By Wendy Littrell, RN – RAC
CarolinaEast Medical Center
My name is Wendy Littrell and I have been a nurse here at CarolinaEast Medical Center for 18 years. Some of you may know me as the “tall blonde” wearing the mask during the flu season for years. I did not know that I would be setting a trend for years later!
My COVID-19 story is a little different from others. My story revolves around my sister Kaiya. She is 59 years old and lives in Jacksonville. She and her husband are retired Marines and have two college-age children.
Shortly after the onset of COVID-19, Kaiya was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy at another hospital. Initially she was told that the mastectomies would be a definitive treatment and she would not have to undergo any chemotherapy or radiation. This, however, ended up not being the case.
About a week after her mastectomies, she was hospitalized for the diagnosis and treatment of a GI bleed (she need not buy a lottery ticket as her luck was nothing but bad). Around this time she also found out she had Stage III Breast Cancer. This led to an additional surgery for lymph node extractions and a port placement. Not that big of a deal except she developed an infection and being a stubborn Marine, waited too long to go to the hospital and went into septic shock — blood pressures 60s/40s — drips were started — the drain was being circled and I couldn’t go to her. I couldn’t be there for her. She was at another hospital, with no visitors allowed due to COVID-19. There was no way to even get into the hospital or to really check on her, which equated to an overwhelming feeling of helplessness for me.
As a nurse, I completely understood the precautions being taken. I understood that this was in her best interest. I understood that it was the best interest of the staff caring for her. Really, I understood. Understanding did not make the fact that I could not see her for myself, touch her hand or tell her that I loved her any better. As a nurse I completely understood. As a sister, well, it was heartbreaking.
Fast forward: she recovered from the septic shock (thank God) and made the decision to have all of her care moved to the Cancer Center here at CarolinaEast Medical Center. (OK…I admit I did try to persuade her just a little….or a lot.) She was even able to sign up with Dr. Taylor, who is my own oncologist since completing chemo from my 2016 Breast Cancer diagnosis. I was tickled “pink”! Cycles of chemo, blood draws, tests, fluid infusions and on and on. As of Dec. 7, 2020, her chemotherapy was complete! Such a time for celebration.
I can’t thank those enough who helped me with that task. You know who you are! Now she can move on to radiation and be done!
That being said, I am still heartbroken for her. I know this sounds strange (it is strange), but when I had chemo things were different. I was able to have my husband or my mom or even a friend be with me during my appointments; my sister could not. I was able to make friends with others fighting disease since I saw them and talked to them each week because we weren’t isolated from one another; my sister could not. I was able to sit next to someone in the waiting room and talk about how we were doing; my sister could not. I was able to hold hands with my chemo friends and say a prayer before getting chemo; my sister could not. I was able to compare hair loss and weight changes; my sister could not. I could laugh or cry with my chemo friends. My sister could not.
She has had no one with her. No one to rub her bald head, or feel when her hair started growing back. No hand to squeeze when the nurses accessed her port. No one to get her a diet Mountain Dew when she felt thirsty.
I am so sad for her. Don’t get me wrong I am ecstatic that she is beating the heck out of this disease, but I am sad that she has done it alone. But only physically alone, because her family has been with her in spirit the whole way. Even still, I can’t imagine how lonely she has felt and I can only hope that since she never experienced having such physical support that maybe she didn’t miss it like I missed it for her.
I am very thankful to all the people that have had a role in helping her beat this disease: Beth in the gift shop who helped her get a fun wig; Arnie for her massages; Sarah for checking her in all the time and giving her the notes that I would leave for her; all of the techs, nurses, doctors, pharmacy staff, lab folk, EVS and anyone else that I did not mention.
THANK YOU for getting her through. It really means the world to me. For those of you with direct patient contact during this time please know you are doing double duty. YOU are physically there for these patients when their family and friends cannot be. YOU are the ones they have to rely on. YOU are the ones making a difference, not only to the patients but to their families who want so desperately to be there but can’t. Thank you!