When Kaiser Permanente finally called with the results of her husband Jim’s test, Saugus resident Becky Mastrobuono had already known her husband was positive for COVID-19. She was certain because only a few hours earlier, during the night, paramedics had helped her load her husband, a 75-year-old man, into Becky’s vehicle with a 103-degree temperature.
It would be over two weeks before she held her husband in her arms again.
On Tuesday, Jim was released from Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, 13 days after he was first admitted when his wife drove him to the hospital. Before that journey had begun, Becky and her husband were taking every precaution — staying at home, isolating and washing their hands — because they knew his age and underlying conditions made him one of the most vulnerable.
A few weeks into the stay-at-home order, even with the extra precautions taken, Jim came down with a fever around 100 degrees, had a cough and a stuffy nose. And on March 25, he and his wife went to Kaiser Permanente, their private health care provider, to get tested.
Six days later, on the night of April 1, before the test administered by Kaiser had returned, Jim’s fever had spiked to 103.4 degrees and he was acting very confused because of it, Becky said.
“So I called 9-1-1,” said Becky.
After the paramedics helped load Jim into the truck, Becky drove him to Henry Mayo, and the next day Jim was placed on a ventilator to assist him in breathing.
“Henry Mayo was awesome. They took super good care of him,” said Becky. “They intubated him earlier than you normally would, because the doctor told me they’re finding that with COVID-19 patients that they do it earlier instead of waiting for the lungs to totally go into failure, that they recover better.
“Kaiser called me on (April 2) letting me know that he was positive, which, at this point, I already knew,” said Becky. “Then they said I needed to test right away, and Kaiser got my test back in only two days, and yes I was positive, which I figured that I would be.”
Becky said her symptoms were so mild she could barely even register them. But for her husband, who is considered to be in one of the highest at-risk groups, the symptoms became life-threatening.
For a week of his 13-day stay in the hospital, Jim was on the ventilator.
While the machine regulated the air in and out of his lungs, the hospital staff worked day and night to make sure Jim was taken care of. Becky said friends and family stood by her throughout the entire process, contributing both support and heavy prayer.
And after that first fateful night and a few days afterward, Jim was starting to show signs of improvement on a nearly daily basis.
Becky said the hardest part of the whole process was that she was not allowed to visit with her husband due to the nature of the virus.
“You, as a family member, cannot be with your loved one in the hospital,” said Becky, over a tearful phone call on Tuesday.
“All of his numbers kept improving little by little each day, like the amount of oxygen that he needed on the ventilator,” said Becky.
Finally, after his near two-week-long battle, Jim had recovered. He was able to leave the hospital, breathing on his own, and free to exit the hospital doors and look at his wife for the first time since the whole ordeal began.
“And so when he came out, I was able to finally hug him and it was a very emotional experience,” said Becky.
As he was discharged, the staff of Henry Mayo lined the halls and the outdoor pick-up area clapping for Jim, and their shared victory, as he went home.
“I don’t know how many people lined up there, clapping and cheering for him,” said Becky. “It was really … It was really a beautiful sendoff that the hospital had given him to celebrate.”
Becky said Jim was sent home with instructions from public health officials, the main point of which was that he would need to remain in quarantine for an additional 10 days after being sent home, despite being symptom-free.
When asked what advice she would give to people who haven’t had a personal experience with the virus yet, Becky told them to follow the advice of the county health professionals.
“I believe they know what they’re doing,” said Becky. “I have no idea where we picked up this virus because we were extremely careful.”
“And if a family member has it, I would say not to give up any hope.”
Becky said the tireless work of the Henry Mayo staff and her belief in prayer were the reasons she was able to keep her hope.
“I can’t even tell you how many people were praying for Jim,” said Becky. “It brought me the most comfort, knowing that those prayers would heal him if it was God’s will.”