Updated: Sep 1, 2022
Breakthrough Infections are Not So Uncommon
As we understood it, COVID affects everyone differently. How else can you explain why some people can contract it, and it barely even registers? Some people contract it and days later are dead. The pandemic hit especially hard at home as recently as September of 2021. The news and government touted the promise of a “normal” summer, provided people got vaccinated. To think “normal” was even something one could advertise seems quite laughable regarding a pandemic.
We felt pretty safe spending time with my wife’s parents in August. They live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which I must say is nothing short of spectacular in the Summer months. Not too hot and not too cold! We had all been vaccinated and were all infused with a false sense of security. My mother-in-law had an excursion planned to visit Manistee in the lower part of Michigan (More on this in a later post). From there, they would see a tractor show and then end the weekend traversing the water on a chartered ship. They had quite a few things planned for a short time, but they were excited to do something “different.”
At the chartered boat excursion, my Mother-In-Law started to feel a little under the weather. As migraines were a common occurrence, she chalked up her headaches to another one of these annoyances. It wasn’t until later in the week that she realized medicine wasn’t remediating the pain. By this time, she was exhibiting additional symptoms such as breathing issues with coughing and congestion. Five days into her situation, she finally listened to her husband’s advice and visited the local hospital. Upon admittance, it was revealed her blood/oxygen level was in the low 60’s. It is important to note; this level is well below the average number of 95% or above. It was immediately apparent by the medical staff; this was the place she needed to be.
I give the medical staff all of the credit in the world. The hospital followed the typical protocol and administered Remdesivir, an antiviral treatment that promoted positive recovery in many patients. It had little, if any, positive effects on this particular patient. A few days turned into several. In the early days of her admittance, my wife and kids could FaceTime with her as she was still in pretty high spirits, but they started to see her decline. At her prodding, she mandated all future calls would be by phone only, as she did not want to be viewed in this “condition.” The rest became a blur. We eventually heard the news we did not want to hear; she would need assistance bringing up her oxygen levels. To do this, they would have to introduce the ventilator. As we had often heard, once you were on a ventilator, things were not going well.
The following days brought about terrible news, littered with small amounts of positivity. It was advised the patient would be transferred to another hospital that could provide more hands-on three hours away. This presented a hindrance to those who wanted to visit, but her health was our number one concern. In retrospect, there wasn’t much the larger hospital could do or did differently. They would be prepared if additional complications had presented themselves. Where the improvement was immediately seen, with the larger hospital came a more extensive staff. The staff was nothing short of amazing with their hand-holding through the entire process. My wife had a twice-daily standing phone call with them. They alerted her to the progress and were very upfront with the possible results. The hospital visitor policy allowed one visitor a day for 15 minutes. It was not ideal, but it allowed my wife, her dad, and their extended family time to visit in person. It was an 8-hour drive for my wife to traverse weekly, but we made it work.
My mother-in-law went in on a Sunday, and three weeks later, she passed. The hospital staff tried for three days to bring her sedation levels down to see what progress had been made. It is my belief she had left this world some time prior as there was no activity whatsoever. It was explained to us that small clots are a concern, and it was very apparent she was never going to recover. Both my wife and her dad were allowed to be in the room during this difficult time. The hard decision of removing her from the ventilator was made, and she slowly stopped breathing. My wife was touched by the show of support by the staff, as everyone involved in the care dropped everything to be on-site during this process. Knowing everything they have to deal with daily, it was an incredible gesture on their part and something that did not go unnoticed.
The hardest part of the entire situation was the healthiness and strength of this lady. Her “breakthrough case,” as this had come to be called, was the worst extreme. It was a rare happening to those who are vaccinated, but as I have come to find out, not as rare as one might think. To see someone so full of life succumb to COVID was surreal. My 70-year-old father-in-law was tested, and he had COVID as well. His worst symptoms lasted all of 16 hours, and he chalked up his worst day to a bad cold. His 68-year-old wife, the healthiest of the two, developed the worst amount of symptoms and died. The vaccine had done its part in one case and possibly delayed the inevitable in the other.