‘Don’t lose hope’: ICU nurse goes home after 8 months in hospital fighting COVID-19

Merlin Pambuan told other patients with COVID-19 to continue fighting.

A nurse in the intensive care unit is finally home after spending eight months in the hospital fighting COVID-19.

Merlin Pambuan left St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, California on Monday, receiving an emotional round of applause from the hospital staff.

They were not just rooting for one patient, but one of their own – Panbuam, 66, also worked at the hospital for 40 years, where he treated COVID-19 patients before becoming one.

During his long treatment, Pambuan spent three months in the ICU, the hospital said. She was placed in an induced coma and placed on a ventilator as part of her treatment, and has spent the past few weeks undergoing physical therapy to be able to walk again, Reuters reported.

Her doctor said she was close to death “several times”.

“I would say it happened at least half a dozen times, that she was very close to death,” said Dr. Maged Tanios, a specialist in pulmonary and intensive care in St. Mary’s, told Reuters. One concern was her oxygen levels, he said, as the hospital had “difficulty keeping oxygen compatible with life”.

Pambuan told other patients struggling with COVID-19: “Don’t lose hope.”

“Just fight. Fight,” she told Reuters. “Because look at me. I’m going home and walking.”

Pambuan’s message comes when the capacity of the hospital in Long Beach is “at a breaking point,” said Mayor Robert Garcia.

“The COVID crisis in Long Beach is not getting better, in fact, it is getting worse,” Garcia said at a news conference on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Long Beach reported a record 14 deaths, double the previous record, Garcia said. The city is just beginning to see the impact of Thanksgiving meetings on hospitalizations, he said, as some hospitals, including St. Mary Medical Center, are almost full. Morgues are also almost full, said Garcia.

“They are fighting,” said Garcia of the St. Mary team. “Their doctors and nurses are begging for their support. They are seeing more and more patients every day and are doing everything they can to provide excellent care.”

Hospitals in the Long Beach area were at 1.5% of the ICU capacity on Wednesday, while the capacity of the regional ICU was at 0%, he said.

“We are in a serious situation with our hospitals and people need to do better,” he said.

Hospitalization rates remain high across California, as COVID-19 cases in the state have surpassed 2 million. The milestone is a “reminder that this virus continues to spread to our communities,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency.

“Hospitals are full, ICU beds are few, people are dying,” Ghaly said in a note on Thursday. “The simplest thing we can do, but also the most significant, is to stay at home. We are the first line of defense against this virus and we must act now.”

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