BY PAULA HELD
…but I wanted to. That was
during my second week in the
Intensive Care Unit at North Shore
University Hospital in Manhasset.
I was admitted to the hospital
on July 5, 2020, after my daughter
called an ambulance to her home
where I spent the previous few
days living in her basement in isolation
after being diagnosed with
COVID-19. I didn’t realize that I
was running a fever and talking
gibberish. I had been so afraid of
getting the virus because I have
sarcoidosis, a preexisting lung condition.
Meantime, my husband was
in a different hospital after having
major spine surgery just three days
Lots of doctors and nurses were
in the ICU. To prevent getting sick
themselves, each time they entered
my room they put yellow disposable
gowns on top of their scrubs,
two or three masks, eye goggles
and shields and gloves. The doors
to the room were always closed
to separate the clean air from the
virus. A majority of the nurses were
travel nurses who had traveled to
New York from around the country.
I had previously read about
them and seen them on TV. What
extraordinary men and women they
were. They had a true mission to
help. Early on a nurse from Ohio
left my unit to drive home to her
family. She was so kind and did
everything she could to make me
more comfortable that I gave her
a gift of all the Starbucks’ gift certificates
I signed many papers giving my
permission to be given various
trial medications that scientists
hoped would hasten recovery from
the virus including Remdesivir,
Convalescent Plasma and
Desamathizon. Shortly after that
I fell into an unconscious stupor
and lost several days. I didn’t know
that I had pneumonia in my lungs
and that my right lung had been
nicked and a plug inserted into it.
I awakened to a nurse giving me
medication for the pain and telling
me about the plug and that it would
soon be removed. It was successfully
removed about a week later
when the lung healed sufficiently.
Many blood tests were required
daily. I generally do well with
pain but these really hurt and it
was difficult for the staff to draw
the blood they needed because
my good veins had become thin
and they rolled. Sometimes they
were unsuccessful in getting the
blood that they needed for their
tests. Someone stuck me in a bad
spot in my right arm and the arm
quickly became black and swollen.
It was like that for weeks and the
skin wrinkled even more than it
already was in this aging woman.
My right hand swelled so much that
I wasn’t able to bend my fingers.
I managed to eat using my left
hand but I couldn’t write because
I wasn’t able to hold a pen or pencil.
Still, as of mid-November, my
signature and handwriting have
changed significantly. It is hard
for me to write anything that is
easily readable. So very frustrating.
Hooray for the computer which I
have had to relearn how to use.
The occupational therapists are still
working on exercises to help me,
but I’m not optimistic.
Lots of pain followed in several
parts of my body. It was always
there. My right leg was numb and
the only way I could move it was to
lift it with my hands. My feet and
toes were very swollen and painful
and I thought I had gout which I
did have several months prior.
Although I told the professional
staff about the pain and swelling,
nothing was done to help my feet. I
guess the doctors thought that was
of small consequence compared to
my near-death status.
Of course, there was no visiting
during the time of the pandemic
but my children and grandchildren
were always there for me. Thank
goodness for cell phones and long
charger cords. We spoke several
times a day and when I told them
that I wanted to die they tried their
best to convince me that I was a
strong woman and now I needed
use that strength to fight to live.
“We need you to know how
much you are loved. I know what
you want and no matter what, I
will make sure your wishes are
fulfilled,” said my daughter. “But
that doesn’t give you an excuse
not to fight. You have too much
to live for—children, grandchildren
and, most likely, great grandchildren.
You have so many dear, dear
friends who love you and cherish
you. You are so strong. You can
CALL THE POLICE!!
One night while I was still in the
ICU, I was responsible for an incident
that the entire hospital heard
about within hours. I thought that I
wasn’t in my room. It was a similar
room but it was smaller and neater
and cleaner and I didn’t know
where I was. I was sure that the
staff was putting something over
on me. I pressed the button to call
for a nurse and two people whom
I recognized came to my bedside.
They looked familiar but I still
didn’t believe it was my room. I
thought about it for a while and
decided that I needed to act. So….
having my cell phone always by my
side, I dialed 911.
The police officer who answered
did not laugh at me when I told
him that I was not in my own room
in the ICU. He politely told me
that they would investigate with
the hospital personnel and call
me back. And call me back they
did, assuring me that all was as it
was supposed to be and I was in
my own room. Apparently, I had
been hallucinating from the many
medications I was taking. The next
morning when I told my children
about calling the police, they told
me that they already knew. The
hospital doctors called to tell them.
Everyone knew about that call but
did not mention it to me until I said
something about it to them.
Still thinking about dying, I
asked to speak with a psychiatrist.
A day or two later, a nurse brought
me an iPad and on it was the face
of a woman who said she was such
a doctor and she already knew
my thoughts about dying. Since I
worked at a mental health center
for many years and was the exec
and CEO for many of those years,
I was familiar with mental health
professionals. This woman did
and said nothing to make me feel
more relaxed and to think towards
a positive future. But the hospital
did bill me twice for her services.
My son-in-law, a world-renowned
surgeon, got permission to
speak with the doctors in ICU daily
A Story of Remarkable Resilience
Paula Held has been a North Shore Towers resident
for the past 33 years. Now in her 80s, Paula retired
as the Executive Director and CEO of the Pride of
Judea Mental Health Center in Douglaston.
Here, Paula shares the first part of her
remarkable--and ultimately uplifting--story of her
battle with Covid-19. May it serve as a source of hope
for everyone as we look forward to a New Year, and
be sure look to the February 2021 issue of the NST
Courier for its inspirational conclusion. ~ Editor
to my three
“We love you so very much.
You have given us the strength,
determination and ability to be
independent and accomplish
almost anything. You taught
us how to love. We need you to
keep demonstrating your
strength to us and everyone
“Mom, this is not ‘goodbye.’
It is sweet dreams tonight. We
will talk to you in the morning.”
July 17, 2020
I DIDN’T DIE… (Part 1)
8 NORTH SHORE TOWERS COURIER ¢ January 2021