The last thing Susie Espinosa remembers before losing consciousness was the hospital hallway. The first thing she recalled when waking weeks later were the blue balloons welcoming her baby boy.
Espinosa was pregnant when she contracted COVID-19. At first, she thought it was a cold. Symptoms were mild to start, but they progressed quickly.
“I had been on bed rest, so I had been home the whole pandemic,” she said. “I thought, it has to be a cold, but I’d had a fever for four days. I missed my son’s birthday I was so sick. That’s when I started getting scared. So much about COVID was on the news, and you kept hearing about people going into the hospital with it and not coming out.”
Espinosa tested positive for COVID-19 in May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, and she was admitted to the hospital. Though she came close to losing her life, she did come out of the hospital. It would take months to get there, though, and intense rehabilitation before she could hold her newborn son and be reunited with her children.
Waking up to baby blue balloons
Espinosa has little memory of her time in the hospital. What she does recall is marred with nightmares. She was frightened for her unborn child and also worried about her family at home.
When she finally regained consciousness, she was immediately confused. There were balloons welcoming a new baby boy, and the calendar near her bed was turned to July.
“I thought they must have it on the wrong month because it’s May,” Espinosa recalled. “I thought that can’t be the right date. Then I became panicked because I couldn’t move and was just trying to look down at my stomach.”
Her nurse quickly came to comfort her and congratulate her. While Espinosa was unconscious, she had a C-section and delivered a healthy baby boy. She was relieved to know her baby was OK, but the nurse’s explanation furthered her confusion. In Espinosa’s nightmares, she did deliver her baby, but it was a girl.
“I remember when I first met Brandon, he was almost 2 weeks,” she said. “I remember telling them to take the diaper off because I knew I had had a girl.”
In Espinosa’s vivid nightmares, she was poked and prodded and her baby girl was stolen from her. She felt detached from her new son. She wanted to hold him and get to know him, but before she could do that, she would have to learn to walk and care for herself again.
Espinosa suffered severe nerve damage on the right side of her body from being immobile for weeks. She was on an IV and feeding tube. She could sit in a wheelchair, but the nerve damage in her right foot made her wonder if she would ever walk again.
That thought, coupled with the fact that she hadn’t seen her children in months, left her depressed. The hope that therapy brought, though, motivated her. She was at Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital of Memphis, a partner of Methodist Healthcare, for 16 days.
What she was calling her “dead arm” when she admitted to the rehabilitation hospital became her “sleepy arm” as therapy helped her regain some of her movement and strength. She was also able to take her first steps since she admitted to the acute hospital in mid-May.
Aug. 6, Espinosa was finally ready to go home. She could complete basic self-care tasks, and she could walk.
Reunited at last
After three long months, Espinosa was reunited with her family and friends. Though she is still recovering, she’s come a long way since she woke up in the hospital room confused and panicked almost a year ago. Since leaving Encompass Health Memphis, she’s had time to bond with her new baby boy, who is now approaching his first birthday.
“It was 16 long days at Encompass Health, but when I went home, I could use the restroom; I could take care of my personal needs,” she said. “It was a long road to recovery, and a lot said I couldn’t do what I am doing now. I’m able to walk. I’m driving.”
She’s also holding her baby boy and back with her family.