Irving—The last time Luisa Garcia was at Medical City Las Colinas she was being pushed in a wheelchair to a round of applause, a celebrated survivor of the early and often confusing days of COVID-19. Last week, about a year after being discharged, Garcia strolled into the hospital with treats and smiles for physicians, nurses and other staff, thanking them for saving a life that at one point was aided by a breathing machine.
Garcia, who is 29 and a healthcare worker herself, returned to give a Texas-sized thank you to the doctors who diagnosed her, the nurses who held her hand, and the staff members who made her laugh during what she describes as “a very dark time.”
“They were my family for the period of time I was there,” Garcia said. “At that time, no one could come into the hospital. My mom couldn’t come; my dad couldn’t come. Everything was through video Facetime or phone calls.”
Nurses trafficked in and out of her hospital room monitoring health signs, administering medications and treatments, operating medical equipment, but what Garcia recalls most are the times staff just came in to chat.
“They would come in and talk to me for five, ten minutes, and it was about anything other than medication or how I was feeling or just asking me about my daughter,” Garcia said. “That was what made it for me. I was so grateful for them, especially being patient with me. I wasn’t the easiest patient. I know I was agitated being there and just wanted to go home.”
Garcia said not seeing her three-year-old daughter often fueled the frustration, but fear played into it as well. These were the early days of COVID-19, when misinformation was running rampant and even medical personnel were not quite sure what they were dealing with. Garcia was initially diagnosed with pneumonia at a different care facility. At the time, there were few testing for COVID-19. Doctors sent her home with medication, but she was not getting better.
“At first I thought it was just a cold,” she said. “I remember the temperature had changed out of nowhere. It was hot one moment and the next it rained. Then got colder, I got wet, so I figured, ‘oh, it is a cold or something.’ But when I kept feeling fatigue and tired, and my temperature wouldn’t go under 100, I knew something else was going on, because I wasn’t getting any better with the antibiotics.”
Garcia was admitted to Medical City Las Colinas on March 29 complaining of a constant fever and breathing difficulties. Doctors placed her on a ventilator for three days before seeing improvement. Once released, about nine days later, she was one of the first COVID-19 patients at the hospital to be discharged at the start of the pandemic.
“When we were able to take her off the breathing machine, we felt so happy that she made it,” said Samer Fahoum, MD, Medical City Las Colinas ICU Medical director. As did the staff, who gave her a clap-out during her discharge.
Across Medical City Healthcare, Garcia was the first of some 15,000 COVID-19 patients treated during 2020, according to Marisa Britt, community & public relations director.
“I came back to thank them because, being in healthcare, when I see a patient leave and come back much better than when they were there, it gives me joy and makes my day,” Garcia said. “When patients leave, it’s not like we know how they are doing. I wanted to show all the healthcare workers at Medical City how I am doing and thank them for getting me where I am now and giving me a chance to see my daughter.”
Garcia said there are still times when fatigue sets in, but it merely serves as a reminder of what she has been through.
“It has definitely made me a better healthcare worker,” Garcia said. “I now tell my patients to stay positive even in the dark times. Trust the people at the hospital in what they know. And even though it may be frustrating to be there, they will be your family while you are there.”