July 11, 2020 by Peter B. Laird
A Trip to the ER During COVID-19
Sam Verdeja went to bed the night of May 14th with some discomfort in his lower left abdomen. When he awoke several hours later in extreme pain, he knew it was an attack of diverticulitis, resulting from a condition he was diagnosed with 30 years ago.
It starts with small bulging pouches (diverticulum) that can sometimes form in the lining of the intestine, most often in people over 40. When these pouches become inflamed or infected, they can cause extreme pain in the lower left abdomen, along with fever, nausea and other symptoms. If left untreated, they can rupture, leading to severe infection or even death. Mild diverticulitis can be treated with antibiotics, rest and changes in diet; severe or recurring diverticulitis may require surgery.
Mr. Verdeja, 83, last had a diverticulitis attack several years ago. “That time, I was able to see my doctor, get some antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, and stay out of the hospital,” he recalls.
This time was different, however, and the infection had him doubled over in agony. Yet it was the middle of the night and he didn’t want to bother his doctor at that hour. And, besides, Mr. Verdeja – always the dutiful husband – wanted to wait until 7 a.m. so he could prepare the morning medicines for his wife, Delia, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Only then did he call his son, Ed, who lives nearby, and ask for a ride to the emergency room at Baptist Hospital just a few minutes away.
“Sam’s a tough guy who doesn’t complain about much, so when he said he thought he should go to the hospital, I rushed over to get him,” says Ed Verdeja, 45, a Miami real estate broker with three children of his own. “When we arrived at the ER around 7:30, neither of us really knew what to expect with all the COVID-19 restrictions,” he says, referring to the stepped-up screenings and stringent infection control procedures adopted by Baptist Health at all of its hospitals and facilities.
A sign outside the ER entrance advised that visitors are not
allowed inside unless they’re accompanying a minor or someone with special needs,
so the younger Verdeja left his father with a hospital staff member, who administered
screening and temperature check at the entrance.
“I wasn’t all that concerned about COVID-19 or not being able to accompany my dad inside,” Ed Verdeja says. “I’ve been to Baptist before and had the utmost confidence that they would take care of whatever was wrong with him. I was more concerned about my mom because she was home alone.”
For his part, Sam Verdeja was unconcerned with the coronavirus – he just wanted relief for his pain – but he was surprised to find the ER practically empty. “ERs are always busy with lots of people waiting, and I figured with COVID-19 it would be even busier,” he recalls. “But I didn’t even have to wait one minute before they took me inside.”
In addition to a contactless registration process, Mr. Verdeja noticed other changes inside the ER waiting room. All employees were wearing masks and, in order to maintain adequate social distancing, signs and decals clearly marked where one could sit or stand. All common areas and high-touch surfaces were being meticulously cleaned by hospital staff.
“The last thing someone coming to the ER should worry about is somehow being exposed to the coronavirus,” says Sergio Segarra, M.D., emergency medicine specialist with Baptist Hospital. “We’ve taken extraordinary steps here at Baptist to ensure the safety of all of our patients and staff.”
Mr. Verdeja was examined by the attending physician and given medicine for his pain before undergoing various tests. He later was admitted to Baptist’s Intensive Care Unit. Fortunately, he had thought to bring his cellphone and charger with him, so he was able to keep in touch with both Ed and his other son, Neil, the entire time he was at Baptist.
Before being admitted to the ICU, however, Mr. Verdeja was given a COVID-19 nasal swab test. “That was the worst part of the whole thing,” the marketing executive says with a chuckle. “It felt like it was going through my nose and right into my eye socket.” The test was negative, fortunately, and he was happy not to have to worry about his diverticulitis and COVID-19. Eventually, his condition stabilized, the pain abated and, after spending the weekend in the hospital, he was discharged that Sunday afternoon.
Today, Mr. Verdeja is back at work putting the finishing touches on his second book, a chronology of Cuban history from 1492 to the present that he is writing with Leonardo Rodriguez and expects to have ready for publication later this year. He remains active with organizations like Facts About Cuban Exiles (FACE), a group he founded in 1982 and continues to serve as a member of its executive board. And he cherishes memories of all the people he met and worked with during his 29-year career with The Miami Herald Media Company, where he started as a mechanical engineer in 1967 and retired in 1996 as vice president of marketing and community relations.
Mr. Verdeja, who also served on the board of the Baptist Health Foundation in the early 1990s, said that going to Baptist in an emergency was a no-brainer. “I’ve been going to Baptist for many years,” he says. “When it comes to the health of me or my family, I always think of Baptist first.”
Ed Verdeja echoes his father’s sentiments: “I feel extremely comforted that Baptist is right around the corner. I know lots of high-caliber people who work there and I know that if we need it, we’ll have the very best professionals taking care of me and my family.”
If you should need emergency medical care – now or any time – Dr. Segarra suggests calling 911 or going to the emergency room immediately, as delayed care often leads to even bigger problems. “All 11 of Baptist Health’s ERs in South Florida are open and ready to serve you,” he reports. “And you can be confident that our ERs are safe for you and your loved ones.”