Norma’s story: 440 days spent at Providence with COVID-19

Author: David Hotchkin, M.D., medical director, Critical Care Services; Providence Portland Medical Center
Shavon Albee, BSN, RN, nurse manager, Critical Care Services, Providence Portland Medical Center

As hospitals around the U.S. continue to struggle with the influx of COVID-19 cases, it’s important to remember the successes – everything we’ve learned about caring for these complex patients, the teams of clinical experts that are key to recovery, and the patients who manage to survive through excellent medical care and their own persistence.

Norma, a young woman who lives in the Portland area, is one such patient. She was infected with SARS-CoV2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) in 2020, long before a vaccine was available to help protect her. For 440 days, she was a patient at Providence Portland Medical Center. Hers is an inspiring story to watch.

Norma – and many other COVID-19 patients– could not have survived without excellent, compassionate care from many teams of Providence experts. Included among those who cared for her were:

  • Nurses
  • CNAs
  • Physicians
  • Physical, respiratory, speech and occupational therapists
  • Pharmacists
  • Food service employees
  • Environmental services employees
  • Transport services
  • Case managers/social workers
  • And many more

Many COVID-19 patients have a long road ahead of them, with a slow recovery and ongoing outpatient care to help them regain their lives.

Anyone who works in an inpatient setting, especially those in critical care, knows the difficulty, fatigue and challenges of caring for patients affected by COVID-19. The early days were especially stressful, as we didn’t always know how best to care for them and also how to protect ourselves from infection.

A year-and-a-half later, we’ve learned a great deal:

  • When the COVID-19 outbreak first started, we weren’t sure which medications might help, the best way to deliver oxygen and how to stay safe.
  • We’ve learned that steroids (especially dexamethasone) will help patients who require oxygen; remdesivir can help with symptoms but isn’t the wonder drug we had hoped; and hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin (touted by experience in China) don’t help and can cause cardiac arrythmias and death.
  • Family presence is important to patient recovery and healing, and the absence of family makes caregiving much harder.
  • More of our patients have required prone positioning while ventilated than we saw in patients with flu or other forms of respiratory illness.
  • We’ve also seen the wonders of ECMO (extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation, or an artificial lung) when patients can’t be supported with traditional ventilators and prone positioning. 

Most importantly, effective vaccines are widely available. It’s disheartening to see the latest surge of patients who are largely infected with the delta variant, due to not getting vaccinated. As critical services caregivers, we urge everyone to get the vaccine. We know firsthand the ramifications of not getting one – we see it every day at the bedside.

Thank you to our excellent care teams at Providence Portland and other Providence hospitals in Oregon. And thank you to Norma and other patients who continue to inspire us every day.


About the Author

The inScope content team focuses on bringing you the latest in clinical news from our team of world-class medical providers and physician leaders.

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