2020 has been rough. Not only with the loss and turmoil, but since the spring I’ve had to worry constantly for my 72 year old mother, Paula who lives with us.
The data shows — and even the skeptics generally agree — that seniors generally get hit far harder by COVID-19 than everyone else.
Add on to that, my mom has COPD and Allergic Bronchopulmonary Aspergillosis (plus a recent pneumonia hospitalization!), and I’ve been trying my best to make sure the Coronavirus doesn’t enter our house.
The doctors have been very clear. If my mom gets Coronavirus, the odds are not in her favor.
Despite our best efforts and any health warnings, there’s the real world that most of our home situations are far more complicated than what someone’s perfect Instagram profile might show.
I’m not a politician, a scientist or a reporter. I’m a wife, mother of three and a career woman who works constantly to keep all of these plates spinning in the air, while trying to keep a global pandemic out.
Even still, after months of success, I woke up a couple of weeks ago with fever and chills.
I was terrified. Was it COVID? How did I get it? Did I give it to mom? Where did it come from? My mind was racing with questions and no answers.
We do almost everything together, so there was a high chance that I had passed it to her. Here I was, the person who was supposed to be her caregiver — and I might have passed along the deadliest virus we have seen since the Spanish Flu.
Sure enough, my quick test for COVID-19 was positive. I started my quarantine and would check on her by phone, keeping us separate on different floors. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the best we could do.
I just prayed that she would not come down with symptoms – but soon, mom got a sore throat and we had her tested the next day.
We’re blessed that she gets care from the University of Michigan health system and has access to an infectious disease specialist, and we realize everyone is not that privileged.
My mind continued to race and my feelings of guilt racked me, but the nurse at the doctor’s office tried to calm me down by letting me know if she tested positive that there were things that could be done, but that it was important that we get treatment right away.
Her test took just over 24 hours to get results and unfortunately Coronavirus was detected. I called the doctor’s office right away to find out what could be done.
The nurse said my mom could be a candidate for monoclonal antibody therapy. She explained it was an outpatient treatment and that a pharmacist would call us to see if she qualified.
But when we didn’t hear from anyone the next day I began to worry. My mom’s condition was worsening and we needed to act quickly. I took her to the Emergency Room at the University.
Honestly, I didn’t know what was the right move at the time. I was afraid my mom was going to leave us. Time was of the essence.
Mom called me a few hours later and let me know that she qualified for a convalescent plasma trial.
The ER doctor explained that there was a 50/50 chance that she might not get the plasma, and that she would get the placebo.
I’m not a doctor, so I’m learning as I go. Over the years with her health problems I’ve found that even with the best of intentions, I need to pay attention and be an advocate for myself and her.
I realized right away that the convalescent plasma trial was different from what I was told by the nurse the day before. What happened to the monoclonal antibody therapy? This all is so much when not only is she sick but I’m sick, too.
I’ve never had to make so many split decisions with so many real stakes on the line — the whole time feeling like I was working in a fog.
Money is one thing. You can make more of that. Your mom can’t be replaced.
So we asked if she could get the monoclonal antibody therapy we were told about first.
The ER doctor said we may qualify for that treatment as well, but we could not participate in both.
We would have to turn down the placebo trial, leave the hospital and hope the pharmacist would call the next day and offer her the monoclonal antibodies.
This is part of what’s maddening with healthcare. Coordination is hard in normal times and even more when you have a global pandemic going on.
We decided to bet on getting the phone call about the antibodies.
Mom and I agreed that we couldn’t risk the 50/50 chance with the plasma trial with so much on the line.
When we got home, things took a turn for the worse. That evening her blood pressure and heart rate skyrocketed and her oxygen saturation level began dropping into the 80’s when walking to the bathroom.
The COVID-19 infection caused painful internal inflammation and we were horrified that we would be returning to the ER. She’s already on two liters of oxygen, so we adjusted as needed and hoped for the best.
In the morning her breathing and oxygen had stabilized. It was still rough going, but luck struck in the morning.
We received the phone call from the pharmacist screener and they had a 2 p.m. appointment available to receive the monoclonal antibody therapy. We jumped at the offer, and off we went for a two-hour long infusion treatment.
So what went into my mom? Here’s what the CDC says with their emergency use authorization:
Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses. Casirivimab and Imdevimab are monoclonal antibodies that are specifically directed against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, designed to block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells.
And it’s not for everyone. Early indications are that it’s for those over 65 with an underlying medical condition, who — although this virus does claim people of any age — are the statistically most susceptible. And it must be given early on in the Coronavirus battle.
That’s why her doctor said we have to act quickly.
Within two days of getting the treatment my mom still had a slight cough, but as the days go on she is recovering well.
And while we know that we are not 100 percent out of the woods yet, we wouldn’t want to imagine what could have happened without the therapy.
I was surprised to find that doctors are torn on its use, considering how confident my Mom’s U of M doctor, Emily Kate Stoneman, was.
It seems some think it shouldn’t be used; and others do according to this NBC News piece.
It also says that Operation Warp Speed officials have all but begged physicians to use available doses of the monoclonal antibodies — and we’re using less than 20 percent of what’s available.
The names of the monoclonal antibody drugs are hard to say too. Try saying “Casirivimab” and “Imdevimab” ten times fast. And there aren’t commercials for it with attractive couples running through fields with puppies so not many people know they exist.
It’s not for everyone, but if you can get treatment when symptoms are early on, it seems this is a way to help prevent hospitalization. We thought it is important to share what our experience was now so people could know about it before it might be needed in hopes of helping save others.
Doctors and nurses who care about us are stressed and are doing heroic acts every single day, keeping countless people alive.
I think that if we can do anything to keep cases out of the hospital and heal our loved ones, we should try.
But we prayed for and got a Christmas miracle that my mom, the grandma to my kids — is with us this year.
Ed. Note: This is a first-person essay sharing personal experiences and is not written by a medical professional, intended as medical advice, or a substitute for talking to medical professionals about your specific situation.
Image: Coronavirus Santa Ornament