Loved ones behind bars are suffering from the effects of COVID-19 weeks and months after having caught the virus.
It’s been almost a month now since most of Unit B of Washington State Reformatory at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Monroe were transferred to the gymnasium or placed in solitary confinement. Coronavirus had swept through their living quarters like fire. Queues formed at the phones for wives and family members to hear the dreaded words, “I’ve got coronavirus.”
When I heard those words from my husband, I was terrified. I wanted to be positive. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be a source of support.
I suggested that maybe the coronavirus would no longer hold our thoughts hostage now that he has it. No more sleepless nights thinking the worst. Like childhood chickenpox, getting the virus might be a good thing. Perhaps the worst had passed.
After days of silence, he called and told me that many in the unit were experiencing survivable symptoms: loss of smell, slight breathlessness and vertigo. Very few had been transported to the hospital or intensive care units, and most seemed to be coping well. My husband was housed in an area where rest and fresh air were plentiful. He figured he would develop antibodies and in fourteen days, he would return to his unit so he can get back to his daily life.
It didn’t. The virus disappeared but my husband’s symptoms did not.
My husband had a heart attack and had not been able to sleep for days. Then I was informed that he had collapsed, and guards had to be called to seek medical help.
Every telephone call from him since then has consisted of medical questions. Were heart palpitations normal? Was dizziness a symptom of the coronavirus? Was my heart affected? Should I smell burning? Question after question filled our phone calls. Like millions of people around the world, I looked for solutions. I researched. I read, so I could get him answers.
I suggested to my husband that he go see the doctor. When he got the appointment and he explained his symptoms, the response was, “Oh, a lot of other people have said that.” The doctor I’d thought my husband would be seeing was a nurse practitioner. The visit cost $4 and an EKG was booked.
When I failed to learn very much about that appointment, I became his nurse and doctor. And even though I am not qualified to be in that position, my advice, found on the internet, was more useful than a visit to Department of Correction’s health department. How could that be?
Had DOC not thought about how to deal with the long-term effects of the coronavirus on its inhabitants? From our experience, it appears that a strategy has not even been discussed let alone documented.
I understand that medical experts outside have not yet implemented procedures for treatment of long-term COVID-19 symptoms weeks and months after falling ill. I understand the medical options are still widely unknown.
But the DOC still needs to address it. One must consider the short-term and long-term options in a pandemic, especially when an institution holds thousands of people under its care as they do. It can’t just put out fires now and hope new ones won’t restart.
A detailed strategy with robust medical options for incarcerated long-term COVID sufferers in Washington’s prisons is vital. Access to experienced doctors and medical care with clear guidance about the coronavirus would make a difference to my loved one.
These days I find comfort in only one thought. Thank goodness for telephones. Thank goodness for the internet. Thank goodness for prayer. There’s a good chance that without them, my husband might be dead. If not from the physical manifestations of the coronavirus, he will be dead from anxiety.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. The Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned. The work is lightly edited but has not been otherwise fact-checked.