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For woman on ventilator after contracting COVID-19, a series of ‘progress and setbacks’


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    DANVILLE, Virginia (Danville Register & Bee) — Rebecca Wright was trepidatious about going to her family’s Christmas Eve gathering in person.

“Rebecca said she didn’t want to go, that we shouldn’t be gathering,” her husband, Ben Wright, recalled.

Soon after their get-together with her parents, son and her brother’s family, she started experiencing chills, aches, fatigue, coughing and heavy congestion.

“Her breathing got worse and worse and worse,” Ben said.

Rebecca, 43, has been connected to a ventilator at Sovah Health-Danville since Jan. 11, and her family went through ups and downs as Rebecca’s condition fluctuated. She had pneumonia at one point and she also has asthma.

Lately, she has made slow but steady progress, Ben said.

Within a week after Christmas, she had tested positive for COVID-19. Ben, 36, also caught the disease but experienced only mild symptoms including tiredness, achiness and slight shortness of breath.

The Wrights are certain that Rebecca caught the virus at that gathering.

“Someone at that Christmas Eve gathering had tested positive,” Ben said.

For Rebecca’s family, the toughest parts of the ordeal have been the separation from her, not being able to visit her and waiting on updates on her condition, which can be sporadic, her mother said.

“As difficult as it has been not to be able to see Rebecca or able to comfort her during difficult procedures and try to calm her fears during her hospitalization, it has been much more difficult not having access to information related to her changing condition,” her mother, Lynn Hudson, said via email Tuesday.

The family has had to wait as long as 12 to 18 hours between updates, or may sometimes receive information three or four times a day, Hudson said.

“I understand everyone is hard at work providing the care that is needed to sustain life,” said Hudson, a nurse. “If we could have a consistent time schedule for updates, it would be beneficial for all family members.”

For Ben, who has provided Facebook updates on Rebecca’s condition since she was put on the ventilator, “it’s weird. I’ve been here in the house by myself.”

At first, Rebecca was put on a BiPap machine — used for those with sleep apnea — to help her breathe while she was asleep, but she knocked it off in her sleep, Ben said. One such incident led to her turning blue before medical staff saved her, he said.

“I feel like the decision to put her on the ventilator was the hospital doing the best with the resources it has,” Ben said. “It speaks to the massiveness of this virus.”

Just after she was put on the ventilator, the oxygen was not circulating well in her blood, according to a Jan. 12 Facebook update from Ben. But later on that evening, the situation had improved.

On Jan. 13, “I got to facetime with her!” Ben posted. “She’s sedated and on her stomach, but I got to facetime with her!”

That same day, staff slowly began lowering oxygen from the ventilator and she was responding well, Ben posted.

Included in some of Ben’s posts are what he refers to as “Beccaisms,” thoughts or sayings unique to Rebecca.

“Rebecca is an accomplished cellist,” he posted on Jan. 14. “When she was doing more public performances, it was common for someone to commend her saying, ‘I can’t do that, I wish I could play an instrument, but I can’t.’ Her consistent response, ‘Why? If everybody could play an instrument, then there would be no one in the audience for the musicians to play to.'”

“So today’s Beccaism is a reminder that it can be just as important to be a good audience member as it is to be up on the stage,” Ben posted.

By Jan. 18, Rebecca was more alert, responding to questions with head nods and slowly being weaned off the ventilator.

“Progress and setbacks with the vent,” Ben posted. “Currently at a higher rate and more sedated, yet she’s more alert … I got to facetime again and she kept trying to talk to me. Told her to stay calm and rest. She doesn’t owe anybody anything. Just rest. Seems like the road ahead is trial and error with moving her away from the vent.”

By Jan. 20, Ben mentioned on Facebook that updates on Rebecca have been fewer and farther between. Before, he would get frequent updates, he said.

“I have had to call them and leave messages for the last three,” he posted. “Confirmed by staff, this is yet another indicator of just how severe this pandemic is hitting our area.”

To get her off the ventilator, Rebecca must first be off the sedatives she has been receiving, Ben said.

On Saturday evening, Rebecca was more alert and very anxious with her body processing the sedatives out of her system, Ben posted.

“He [the nurse] tried giving her several things to calm her down with no luck,” he posted. “He anticipates they will put her back on the sedatives and to not wear her out. She will start receiving Ativan twice daily beginning tomorrow.”

Rebecca has been on the ventilator longer than most doctors would want to keep her on it, Ben said.

She’s close to the point where it could start damaging her trachea, Ben said.

“The longest they like to do [keep someone on a ventilator] is 10-14 days,” he said. “Other than that, she is making very minuscule progressing, but it’s progressing the right way.”

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