LEWISBURG — Andrea Tufo recently learned personally that COVID-19 is no ordinary disease.
Tufo, of the Lewisburg area, was hospitalized over nine days in mid-to-late December for COVID-19. She concluded during treatment that telling other people of her experience would be helpful.
The story starts before the beginning.
“I followed all the rules. I did everything right,” Tufo recalled. “Unfortunately, I came into contact someone who didn't, who didn't think masks were necessary.”
That person, Tufo maintained, did not or could not grasp of the need to wear facial covering and be upfront about their situation.
“It comes down to, 'I wear my mask to to protect you and you wear your mask to protect me,'” Tufo stated. “They didn't and they got COVID. Because their COVID case was mild, they didn't think it was necessary to tell me.”
Tufo recalled that a positive test for the virus followed two negative tests. She had hoped taking up hospital space could be avoided. But after running a fever, her mother brought her to Evangelical Community Hospital. After arrival, doctors confirmed Tufo needed immediate attention.
Tufo recalled not being the only one there in need.
“When they finally rolled me into the (emergency room), it truly was a scene out of a movie,” Tufo said. “There were patients on beds lined up in front of the counter where they nurses are. There were people sitting in wheelchairs, just sitting there. There were monitors beeping. There were carts piled up with stuff.”
Though Tufo had been to the emergency department before, she had never seen anything like the sights and sounds of a facility in the midst of dealing with a pandemic.
“It looked an inner-city kind of (scene) after an event,” she said. “I just kept thinking to my self that the only thing I can do is take all this in and learn from it and make sure the world knows about it.”
The days which followed gave Tufo, Donald Heiter Community Center (DHCC) executive director, time to think. Among her thoughts were how to dispell the notion that COVID-19 “only happens to elderly people” or people with preexisting conditions. The need for people to be aware that their choices could make a difference also loomed large.
“I laid there in the hospital thinking there are people out there who think it is OK that I die because it is inconvenient to them to wear a mask,” Tufo said. “That's the part I couldn't get over. I'm still struggling with it.”
Tufo also recalled the words of a doctor who accompanied her from the emergency room to a spot in intensive care and outlined the realities of treatment.
"We have no science right now," Tufo recalled him saying. "All I have is experiments to try and help you and I have no guarantees."
The unexpected answer pondered other thoughts.
“Normally, when you are sick and go to the hospital they say, “Here are your options. We are going to do everything we can.'”
Tufo noted that she had only been hospitalized once before, for rotator cuff surgery. Though known to have asthma, her symptoms had been under control for a lengthy period.
COVID-19 treatment included an anti-viral, plasma transfusion and steroids. Tufo had a breathing aid but not a respirator.
Lasting impressions of the nine-day stay at Evangelical included watching people at all levels push themselves with all the energy they had. Tufo observed maintenance workers doing everything from keeping a television going to ensuring a “negative air flow” system kept air particles from causing problems.
“There are people who are just in charge of protocol, to make sure the 'COVID people' stay in their bubbles,” Tufo said. “Administration and social workers and dieticians, they are all just exhausted.”
A nurse from orthopedics, a true team player, also left a lasting impression.
“He was volunteering to take extra shifts to be a 'monitor watcher' overnight, to give somebody else a break,” Tufo said. “It was great to hear these stories about how they all were trying to cover each other to make sure they were surviving.”
Air flow was key to recovery for Tufo, even in home quarantine through the end of the week. Sitting straight up or laying horizontally and face downward have proven to be effective.
Tufo has also added her thoughts to a social media page and hopes others will take heed. She said recounting the ordeal will be worthwhile if it stops one person from going to a party or reminds them to wear a facial mask when entering a store.
Meantime, Tufo was in her own 'bubble' at home for extra precautions. Food and other supplies were sent via pulley system using a rope only she touches.