nurses and doctors and attendants and security personnel were obviously being pushed to the max, although very few seemed to be disheartened. On the contrary they all took great pains to be patient, and kind, and answer any questions you might have. I was treated for the corona virus (obviously) and I was not prepared for just how painful this process is. The male nurse who gave it to me was a big, strong man and apologized in advance, saying ‘This is generally where people want to hit me in the mouth.’ It consists of a long swab being sent up your nostrils towards your brain to the point where you think it can’t go any deeper. The tests came back negative, but because the hospital was so packed with patients they didn’t have a room for me upstairs. There was no choice but to spend the entire night and into the morning down in the emergency room, amidst the alarms, the bells, the ringing, the loudspeaker, the patients’ cries and doctors’ conversations. I think I got ten minutes of sleep that night. (Humorous anecdote from an otherwise hellish night: one of the nurses was asking a grumpy new patient ‘Have you ever been exposed to anyone with coronavirus?’ and he gestured around the room and said, ‘Well, I sure I am NOW!”, which I had to admit, crossed my mind as well).

Mount Sinai
Photo by T. Sportiello

Finally on Wednesday I got sent up to a room which honestly felt like less of a hospital room and more like a suite at the Plaza. I was the only one in it and I would remain the only one in it my entire stay. I couldn’t understand why I was given a private room when obviously there was no shortage of patients. The nurse shrugged and told me ‘You don’t have the virus’. I took that to mean they weren’t going to put me in a room with someone who actually did have the virus, which automatically made me feel guilty for not having the virus, which I then quickly got over. So while I was in my luxury palace, trying to connect to the wifi (it comes and goes), being poked and prodded and having blood removed, and oxygen inserted, and so on, it struck me that at any given moment over the loudspeakers I would, for no reason hear a piece of the Beatles “Here Comes The Sun”. Just a snippet. “Here comes the sun. Here comes the sun, and I say, it’s all right”, and then it would fade out. It wasn’t constant, maybe once every couple of hours, but it was so random and seemingly out of place that I was compelled to ask one of the nurses sticking a needle in my vein about it. She said, ‘Every time someone who had the virus gets discharged from the hospital we play the song.’ Which I thought was kind of cool.

View from Mt. Sinai. Night

So I stayed there on Wednesday, hoping to be let go, then I stayed there on Thursday, hoping to be let go, but each time there was something in the blood they didn’t quite like and finally Friday morning they said that all the tests came back well enough for me to be discharged. Apparently, somehow in the middle of a global pandemic, this poor schmuck winds up with a form of pneumonia. Which can be dangerous but not fatal, at least not in this case. But I have to tell you John Oliver suggested that when this was all over we should hold a parade in the city, not for our sports heroes but instead for all the doctors and nurses and health care workers doing an incredibly difficult job and in my mind, it can’t go on long enough. No one signed up for this. But not one of them was bitching or complaining. Unlike their patients. I remember that one night when I came back from getting a cat scan I had been given dinner; a kind of Mexican chicken sort of dish with rice, but they had forgotten to give me a fork or knife. So I buzzed and asked for a fork and knife and they said ‘sure, no problem’. Twenty minutes later it still hadn’t come and for the very briefest of moments I felt a hint of annoyance that the dinner was getting cold until I reminded myself ‘They probably forgot about your silverware because they’re busy saving a life, asshole. Just eat the damn cold chicken and when they come back, say thank you. There are bigger problems going on than this.’ (They brought the fork and knife almost immediately after I had those thoughts, by the by). So finally, I am dressed and I have my discharge papers, and antibiotics are sent to the pharmacy where my darling wife (who has been amazing in all this, taking care of children, pets, school and work, cooking all the meals, making sure everyone has what they need), will get them and hopefully that will be the end of my experience with our medical heroes during this crisis. I much prefer a more distant relationship with them at the moment, going to the terrace at 7pm and banging on my pot to show my gratitude. P.S. As I was leaving Friday, all the nurses and doctors at the front desk noticed I had my jacket on and lit up when I told them I was going home. I thanked everybody for their exceptional support and kindness and one of the nurses smiled and said, ‘Do you want the song?’ Sheepishly I said I would love it if they didn’t mind. So as I headed out, waving goodbye, I heard over the loudspeakers ‘Here come the sun. Here comes the sun and I say….it’s all right.’

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