Editor’s note: Dr. William Miller, chief of staff at the Adventist Health Mendocino Coast Hospital, is writing weekly reports concerning the COVID-19 situation on the Mendocino Coast. We are pleased to be running his health column, with details on the medical fight against the pandemic. The views shared in this weekly column are those of the author, Dr. William Miller, and do not necessarily represent those of The Mendocino Voice or of Adventist Health.
Teresa Vaquera is a lovely, 78 year-old woman who lives in Ft. Bragg, California. She is a grandmother who has 13 grandchildren and 28 great-grandchildren. Two of her great-grandchildren live with her; a girl age 13 and a boy age 11. She practices a healing art of Vodder lymphatic drainage which helps improve health through gentle message. She is also a survivor of COVID. She asked that I share her story so that others may learn from her experience.
I first met Teresa when I admitted her to our hospital on October 17th, 2021. Her 11-year-old great-grandson had come down with fever and respiratory symptoms and tested positive for COVID. She developed similar symptoms four days later. Over the next 10 days, she became increasingly short of breath and eventually came to our emergency room where the diagnosis of COVID pneumonia was made. When I saw her in the ER, she had a very low oxygen level, but despite this she was upbeat and I was struck by her optimism and great sense of humor. I admitted her to our ICU.
At that time, I asked her if she was vaccinated against COVID and she told me she was not. When I asked why, she said that there was so much confusing information that she didn’t know what to believe and that she was afraid. She also shared that she has a general distrust of the government and that she wasn’t sure if the vaccine was safe or not.
Over the next four weeks she had a rough course. At one point, I wasn’t sure that she was going to survive. Fortunately, she did and is now being discharged home after being in the hospital of one month. She will go home on oxygen which she will probably require for many months to come.
“I want to tell people about my experience because I don’t want anyone else to have to go through what I just did. This is really important,” she told me. “Getting COVID was one of the worst things I have every had to experience. For several weeks I felt like I was suffocating. It was so bad that I had to make choices between things like whether to get up to use the bedside commode or just do it in the bed. It was a choice I had to make between laying there breathing or getting up and feeling like I could not breath. I had to focus on making myself keep breathing.”
“And I felt like my brain was wounded, too. The lack of oxygen made it difficult to think and feeling so sick and exhausted made it hard to concentrate. As I lay in the ICU, I started to get paranoid. One night it was pretty bad. I began to wonder if I would ever make it home again. I believe in God and the healing power of Earth and the spirits of nature. I trusted that these things would help me and then I knew I would be alright.”
I asked Teresa what she thought of the care that she had received in our hospital. “Everyone took really good care of me,” she said. “The nurses and doctors were always so pleasant and respectful. I feel so fortunate that we have this hospital.”
I asked her how her illness had affected her family. “I know it was hard on my two great-grandchildren who live with me. I am the only stability they have every known and to have me in the hospital and so sick I know was very hard for them. Especially my great-grandson. He felt guilty thinking that he had given this to me.” She explained that she has tried to reassure him that this was not his fault and that when we catch an infection from someone else it isn’t because they meant to give it to you. “I know that it has been hard for him, though,” she added.
I asked her if her experience had changed her opinion about COVID vaccination and she said that it had. “I want to get vaccinated even now because I have heard that you can get COVID a second time and I don’t want that,” she said. I agreed that while she now has good natural immunity which will last a long time, there is evidence that following up a case of COVID with vaccination gives even more protection. “When I get out of here, I want to tell all of my friends and family who are not vaccinated to get vaccinated right now. Don’t wait,” she said.
I then asked her what she would tell her unvaccinated friends to help convince them to change their minds and get vaccinated. I thought her answer was remarkably poignant. Teresa said, “Imagine having a plastic bag over your head and trying to breath. At least with a plastic bag, when it gets too bad, you can reach up and grab it and pull it off. Now imagine that there is no plastic bag to pull off. That is what it feels like to be suffocating. That is what it felt like for me to have COVID. I don’t want anyone else to ever feel like that.”
I reviewed the above with Teresa and allowed her to edit out any personal details that she did not want to share. What is written is with her permission. You can access previous Miller Reports by visiting www.WMillerMD.com.
The views shared in this weekly column are those of the author, Dr. William Miller, and do not necessarily represent those of the publisher or of Adventist Health.