Patrick Hartley, MB, BCh, was well aware of the complications of COVID-19, but never imagined he would need to turn to his coworkers for help as a patient. He says this story is not about him, but about all of the UI Health Care faculty and staff who have been extraordinary during this pandemic.
At 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning in March, Patrick Hartley, MB, BCh, was washing his hands in his bathroom at home when he suddenly felt dizzy and lightheaded. The pulmonary, critical care, and occupational medicine specialist for UI Health Care was running a low-grade fever, but was doing ok up until this point.
“I felt like I was going to throw up. The next thing I remember is that my wife is by my side,” he says. “I had passed out, and she heard me fall to the ground.”
Even before that moment, it had been a tough week. His wife, Colette, who is a registered nurse for another organization, had been diagnosed with COVID-19. Days later, Hartley also tested positive for COVID-19.
Luckily, his wife was already feeling better and was able to act quickly.
“I remember my wife talking to me, but my responses were a bit sluggish,” says Hartley, who says he acquired COVID-19 outside of work. “She checked my blood pressure, and it was very low.”
His wife then called 911. While the dispatcher remained on the line, confirming that Hartley was talking and breathing, paramedics from the Johnson County Ambulance Service arrived, all wearing personal protective equipment (PPE).
“It was my first ambulance ride as a patient,” says Hartley. “As a physician, I was concerned about my low blood pressure. I wondered if it was just dehydration or if it was something else.”
A glimpse into his experience
Before Hartley arrived at the Emergency Department, a call was made to ensure the UI Health Care team was ready to receive a patient with COVID-19, and procedures were put in place to keep him separate from others. He was immediately placed in an airborne isolation room with negative flow, and the team checked his vitals, drew blood, and did an electrocardiogram.
Like all COVID-19 patients at UI Hospitals & Clinics who are well enough to recover at home, Hartley had been logging his vital signs—temperature, blood pressure, and oxygen levels—and reporting that information to his doctor during daily virtual visits. The blood pressure cuff and the pulse oximeter (to measure blood oxygen and heart rate), provided to him by the UI Health Care Home Treatment Team, turned out to be extremely useful.
“I felt confident that I would be able to manage this at home,” says Hartley, who also received regular check-ins from the Johnson County Public Health Department. “I was well aware that dehydration was one of the potential complications of COVID-19. I thought I was doing pretty good, drinking fluids each day. As it turns out, I wasn’t.”
With there also being concerns that he might have a cardiac complication from the COVID-19 infection, he was admitted for monitoring and bedside testing. Ordinarily, he would have been on a cardiac floor, but for the safety of other patients, he was admitted to an isolation room on a unit with other COVID-19 patients.
His medical team—led by Kevin Doerschug, MD, MS—gave him more fluids and ordered more tests, including an ultrasound and an additional echocardiogram, to try to rule out cardiac issues.
“Thankfully all of those tests came back negative, and they very quickly got to the bottom of what was going on,” says Hartley. “It was determined that my collapse was from dehydration. I was relieved and grateful.”
A new perspective
Hartley believes he’s lucky, as his course was more benign than many others with COVID-19, and he didn’t develop breathing complications.
He’s also grateful that his wife didn’t delay in seeking care. While COVID-19 can be scary, he was impressed at how efficient and professional everyone was, keeping others safe while ensuring he got the care he needed.
“I’ve always known that this was an excellent medical center and that people worked well together as a team,” he says. “I got to see that firsthand on the receiving end as a patient.”
Going forward, he’ll forever see things from a different perspective. As the medical director of UI Occupational Health and a staff physician in pulmonary and critical care medicine, Hartley says this story is not about him, but about all of the faculty and staff who have been extraordinary during this pandemic.
“We’re very lucky here in Iowa, in Johnson County, that we have a strong health care system,” says Hartley, who grew up in Ireland and received his medical degree from University College Dublin. “My personal experience has made me appreciate our faculty and staff even more. I am very proud to be part of this team and the UI Health Care family.”