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My Reaction to COVID-19 as a Mother Whose Daughter Was on a Ventilator Due to Flu

daughter who suffered flu infection
Posted on June 2, 2020
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Written by Families Fighting Flu Treasurer, Jennifer Miller. Read her daughter’s flu story here

When I first began to hear about patients’ experiences being hospitalized with COVID-19, I had an uneasy feeling that this new virus was similar to the flu virus that almost took my daughter’s life. While flu and COVID-19 are different in their death rates, they are both respiratory illnesses that can require ventilators to improve lung function.

My daughter, Caroline, was a healthy 5-year-old who seemed to just have the sniffles and a mild cough. Like many COVID-19 patients, her breathing was stable but somewhat labored until all of a sudden she was struggling to breathe. We soon learned that Caroline was in respiratory failure and needed to be intubated and placed on an oscillating ventilator. 

I was familiar with ventilating machines but never imagined that any of my family members would require one, let alone my 5-year-old child.  I now know more about ventilators than I wish to, like that there are different types of ventilators, and not every hospital has the right type to fit the specific needs of each patient. When Caroline was sick, the healthcare system was not overwhelmed and few pediatric ventilators were being used. But even then, Caroline still needed to be flown by helicopter to a neighboring state for a specific type of ventilator that was not available near our home. Thankfully, when Caroline was sick and needed this life-saving treatment, there was no delay in care because there was no shortage of ventilators, but I know this is not necessarily the case as COVID-19 has now increased the need for ventilators.

I was devastated when I learned that I could not be with my daughter Caroline on that helicopter ride. However, the doctors assured me that the five seats on that helicopter were all taken by essential personnel who hand-respirated Caroline for the entire 27-minute flight. For the two or so hours it took for me to drive to the hospital, I worried about my daughter and felt tremendous heartache and guilt that I couldn’t be with her. 

I now recognize how lucky I am that I was only separated from my child for a matter of hours. While these measures are necessary to protect people from contracting COVID-19, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be, as a family member of a patient, to be apart from your loved one when they are in a fragile state for such an extended period of time. Caroline was on a ventilator for just under two weeks and it made me feel better to be at her side and involved in her day-to-day care.

I worry about how far stretched the healthcare system will be if there is overlap this fall or winter of COVID-19 and seasonal flu. When Caroline was sick, all three hospitals had enough staff to take care of her every need. From physical therapists, respiratory therapists, nurses, residents, cleaning staff, nurse practitioners, and attending physicians, there were plenty of qualified people who treated her, cared for her, and truly saved her life. However, this may not be the case if our hospitals are inundated with patients who are sick with one of these deadly viruses.

So what can we do to help protect ourselves and our families during this critical time? I implore you to continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health department guidelines to prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses like COVID-19 and flu: wash your hands often, maintain social distancing, clean and disinfect surfaces, and wear masks in public. I hope you also take advantage of a life-saving flu vaccine for everyone six months and older when it becomes available in your community this fall. Our combined efforts can help prevent another person from needing a ventilator.


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