After COVID-19, a hunger to taste life again

Pat Larson had a broad smile after being declared free of COVID-19. With her are RVNAhealth ComfortWELL nurses Anne Felizardo, LPN, and Christine Palmer, RN, BSN.

Pat Larson had a broad smile after being declared free of COVID-19. With her are RVNAhealth ComfortWELL nurses Anne Felizardo, LPN, and Christine Palmer, RN, BSN.

Contributed photo

Pat Larson suspected that she might be on her way to bidding goodbye to her months-long battle against COVID-19 when food — the thought of eating — started to sound good. And not just any food, Pat said. Wonton soup.

Her nurse was delighted at this sign that the condition of her patient, who was still largely immobile, was finally improving — and also was slightly amused, Pat added, “because it was Cinco de Mayo, but I wanted Chinese food instead of Mexican.”

Her nurse, Christine Palmer, RN, BSN of RVNAhealth ComfortWELL Hospice Services, was equipped to handle the rerquest.

“We have an ‘RVNAhealth Wishes’ program, supported by a grant from the Ridgefield Thrift Shop, where we fulfill requests that might lift the spirits of our hospice patients,” Palmer said. “I was thrilled that Pat was hungry, and ordering her a takeout Chinese dinner was a simple wish to deliver.”

Pat Larson’s story is one of the happier tales to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. She was considered to be at high risk for severe illness from the virus. She has a family history of asthma and lung problems, and her own medical history includes heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis, compounded by being asplenic (having no spleen).

The unfortunate diagnoses arrived in early April. First, pneumonia, and then COVID-19. At that point, Pat said, “My daughter (in Florida), who is a woman of action, got in touch with RVNAhealth.”

Managing symptoms

Pat’s family also includes children and grandchildren in California and London. “There was a lot of panic when I started to get sick, and then got sicker,” she says.

Amid the concern was also some surprise, as Pat had been self-quarantined at her Ridgefield apartment since mid-February.

Her son-in-law is virologist Dr. Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, whose breakthroughs include co-discovering the Ebola virus. On his advice, she’d stocked up on groceries and locked herself up in her apartment. When her supplies eventually ran low, she instructed deliveries to be left outside her door.

Meanwhile, beginning in mid-March, the assisted living facility where Pat lived restricted visitations and new move-ins, and all staff wore mandatory personal protective equipment to protect their residents.

Given Pat’s condition, age — she’s in her mid-80s — and history of respiratory illness, hospice services were recommended. By Medicare definition, hospice patients have a prognosis of six months or less of life.

Pat’s future was unknown, but given the trajectory of the virus within high-risk populations, the rapid onset of intensely-distressing symptoms, and the required isolation of COVID-19 patients, RVNAhealth knew that hospice care could provide Pat with the most well-rounded, supportive and meaningful care - whatever course the virus took.

“When I was connected with RVNAhealth, I felt secure,” Pat said. “I had the necessary medications and oxygen. I had Christine, who was so marvelous, calm and reassuring, and an entire team who were so kind and professional.”

In her apartment, with the orchids that she lovingly tends to, Pat was suddenly in the care of nurses and occupational therapists, as well as a social worker and spiritual coordinator, via video-conference.

“They helped me gain my health and strength, but they also lifted my spirits,” she said.

Third positive

With the help of her occupational therapists, Kate Moser and Joe Naber, Pat has gained both the confidence and strength to (very carefully) shower alone. The wife of a deceased Episcopal pastor, she’s also found comfort in conversations with her spiritual care coordinator, the Rev. Carolyn Legg.

And on May 28, Pat finally had a long-awaited third negative COVID-19 test result. Her first desire was modest — to venture outside and breathe in the open air.

Her next goal is a trip to Candlewood Lake in New Fairfield, where she lived previously.

“After being in quarantine for so long, that will be wonderful,” she says.

Pat Larson notes that her family’s COVID-19 ordeal isn’t over - quite yet. Her son-in-law, the virologist, also fell ill with the virus in March. He spent a week in the hospital and is now recovering at home in London.