San Antonio man recounts ‘emotional rollercoaster’ after being separated from mother who contracted COVID-19

Carlos Calderon said the virus impacted his mother so hard, she needed a quadruple bypass surgery to survive

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio man is encouraging families impacted by COVID-19 to have faith after he experienced being separated from his mother.

His mother, Michelle Rodriguez, 58, contracted the new coronavirus in early April.

“When her results came back positive, she went to the hospital a few days later because her symptoms were increasing, and she said she was having chest pain,” said Carlos Calderon, Rodriguez's youngest son. “She was then admitted, and doctors found out that COVID-19 had compromised her heart, revealing four blocked arteries with over 90% blockage.”

Calderon said his mother went through a stint procedure, but sadly, that failed.

“That is when the doctors called again and recommended she have quadruple bypass surgery,” Calderon said. “That scared us because we never heard of quadruple bypass surgery. They told us that if they gave her just some medicines, then it would be like patching a tire up. But if they proceed with the surgery, it would be like a whole new tire, so we signed off on it.”

Calderon said that was the worst day of his life.

“Not knowing or being able to see her before she went in. Of course, we had FaceTime, but I couldn’t physically be there with her," Calderon said. "The whole entire morning and afternoon, we were waiting for the phone call. Then we got a call saying it was successful, and we were happy, but I wasn’t all positive until I heard her voice.”

Soon after, Calderon said they got another call.

“They told us she had some internal bleeding and had to go in a second time to fix it,” Calderon said. “I didn’t hear anything until 7 or 8 when a nurse called and said she was stable. Then they called back and said she was awake, but she couldn’t speak because they had her on a ventilator. One of her lungs collapsed.”

The next day, he said they were able to remove the ventilator, and they were able to FaceTime with their mother again.

“It was one of the most happiest I’ve been to see her call us and talk,” Calderon said. “Saying ‘Hey, mom' had never meant so much to me in my entire life and hearing the words, ‘Hey, mijo.’ That is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard.”

Calderon said the entire process was agonizing.

“Before this, the last time we were able to see her physically and be with her was well over four weeks ago, like early April or late March, where we were concerned about COVID-19 and were already practicing social distancing as a family," Calderon said.

He said they slowly but surely started to realize Rodriguez was getting worse.

“She was already quarantining, and as her symptoms progressed, she had lost taste and smell in the beginning of April. She had heavy breathing and some body pain, and that was all before Monday, the 13th. That was when she got tested, and the results came by back the 14th.”

During that time, Calderon said he could only drop off groceries at the porch or wave to his mom from a distance. When she was admitted to the hospital, nobody was expecting her to stay.

“She went to the hospital that day thinking she was going to come back home, but she wasn’t able to,” Calderon said. “It was sad and heartbreaking because we understood the restrictions because of the pandemic that only medical staff could be there and no family or visitors.”

Calderon said he understood the rules in place, but when complications began to take place during his mother’s procedure, things got depressing.

“It was scary,” Calderon said. “It was sad. It was like a rollercoaster of emotions. We didn’t know what to feel or to expect and had questions but just had to wait.”

Calderon said it all took a toll on everyone.

“We were pacing throughout the home,” Calderon said. “Looking at my brother’s face and not having anything to say to each other. Looking at the clock. Our other brother in El Paso sending us messages, saying, ‘Anything?’ We didn’t have an answer. We didn’t know. We just basically sat around the table, silent, and just stared at each other. Like, what can we do? There is nothing we can do.”

Dr. Lindsay Bira, a clinical psychologist, said families in these types of situations are going through a lot of emotions.

“When people experience something they can’t be together to get through, the brain does not like that,” Bira said. “The brain really depends on us being with our loved ones, and if they get taken away to be treated, families are not able to provide that social support.”

She said humans then feel out of control.

“When we can’t be with our loved ones because of the coronavirus and the restrictions around that, then it is very hard to deal,” Bira said. “There is sadness there. There can be anger. There can be a lot of fear because of the things that could happen with COVID-19.”

Calderon said his mother is now at home recovering. He had these tips for other families dealing with the frustration of not being able to physically be with loved ones who contract the virus.

“They are the heroes -- the nurses and doctors,” Calderon said. “Trust what they are saying. I was confident that my mom would go into this and come out of it.”

He also said to stay in communication with your loved one.

“We were always communicating,” Calderon said. “When she was waking up, she woke up to our texts saying we loved her. She knew she had her family with her. Whenever there was a little text bubble replying with the three dots, I knew my mom was communicating. I knew she was typing. I knew she was there.”

Bira agrees that communication is critical.

“We know that our brain reacts to communication pretty similarly, whether it is technology, FaceTime, texting or a real conversation,” Bira said. “It is just about knowing someone is thinking about you and being able to communicate in real-time.”

She said it is also an opportunity to open up to loved ones in ways that may bring you closer.

“Whether it is someone who has gotten sick with COVID-19 and is in the hospital or if it is the family members worrying about the person with COVID-19, this is a great chance to just kind of tap into your emotions and speak some words that maybe you haven’t before," Bira said.

Last but not least, Calderon said to have faith.

“God has all of the answers, and you just got to trust he knows what he is doing and why these things are progressing and why this is happening to you,” Calderon said.

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