Isabel Gonzalez was being very careful through the month of March due to the increasing worries of COVID-19 and the fact she was pregnant and due very soon.
But somehow, the stay-at-home mother who lives on Clark Avenue got COVID-19 in late March, and it started a long spiral that resulted in the emergency delivery of her baby, a touch-and-go fight for her life over 44 days in the hospital, and the separation from her newborn, baby Victoria, for more than six weeks.
That nightmare, which came very close to being a tragedy, ended on Tuesday morning when Isabel, 34, was discharged from Spaulding Cambridge Hospital and was reunited with her baby just outside the front door of the hospital – with tons of family from Chelsea surrounding her, including her husband Romo and her two other daughters.
It was a highlight moment like no other in a time dominated by dark, sad stories.
“I was taking care of baby Victoria for a month,” said Marina Gonzalez, who is Isabel’s in-law and health care proxy. “She asked me to take care of her children and to be her proxy. I took the challenge. I was asked to make some really difficult and hard decisions for her…It did get bad to a point that she was not getting better and I thought she might not make it. She had to have a tube put in because she had a lot of fluid in her lungs. She wasn’t getting better. They said they could try the tube. When you’re going through this it’s day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute. They can’t guarantee anything at all. We were praying every day for her. We weren’t sure. But today she is home, Victoria is home and we are all here and happy. It’s amazing.”
It wasn’t always so great though, Marina said, as Isabel had been hospitalized 44 days. She was intubated on April 2 and stayed on a ventilator until April 26 – a full 24 days on the machine. She gave birth on March 30, and despite seeing Victoria on a video camera afterward, she never got to actually meet the child she carried for months.
Marina said Isabel had been very careful during her pregnancy. Romo and Marina’s husband both work construction, and no one was really a front-line worker with a lot of exposure. So, when Isabel had a little sniffle in late March, she went to Mass General where they apprised her symptoms and decided to test her as she had a fever.
“I told her to go to MGH and she did,” said Marina. “She said they were going to test her because her symptoms matched. She called me at 10 a.m. to say she had tested positive. They were going to do a C-section to deliver the baby immediately. By 11:30 a.m. Victoria was born.”
For the first several days, Isabel was sick but doing okay. She was able to see Victoria on camera with a new system devised at MGH that allows COVID-19 mothers to see their babies via video camera. However, because she was positive, Isabel could not hold her child.
“It was very tough because the first thing you want to do as a parent is hold your infant and she didn’t get to do that,” said Marina.
But then on April 2, things took a turn for the worse.
Isabel called to say they wanted to intubate her and put her on a ventilator – a very terrifying thought. She had fluid in her lungs, a persistent fever and low oxygen levels. It was the best thing they could do for her at the time.
“She told me to take care of Victoria and her two other children and if I would be her health care proxy,” said Marina. “That’s when everything started.”
For the next 24 days, the family took care of the baby and Marina fielded calls twice a day about Isabel’s condition. Her condition would remain steady, and sometimes spiral down. At the same time, conditions in Chelsea were getting worse and more and more were getting sick.
Marina said her family, including Isabel’s husband Romo, couldn’t bear to look at the news any longer. They didn’t want Isabel to be just another of the numbers flashed on the screen.
“It was torment because in that time things began to get really bad in Massachusetts,” she said. “Numbers were going up. Deaths were going up. It was very frustrating. We stopped looking at social media because we didn’t want Isabel to be another number added to the totals. I’m so glad she’s back home now.”
After coming off the ventilator on April 26, Isabel was transferred to Spaulding Hospital Cambridge on May 4, where she made steady improvements in her health for the past week. Nurses there went out of their way, Marina said, to make Isabel feel at home – making posters of Victoria’s pictures for her to see all around her room.
On Tuesday, May 12, she was cleared and ready to meet her daughter for the first time. With her two other children, her husband Romo, Marina and a lot of family and friends gathered outside the hospital across the street, she was wheeled outside in a chair.
Then Victoria was presented to her by the staff from the hospital.
And the family was reunited, but at a social distance, and they all went home to Clark Avenue in Chelsea, where a spontaneous car parade welcomed them home in a rare moment of joy in these difficult times.
For the family, the moral of the story is one in which they hope the community can share in their joy and also share in taking care of one another in the same fashion so many took care of Isabel.
“There are still a lot of people that don’t believe in this virus and they want to protest or go out and do what they want and open up the state,” she said. “This is real. It isn’t anyone’s fault and it doesn’t matter where it came from. The problem is we have it here and we need to take action on that and stay home and take care of one another.”