Silver Linings

“My doctor told me that my wife and I were the first two COVID patients at BIDMC.” A year later, patient reflects on extraordinary care and community support.

It was early March 2020 when the athletic, healthy Christian Calvo struggled up the stairs to his primary care physician’s office. “I just couldn’t catch my breath,” he says. Though the novel coronavirus was not yet prevalent in Boston, Jose Abrego, MD, of Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare–Chelsea immediately sent Christian to BIDMC’s Berenson Emergency Department (ED). That day—and the months that followed—were surreal for him and his family.

Christian’s arrival was a pivotal turning point for Alden Landry, MD, MPH, one of Christian’s ED physicians. Landry wore a mask and gloves—a new protocol at the time. “Within seconds into our conversation, I knew this was my first COVID patient,” says Landry. At that point, time was of the essence; Christian needed to be intubated immediately. “I woke up eleven days later in the ICU, startled and confused,” says Christian. “The doctors and nurses were by my side, reassuring me, ‘You're okay. You're at BIDMC.’”

All the doctors and nurses cared about was their patients.
Christian Calvo

The first thing Christian asked about was his wife, Danille. He found out she had also been hospitalized with COVID-19 and to his relief, was discharged. “I was very weak but all I could think about was, how can I get home?” says Christian. “What do I have to do to see my wife and kids?” He, alongside countless patients across the world, had myriad questions. “In the beginning, there were so many unknowns,” says Landry. “Nobody knew how contagious it was, but there was an overwhelming sense of commitment to our patients.” This generous spirit was felt by Christian at every step of his journey at BIDMC—including in his first conscious moments. “I’ll never forget the look in their faces and how happy they were that I had woken up,” he recalls. “All the doctors and nurses cared about was their patients.”

While battling COVID-19 has been the hardest thing the Calvos have ever been through, they still look to the silver linings. For one, in treating Danille, doctors discovered and treated Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and she is now in remission. “If she hadn’t been seen for COVID, this wouldn’t have been caught until much later,” says Christian. He also stresses the camaraderie in their beloved neighborhood, Chelsea, where residents are disproportionately affected by the pandemic—a problem Landry sees all too clearly. “Patients from certain backgrounds are bearing a higher burden,” he explains. “It’s imperative as providers that we look through a health equity lens.”

What Landry sees as a physician, Christian sees in his community. “Many people are working two full-time jobs and can’t take time off to see a doctor,” says Christian, who declined taking an ambulance to the ED despite Abrego’s recommendation. “In hindsight maybe that wasn’t the best decision, however I was thinking about the cost of the ambulance, and not my health.” Christian himself has lost relatives, friends, and neighbors to COVID-19. But despite these irreplaceable losses, he found strength in his community. “When I was in a coma, I had extremely vivid dreams. I could see my family and friends praying for me. That’s what got me through—another silver lining.”

According to Christian, this love from his community and the care from BIDMC’s heroes are what enabled him to get home to his family. “My doctor said that my wife and I were the first two COVID patients at BIDMC,” says Christian, shaking his head in disbelief. “Yet we both made it. That speaks volumes about the care that we received.”

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