[4 MIN READ]
Linda Diaz considers herself a woman of faith, so when 13 members of her extended 17-member family contracted COVID-19, she turned to that faith for support. As the matriarch of this High Desert family, she worried about her children and grandchildren while battling the virus herself.
The nightmare scenario unfolded in late June when scientists and health care professionals were still trying to understand the spread of COVID-19 and how best to protect oneself from infection. Even though Linda’s 36-year-old son, Rob Blas, worked as a respiratory therapist in the COVID tent at Corona Regional Medical Center, in Riverside County, the scope and severity of the illness had still not hit home.
When Robert started feeling lethargic, no one connected it to COVID. “He didn’t have the symptoms you were hearing about in the news. He was basically fatigued and had some diarrhea,” explains Linda.
Rob, a former Marine, went to the VA, where they determined he’d had heatstroke, told him to take it easy and sent him home. Two days later, he felt like he couldn’t move his body, so his family took him to Providence St. Mary Medical Center. At this point, he still wasn’t showing any obvious signs of the virus and, after being treated with some fluids, he was discharged.
By July 3, Rob was feeling worse and checked into Providence St. Mary a second time. When a COVID test came up positive, the hospital staff raced into action. Linda, now worried about her only son, began to think about her large, extended family, which spends lots of time together. “At that point, I’m concerned everyone has or will come down with the virus,” she says. A very short time later, those fears were realized.
COVID-19 takes over
Linda, who is also battling stage 2 kidney disease, fell ill, as did two more of her four children, her husband, her son-in-law and seven of her 10 grandchildren, including 9-month-old twins. “We all had different symptoms and varying degrees of severity. Those symptoms ranged from fever, bad headaches, nausea, diarrhea and rashes to loss of taste and smell. It was a mess.”
As a mom, Linda felt totally helpless and unable to care for her family. “I was so out of it, I just had enough strength to shower,” she recalls. Her only child who remained healthy, 27-year-old Karessa, tried her best to be the caretaker for everyone. Karessa would bring food, vitamins, special teas, zinc and other supplies to the house, leave everything on the porch and then ring the doorbell. Linda says her daughter’s help and devotion pulled them through. “The Lord had her be that runner for us.”
In the meantime, Rob, the only member of the family to be hospitalized, was in good hands at Providence St. Mary, which gave Linda great comfort. “When he was admitted, I was able to speak to the attending nurse, a super-nice gentleman. He took the time to share the latest information about Rob’s condition.”
When doctors were first treating Rob, he asked them if they would help move his body into a certain position that he knew would offer him some relief. Amazed at the request, the physicians wondered why he would suggest this. That’s when Rob told them he was a respiratory therapist. Her voice catching as she tells the story, Linda says, “Immediately the doctor looked at him and said, ‘Oh, buddy. You’re one of us. We got you.’”
Compassionate care makes a difference
Even as he was struggling to breathe and in severe pain, Rob was aware of the compassionate care he was receiving. “On my first night, there was a special nurse who was so comforting. She made this tea to help soothe me. It gave me hope that I would be OK.”
Despite that tender care, Rob was understandably scared and knew he needed to reassure his children. “The hardest call was to tell my kids I was sick with COVID and in the hospital. They cried, and I cried too. Until then I had been working hard to save other people and hadn’t seen my kids for months, in order to keep them from harm,” explains Rob.
After seven days in the hospital, he went home with an oxygen tank and was still feeling weak. The course of everyone’s illness was different, but for most it lasted about 10 days. Linda says that months later many continue to feel lingering effects. “We still get a little tired. It just hijacks you. We’re not 100% — more like 90%. It took a lot out of us.”
As part of a large Latino community, Linda is now reaching out to her friends and neighbors to spread the word about the importance of masks, social distancing and seeking care when necessary. “The Latino community is being hit especially hard. We need to all practice a healthy lifestyle and get educated. Ask questions. Don’t think it won’t happen to me, because it will and it does.”
Linda also wants the community to be aware of the medical expertise and wonderful caretakers she encountered at Providence St. Mary. “The staff was amazing, not just to my son but to everyone. I appreciated their bedside manner, the information they shared, and how they truly listened to me when I was nervous and worried. It was so reassuring knowing, as I battled to overcome my illness, that my child was in a place full of kindness.”
Rob, too, remains grateful to all who cared for him. “As a Marine, there is a slogan we use among each other,” he says. “‘Suffer in silence or suck it up,’ meaning just get through it. I knew the staff was a huge reason I got through it. When I finally came home and was recounting how well everyone took care of me, I saw the tears in my mother’s eyes. Hearing her voice shake with emotion as she said how thankful she was for them, I realized something special had happened.”
How St. Mary is keeping you safe
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Providence St. Mary has taken the following steps to ensure the safety of our patients:
· A surge plan is in place to deal with a high volume of patients.
· Hospital access is restricted to essential personnel only.
· Isolation pods have been created to treat COVID-19 patients or those awaiting test results.
· A multilayered screening process has been instituted.
· A COVID-19 task force meets regularly to review safety and infection-prevention strategies.
You can learn more about the services offered at Providence St. Mary’s Medical Center here. If you need a doctor at St. Mary’s Medical Center or elsewhere in Southern California, we encourage you to search our provider directory.
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