Tammy Adams – Monongahela, PA
Died: November 24, 2021
AHN Jefferson – Jefferson Hills, PA
Tammy’s story is being told by her daughter, Shannon Adams. She was a veteran having served in the US Marine Corps during Operation Desert Storm. She was currently working at Allegheny Valley Transfer in Pittsburgh, where she has been employed for the past thirty years. She was a member of the River Hill Church of Christ. Tammy loved nature, especially watching and feeding the birds, driving to the mountains and to different parks. One of her favorite trips was to visit Erie and enjoy the wineries. She is survived by her husband, Brian D. Adams with whom she celebrated thirty years of marriage, and her daughter Shannon.
My name is Shannon Adams. I am the only daughter of the late, Tammy Adams. After reading Christy’s story and hearing such similar stories from many others I personally know, I am compelled to share my mother’s story. I have no expectations in sharing the tragedy my family has experienced. I only hope that in sharing it, along with others, the same tragedy may be avoided for someone else.
My mother began feeling ill the first week of November 2021. Every year my mom got this awful cough that lingered for weeks, so she really did not think much of it. We had our annual Girls’ Wine Weekend planned in Erie, PA, so she took some cough medicine, finalized the itinerary, and packed for the trip. My mom loved these trips, and she planned every detail, every year for the past eight years. Admittedly, the wineries lost their excitement, and I was considering not going this year. Looking back, I am so thankful I did. This was the last weekend I spent with her.
Friday, we giggled and laughed, drank wine, and enjoyed each other’s company. Per usual, my mom was DD, and we always commented on her lack of driving and parking skills. She always said that anyone else was welcome to take on the job, but of course, we did not. That evening, she went to the casino; another thing she enjoyed doing, even though she was not much of a gambler.
Saturday morning, my mom walked on the beach as the sun rose. I walked down to the beach shortly after her, and I am not sure what made me do it, but I just watched her for a minute from the distance. That is a beautiful memory I will cherish always.
By Sunday, my mom was not acting herself, but she continued to be a good sport on the wine trail and drive us silly girls around. I hugged my mom goodbye that afternoon before heading home. This was the last humanly embrace we would share.
On Tuesday November 9th, I asked my parents if they would take a covid test to rule that out since, at this point, they were both feeling very sickly. They agreed, and they were both positive. I continued to check on my parents daily and bring them groceries and supplies as they needed. After a week of being sick and seeming to decline instead of progress to feeling better, my parents decided to go to the hospital.
On the evening of Monday November 15th, my dad, extremely weak, drove my mom and him to AHN Jefferson Hospital in Jefferson Hills, PA. From what I know, my mom was taken back before my dad. That would be the last time my dad got to see his strong, beautiful, loving wife, who he spent the last 30+ years with.
After several hours, a chest x-ray and some meds that my dad is not sure about, they discharged him. They told him that he could go home, but my mom was being admitted for further observation. My dad called, confused and unsure of what to do. He did not want to leave his wife behind without even getting to talk to her. I had him give the nurse my telephone number to put on file, and he told the nurse that the staff had permission to give me information and to please keep me informed. My dad got a parking lot attendant to help him find his truck because he was so weak and blurry minded. Thankfully my dad was able to make it home late that night, or it may have been early the next morning by this time. At this point, my dad was now home to manage his illness alone, while my mom was under the care of Jefferson Hospital. The following is a timeline, depicting the rapid decline of my mom’s health.
The morning of Tuesday November 16th started the phone calls to get information on my mom’s condition. Eventually after numerous calls, transfers and holds, I got in touch with a nurse. And so began the description, “15 liters high flow nasal cannula with 15 liters nonrebreather mask, a blood thinner, steroid and Remdesivir.” I am not experienced with medical terminology, but I attempted to understand and ask questions to the best of my ability and knowledge. Then I would google terms and consult my family and friends who were in the field. This seemed to be standard, and she was stable. “This takes time,” is another phrase I heard daily. After talking to the nurse, I tried to call my mom’s cell phone. We spoke briefly, but it was very loud in the room with all the machines. She had a hard time hearing me, and I had a hard time hearing her with all the background noise and the mask her voice had to carry over. I did not want to strain her breathing, so we said, “I love you, bye.”
Wednesday November 17th. “Guess saying as well as Covid and on oxygen. I have heart issues. A cardiologist is to be speaking to me today…” was the text I received from my mom, along with concerns about getting the bills paid. I assured her I would handle the bills, and I called the nurse to get some information on this “heart issue.” My mom had no pre-existing conditions to our knowledge, so this was unsettling. When I spoke to the nurse, she told me that my mom’s heart rate was high for a brief period, but they made some adjustments, and it was back to normal.
Nothing about her explanation seemed to be alarming or alert to any real issue. I then conveyed that information to my mom via text to hopefully put her at ease. Of course, your heart rate would be out of sorts when you’re in the hospital, scared and confused, was what I thought. At this point, my dad was completely out of the loop, and the hospital did not even get his contact information. I brought him up to speed, gave the nurse his telephone number to add to contacts and let mom know that everyone was now on the same page.
Thursday November 18th. My dad who is also extremely sick is alone at home, and completely stressing about his wife. I asked my mom to call him if she was up for it, so he could hear her voice. It was scary to hear her voice behind all the machine noises though, and I know it scared my dad. The nurse suggested Facetime, so we could see that she was ok. Honestly, I did not know if that would help to see our strong matriarch with this tubes and masks on. Neither my dad nor I decided to Facetime my mom. Our thought was that we would just see her when she was able to have the mask removed in a day or two.
The update from the nurse was, “15 liters high flow nasal cannula with 15 liters nonrebreather mask, a blood thinner, steroid and Remdesivir.”
When I spoke to her that night, she seemed to be doing ok. “I love you too, sweet pea. Goodnight.”
Friday November 19th. I had an event to attend in New York, and since I could not physically be there for either of my parents, I decided to head up for the weekend. My parents were going to be fine. My mom was in the right place. I repeated those statements to myself daily. I spoke to my mom while I was driving, and she seemed to be growing frustrated that it had been a few days, and she was not feeling any better at all. I explained to her that she was on an anti-viral called Remdesivir, and it was a 5-day medicine to help. At least that is how it was explained to me. She had no idea that she was being given this, and she expressed frustration with the lack of communication regarding her own care that she was being given.
To help my dad, I thought it would be good for him to call with me and hear the nurse for himself. I called and merged my dad into the call. “15 liters high flow nasal cannula with 15 liters nonrebreather mask, a blood thinner, steroid and Remdesivir.” My dad had a few valid questions, as did I. This was now the fourth day we were rattled off the same “update.” “This takes time,” the nurse said again. I asked that they please communicate with my mom and explain to her the course of care she is being given. I explained how that would help her stress and frustration to at least feel involved in her own care and informed about what is being put into her body. Also, that supposedly, this is normal. It just takes time. If she is not feeling worse, that is a good thing. At this point, while weak and afraid, my mom was still very alert and aware. She was checking in on the status of me paying the weekly bills, if dad was taking his medication and fielding phone calls from work, asking her questions.
During the weekdays, a nurse would call me in the morning with an update. Well, if you call, “15 liters high flow nasal cannula with 15 liters nonrebreather mask, a blood thinner, steroid and Remdesivir,” on repeat an “update.” However, on the weekend, I had to call in and hope to reach someone for an update. Saturday and Sunday the same thing was read off to me, “15 liters high flow nasal cannula with 15 liters nonrebreather mask, a blood thinner, steroid and Remdesivir.” This was communicated to us by a staff member assisting and reading from a chart. It was not the nurse from what I was told. I was frustrated with the lack of communication, and what seemed to be the withholding of information from my mother when it came to her own health.
Monday November 22nd. I spoke to the nurse in the morning, and she that they were trying to get the nonrebreather mask off today. That would make my mom much more comfortable, I am sure. Her oxygen levels were stable, and she was doing fine when removing it to eat. She finished up her 5 days of Remdesivir over the weekend, so I really felt a sense of relief and optimism. Then I spoke with my mom via text. She said, “Had a bad night couching & peeing… setting in the chair now. They keep talking about the mask, but nothing yet. Couldn’t get blood from me earlier. To be sending someone else, but only get 1 try.?” Later that day I spoke with the nurse again, and she said that she would give her some Robitussin for the cough.
Tuesday November 23rd. “How are you this morning?” Mom replied, “Does not seem any better.” “Ugh ok. I am trusting in their knowledge. I just wish I knew more here and could help. I will talk to the nurse shortly and ask to speak to the doctor.” My mom then requested I ask about a different meal plan because her mouth was so dry. It hurt to chew food. I spoke to the nurse. She said she would give her “Biotene” to assist with the dry mouth. I was told that the doctor would be reviewing the blood work to see if any tweaks need to be made. I expressed my growing wariness and wanted to know what the plan was. How can we spark some improvement? Are we going to do another CT? I wanted answers, and all I was getting was someone reading from a piece of paper.
The doctor called me. He said that they would add a humidifier to help with the dryness. Cough meds and stool softener to help with tummy discomfort. He said they would adjust the steroid dosage, but there was nothing else they could do at this point. I pushed back a little bit. This seemed like insanity to me that they continued to do the same thing day after day with no improvement. Here we go with, “This takes time.”
I questioned if there was anything else; a different course of action we could try. The doctor told me that my mother was not eligible for anything else. I don’t even know what that means. My faith in the medical team was growing wearier. He did say that her blood work was stable. Her Y count was a little high but going down and being monitored. I then asked about her heart to see if the earlier concerns were resolved, since I had not been given any update on that. This doctor said that the cardiologist signed off on my mom’s heart, and it was fine. I conveyed this information to my mom. I told her to have a positive mindset and stay strong. “I love you.” She sent a heart emoji back. That’s the last communication I shared with my mommy.
Less than two hours after that text, I got a call from the ICU nurse, Val. My mom’s oxygen level dropped to an alarming level, and they were taking her to ICU to stabilize it. She said that my mom was scared and very anxious. She said she would call me when she could with an update. I wanted to call my mom so badly. To hold her hand. To tell her that it would be ok. I texted her in hopes that once she calmed down, she would read them. The texts included, “It’s ok, mom. Just focus and breath. I love you.” “They will figure out what’s going on and get you fixed up.” “Just calm down and relax as much as possible <3” “Dad and I love you very much, and you’re strong and determined. I know we aren’t there to hold your hand and hug you, but we are. God is watching over you and there as well to help guide the doctors to help you heal. Just keep thinking that and knowing that.” I believed in the words I was messaging her. I believed everything would be ok.
A few hours later, “Still waiting for call back from ICU nurse. I love you.”
Finally, later that night, Val called me. We talked for a while. My faith in the medical team begun to come back. She was compassionate, knowledgeable, and seemed extremely capable. She said that they were able to get my mom stabilized. No need to intubate her at that time. If at any point that changed, they would call me. They did have her on a slight sedative to calm her down, but she was aware. She was listening to guidance. She knew where she was and what day it was. Val told me that my mom was a strong woman.
I took this time to get her thoughts on the care thus far. She assured me that she was giving her the best care possible. She also told me that the guidelines had changed and after 7-10 days of not having a fever, in most cases, the patient was allowed a visitor. No one else mentioned this to me, so that was the first thing I was going to bring up in the morning. When can I see my mom? Unfortunately, Val was going to be off the next few days for Thanksgiving, but she said that she would be thinking about my mom and hopes to see her much improved when she returned to work. Val- being the only person’s name I remember, left an impression on me and renewed my faith in humanity surrounding this disease. There were still good nurses out there.
I texted my mom again, “The nurse said that you’re a very strong-willed woman, and she could tell from talking to me that you instilled that in me, and I was very strong too. Damn right we are. Get well, Mom. I love you. I’ll check in tomorrow morning.” That was the last text I sent my mom. Even still, I believed everything would be ok. She was in the best place to help her. I prayed fiercely. Everyone was praying.
Wednesday November 24th. The worst day of my life. I called ICU to get an update on my mom in the morning. A nurse finally answered. “We had to intubate.” My mom was now on a ventilator. They did not call me. They did not have much of any explanation at all as to what happened. I was at a complete loss for words. “Ok, thank you,” and I hung up the phone. At that point in time, I was still trying to be positive. The vent will help her, so she can rest. It will help her. I took a moment to compose myself, so that I would convey this to my dad. Now, more than ever, I wanted to be able to hold her hand. We wanted to see her. We had been wanting to see her for over a week, and we were kept from her. Just let us see her. So, I began calling the ICU back to talk to someone that could permit us to come in to even sit with her for a one minute. I could not get through.
Finally, someone answered. “Your mom is in cardiac arrest, and we are working to bring her back. Get to the hospital as soon as you can.” I put my shoes on and went out the door while calling my dad. “Dad, I need you to go to the hospital. I will meet you there.” It was the longest 15-minute drive of my life. I screamed for God to help her. “It’s ok, mom. You got this. It’s ok,” I kept repeating over and over.
When I finally made it to the ICU, I was met with a nurse that said I could stand outside the window. I could not really see my mom through the crowd of people surrounding her. I could only see the male nurse repeatedly doing chest compressions and her lifeless body being thrusted about from them. I sat on the floor. All the alarms going off, but the World went silent for me. As I type this, my heart still beats so quickly as the emotions from that day rush back to me. “We have been doing this for 35 minutes, and we are going to stop soon,” one of the doctors said.
My dad walked in. I was so worried for my dad’s heart. My dad is the one with heart problems. The doctor repeated, “We are going to stop. Blood is coming out from everywhere, and her heart is Jell-O.” My dad asked, “That’s it? That’s all? She’s gone?” We held each other in complete disbelief. At 11:49 AM on Wednesday November 24, 2021, my mom, Tammy Lynn Adams, went to be with God at the age of 54.
We waited for a bit, as they removed all the tubes, wires, and machines. We waited because we thought we could then see her. We were told that we could not go into the room. After keeping us away from her for 8 days, we were not even allowed to be with her when she was already gone. I still question in anger why they told us to come to the hospital. So, the image of those chest compression will forever be imprinted in my mind? So, they could tell us to our pale, shocked faces that my mother’s heart that just the day before was “signed off on,” had turned to Jell-O and failed her? There are so many questions that I will never have the answers to.
Official cause of death: COVID pneumonia, Septic shock, AKI, Lactic acidosis.
It is impossible to truly convey the emotional impact that such a sudden loss had on my dad and me that day and in the days to follow. It’s difficult for me to put into words now. I feel as though to attempt to describe what an impact my genuine, loving mother, and her loss had and continues to have, only cheapens it. Words will always fall short. The memories and bond that her and I shared are pure. Those can never be taken from me. Those, I will cherish forever.
These stories and the families affected by them continue to cross my path. With each shockingly similar story, the questions only multiply.
One thing is for certain, my mother is a beautiful angel in Heaven who no longer feels pain or fear.
I love you, Mom XOXOXO
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