My father, retired Globe editor and columnist H.D.S. Greenway, is in the hospital with COVID-19.
At a time when infections and death tolls lead headline news and we learn of hospitals brought to their knees, we were scared to take my father to the hospital. We should not have been. The doctors, nurses, and health care workers at Massachusetts General Hospital have given my father superb care.
My parents isolated March 16, a week before Governor Baker closed non-essential businesses and issued a stay-at-home advisory. Because they are in their mid-eighties and as my father has diabetes, we were strict with social distancing.
We were too late. On March 17, my father developed a fever. On March 19, my mother followed. The fever seemed strange. It came and went. It was never higher than 100.4. Neither of them were coughing or struggling to breathe. Both felt utterly exhausted.
Five days later, my mother said a fog had lifted and “I was just better.” My father did not get better. He was breathing well, but he had trouble coming downstairs and even walking to the next room. He felt weak and dizzy. He only wanted to drink soup with a straw, and my mother was feeding him with a spoon. At this point, his saintly doctor, who had been keeping track, said to go to the hospital.
Taking my father to MGH last Sunday felt eerie. The Mass Pike was empty. Boston was quiet. I felt guilty we were wearing NP95 masks given to my mother, and I believe we should have instead passed them to the hospital.
It’s hard to describe the depth of our relief and gratitude when a health care worker wearing a mask and gloves met us at the curb. Behind him, a row of wheelchairs lined up like shopping trollies. “Thank God,” my father said, as he could barely rise. We put the mask on him. He was wearing his pajamas and dressing gown under his trench coat and a bright orange woolen cap. The health care worker wheeled him. I will always be grateful to this man I will never properly meet.
My mother was allowed to accompany him to the front desk, where she was given a number to call and my father was taken directly to acute care. “They’ve got it down,” my mother said, reassured.
By late afternoon, my father had been tested for COVID-19, given a chest X-ray and put on antibiotics for possible pneumonia. He’d been moved to the ninth floor of the Lunder Building, a former cancer floor given over to COVID-19 patients. There he is, in his own room with a window and a telephone. No visitors allowed.
Our calls to my father and daily check-in with his nurses — God knows how they have time — have been a vital link. Daily, we learn exactly how they are caring for him. Day Two: how he was started on hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial thought to slow COVID’s course. How they monitor his oxygen; too much can also be damaging. Day Three: how he managed to sit up, to read a tiny bit and is eating more. Day Four: how they considered sending him home until his blood pressure suddenly dropped and his heart caused alarm. Day Five: how they have taken him off hydroxychloroquine and Tylenol for fear of liver damage. How a physiotherapist has visited and taught him exercises to keep his blood pressure up. How he has 11 tubes and wires attached to him, delivering oxygen and monitoring his blood pressure and his heart. Day 6: How he hasn’t had a fever for two days and may soon be home.
There have been low points. A conversation where he could hardly draw breath. A pear he wanted to eat but couldn’t grapple with. His inability to read either of the two books he brought with him. His worry they would need to triage. But daily what comes across is the incredible care he is receiving and the kindness of nurses who have been brushing his teeth, bringing him applesauce, helping him shave, walking him around the bed — all to help him battle this disease. We are well aware of how very lucky we are in Boston to have some of the world’s best medical care and also to have faced this virus before the surge the state expects.
“It’s all trial and error,” a nurse told us. “Every case is different. There are no true treatments.”
Today my father learned there is a 98-year-old on the ward. The nurses have taken it on as a challenge to keep their eldest patient alive. My father said the granddaughter of one of the nurses drew pictures of a rainbow for the patients.
“This virus is a roller-coaster,” his nurse told us. You feel you are improving and then it can get worse again. On the day my father was sounding particularly worse, I asked in a weak moment: “Do you want to come home?”
“No," was his immediate answer. “They can save me here.”
Alice Greenway is the author of “White Ghost Girls” and “The Bird Skinner.”