When Tanya Adell-O’Neal was admitted to hospital with COVID-19, she knew that her chances of survival hung in the balance. Not only was she hardly able to speak from shortness of breath, but she also suffered from asthma and had only one lung. Twelve days later, she was discharged to applause from the nurses who had helped to pull her through.
High risk of serious disease
Adell-O’Neal, 53, had experienced hospitals—both as a nurse and a patient —throughout most of her life. She was diagnosed with asthma when she was 12 and was hospitalized with pneumonia a few times while a high school student. In her second year of nursing studies, she had emergency surgery to remove one of her lungs when she was diagnosed with a rare tumor.
Adell-O’Neal had been working as a clinical nurse case manager at the John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, but this was probably not where she became infected. Her husband was a nurse at Cook County Jail, the location of one of the largest outbreaks of COVID-19 in the country. Over 500 detainees and 300 correctional services officers had tested positive by the end of April.
On April 1, Adell-O’Neal’s husband had a positive test result, and two days later she received confirmation that she was also infected. They quarantined at home for three weeks and just as Adell-O’Neal thought that she was recovering she woke up one night unable to breathe.
The next morning she went into the hospital. “If I stayed home another night, I wasn’t going to wake up,” she explained later. “I knew I had a 50/50 chance of coming back home,” Adell-O’Neal admitted afterward that she had been terrified. However, because of previous experience, she decided that she did not want to be placed on a ventilator and completed the required form.
Fear and compassion
Chrystal Holloway, the first nurse assigned to Adell-O’Neal, already had experience of how quickly COVID-19 patients could deteriorate and pass away. She explained that she was also scared, especially because her patient was a fellow nurse. She, however, assured Adell-O’Neal that she would do everything in her power to keep her out of ICU.
Nurses can often be difficult patients, but Adell-O’Neal was not one of them. The nurses who cared for her described that she showed understanding of what they were going through and supported them. “I think care should always be the core of how you treat everyone. I’ve got this compassion,” Adell-O’Neal explained later.
Eventually, her room became a place where nurses could get away from everything for a few moments. “She was in the healthcare field for so long and had an abundance of insight and knowledge,” Nurse Elin Cheng said. “We would just share stories about our family and just not talk about COVID.” In turn, Adell-O’Neil said that she enjoyed the company because she found that dealing with the isolation and being cut off from her family was the most difficult part of being in the hospital.
A positive outcome
Gradually, Adell-O’Neal’s condition improved and after twelve days, she was ready to go home. When she was wheeled down the hall a group of nurses had gathered. As she greeted and thanked them she could sense that they were sharing the same relief and joy that she was experiencing.