It’s been more than three months since the first COVID-19 case presented itself in New Jersey. Since then, more than 169,000 people have contracted the virus statewide.
Across the globe, celebrities like actor Tom Hanks and CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo had it. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had it, too. So did DJ Jazzy Jeff. More than 2 million worldwide have contracted the virus.
Do you know anyone with COVID-19?
One SMC employee went from sick to survivor, thanks to the doctors and nurses at Salem Medical Center — her coworkers. This is her story.
When COVID-19 first appeared in early March, the symptoms to look for were fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
So, when SMC Emergency Department’s Agnes Galiano, RN, started feeling nauseous, coronavirus wasn’t immediately at the top of her list of possible ailments.
“I was so nauseous,” said Galiano, now back to work, remembering her bout with the virus.
On April 1, Galiano was tested for COVID-19. On April 4, the test results came back positive.
As she self-quarantined, her condition continued to decline. She couldn’t eat or drink. She became dehydrated and extremely weak. She couldn’t get out of bed.
Galiano’s children were worried, and knew they had to get their mother to the hospital.
Wearing a protective mask and glasses, Galiano’s daughter drove her to the SMC ED with the car windows down.
“Dr. (Paul) Karagiannis, Charge Nurse Nancy Headman and the ED nurses were afraid for me, but I couldn’t have been in better hands. They took excellent care of me,” she said of the ED staff.
From the ED, Galiano was taken to ICU for her first night, then was moved to a telemetry room for the rest of her stay.
She had been in the hospital for several days before she was diagnosed with pneumonia.
“It felt like someone was squeezing my lungs. My chest was so painful,” Galiano said. “I really felt like I was dying.”
After the doctors administered hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, she noticed a big change. She began to breathe more easily, and her appetite came back.
“One day I was craving bananas, probably because my potassium was so low,” Galiano said. “The nurses on 2 North got me a bunch of bananas and I was able to eat some. They were so wonderful to me. They didn’t know who I was at first, but when they found out, the comradery and support were great.
“Dr. (Wamiq) Sultan, Jason (Aulffo), Dr. (Henry) Ho, and Dr. (Hussein) Kiliddar were all amazing and really helped me get back to work.”
She admits that even though she was eager to get back in the ED as a nurse instead of a patient, she was worried that her immune system had been compromised.
“I took another (COVID-19) test and it was negative,” Galiano said. “Then I took the antibodies test and it showed that I had built up antibodies. But I still need to wear protective gear so I don’t spread it to others.”
SMC Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Angela Oates said according to the CDC, if a person tests positive for antibodies, they should still protect themselves and others. It is not yet known if those who recover from COVID-19 can get infected again or if these antibodies protect against reinfection.
Galiano returned to work on May 4 and said she finally “feels back to normal.”
“I had such excellent care at SMC, and I know the patients feel the same way,” she said.