Jimmy Carrasco, 59, was in a wheelchair and on oxygen last week. He looked tired, but nothing could mask his happiness. He was going home. "These are great people," he said referring to the Moore County Hospital District (MCHD) staff who had taken care of him for a roller-coaster month in Memorial Hospital in Dumas, sometimes in the intensive care unit.
Thirty-nine Moore County residents have died of COVID as of December 14, Jimmy Carrasco came uncomfortably close to joining them, but thanks in large measure to the efforts of the medical professionals who never gave up on him, he beat the odds. Because his condition was so dire at times and his journey so difficult, the medical staff decorated his wheel chair with balloons and gave him a joyful sendoff last week as he left the hospital for home. For a medical staff that had seen a lot of death in the last few weeks, worked countless hours taking care of extremely sick and contagious patients, and dealt with their own vulnerability and that of their colleagues to the disease, this was a victory worth celebrating.
Alison Loya, the nursing director of the medical-surgical and intensive care units was among the people taking care of Carrasco. "Mr Carrasco came to us 29 days ago. The first few days he was doing OK, but the day he was supposed to be discharged he had a setback and ended up having to stay an additional 25 days. The whole team took care of him," she said.
Roy Howell, a registered respiratory therapist, was part of the team. "The day he was supposed to go home I went and checked him before he left, and I wouldn't let them discharge him. He was going bad. The saturation or amount of oxygen in his blood had completely fallen out. It was not life sustaining. We had to up his oxygen quickly, and this all happened in less than an hour. That is what we are seeing with COVID patients," he said. "We are just glad we caught him before he went home and took a turn for the worse."
"When he first presented he had your typical shortness of breath and low oxygen rates. We were able to manage them with just regular oxygen," added Loya.
Over the course of Carrasco's stay in the hospital, the medical staff, including Dr. Ositadinma Opara, tried a variety of different treatments, including a new method of delivering high velocity oxygen called Vapotherm. Though his condition was bad at times, Carrasco managed to avoid the dreaded ventilator. He eventually improved enough to be able to continue his recovery from home.
Carrasco goes home with home oxygen, home health care support, and home monitoring. Nurses can follow his condition at home to make sure he is still making progress over what could be a long recovery period, according to Loya. He also has a wife, children and grandchildren to assist in his care.
Ironically, his wife also had COVID and was sick enough to be hospitalized at the same time and sometimes on the same wing as her husband. But according to Howell and Loya, there is no typical case when dealing with COVID. "His wife was here. She got real sick, and she got well as quick as she got sick and went home. She came after he did and still beat him home," said Howell. "She was in here a week."
Both Howell and Loya have over 10 years experience working at MCHD. They have seen a lot, but nothing quite like the COVID pandemic. They acknowledge the strain on medical staff and the toll the pandemic has taken. "Everybody is completely exhausted, but they are still giving 100 percent," said Loya. Colleagues have themselves become ill, and the state has provided nurses, respiratory therapists, and a physician specializing in intensive care to supplement the staff as they deal with a surging case load and rising dealth rate.
Asked if it was depressing to deal with so much death, Loya said, "Yes, it can be."
Howell said, "It is, but God put us in this place to do this."
Seeing Carrasco leave the hospital after such a touch and go struggle has had a beneficial effect on the staff. "It helps them a lot. It remotivates them and gives them and gives them the courage to keep going," said Loya.
Yessenia Longoria, who also helped take care of Carrasco, is a registered nurse and the population health care coordinator for MCHD. She added, "I think especially these guys who are front-line staff have seen a lot of people who didn't make it out. It is nice for them to see someone who did successfully make it out."
"They are not giving up," said Howell.
"The people we take care of we know. We go to church with them. We are neighbors with them. We run into them when we are putting gas," said Longoria.
Loya added, "Somebody's grandma, somebody's aunt."
"That keeps everybody going," said Longoria.