A Trip to the ER During COVID-19

Sam Verdeja went to bed the night of May 14thwith some discomfort in his lower left abdomen. When he awoke several hourslater in extreme pain, he knew it was an attack of diverticulitis, resultingfrom 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 peopleover 40. When these pouches become inflamed or infected, they can cause extremepain in the lower left abdomen, along with fever, nausea and other symptoms. Ifleft untreated, they can rupture, leading to severe infection or even death. Milddiverticulitis can be treated with antibiotics, rest and changes in diet; severeor recurring diverticulitis may require surgery.

Miami marketing executive Sam Verdeja was recently treated in the emergency room at Baptist Hospital

Mr. Verdeja, 83, last had a diverticulitis attack severalyears ago. “That time, I was able to see my doctor, get some antibiotics andanti-inflammatories, and stay out of the hospital,” he recalls.

This time was different, however, and the infection had himdoubled over in agony. Yet it was the middle of the night and he didn’t want tobother his doctor at that hour. And, besides, Mr. Verdeja – always the dutifulhusband – wanted to wait until 7 a.m. so he could prepare the morning medicinesfor his wife, Delia, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Only then did hecall his son, Ed, who lives nearby, and ask for a ride to the emergency room atBaptist Hospital just a few minutes away.

“Sam’s a tough guy who doesn’t complain about much, so whenhe 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 toexpect with all the COVID-19 restrictions,” he says, referring to the stepped-upscreenings and stringent infection control procedures adopted by BaptistHealth at all of its hospitals and facilities.

A sign outside the ER entrance advised that visitors are notallowed 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 administereda screening and temperature check at the entrance.

“I wasn’t all that concerned about COVID-19 or not beingable to accompany my dad inside,” Ed Verdeja says. “I’ve been to Baptist beforeand had the utmost confidence that they would take care of whatever was wrongwith him. I was more concerned about my mom because she was home alone.”

For his part, Sam Verdeja was unconcerned with thecoronavirus – he just wanted relief for his pain – but he was surprised to findthe ER practically empty. “ERs are always busy with lots of people waiting, andI figured with COVID-19 it would be even busier,” he recalls. “But I didn’teven 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 werewearing masks and, in order to maintain adequate social distancing, signs anddecals clearly marked where one could sit or stand. All common areas andhigh-touch surfaces were being meticulously cleaned by hospital staff.

Sergio Segarra, M.D., emergency medicine specialist at Baptist Hospital

“The last thing someone coming to the ER should worry about issomehow being exposed to the coronavirus,” says Sergio Segarra, M.D., emergency medicinespecialist with Baptist Hospital. “We’ve taken extraordinarysteps here at Baptist to ensure the safety of all of our patients and staff.”

Mr. Verdeja was examined by the attending physician andgiven medicine for his pain before undergoing various tests. He later wasadmitted to Baptist’s Intensive Care Unit. Fortunately, he had thought to bringhis cellphone and charger with him, so he was able to keep in touch withboth Ed and his other son, Neil, the entire time he was at Baptist.

Before being admitted to the ICU, however, Mr. Verdeja was givena COVID-19 nasal swab test. “That was the worst part of the whole thing,” themarketing executive says with a chuckle. “It felt like it was going through mynose and right into my eye socket.” The test was negative, fortunately, and hewas happy not to have to worry about his diverticulitis and COVID-19. Eventually,his condition stabilized, the pain abated and, after spending the weekend inthe 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 extremelycomforted that Baptist is right around the corner. I know lots of high-caliberpeople who work there and I know that if we need it, we’ll have the very bestprofessionals 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 BaptistHealth’s ERs in South Florida are open and ready to serve you,” he reports. “Andyou can be confident that our ERs are safe for you and your loved ones.”

Sam Verdeja with his wife, Delia, and their children Ed Verdeja, Neil Verdeja and Marie Wetzel

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 13 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.