“I’ve had a fever for weeks… .
“I isolated myself in the Chabad Center. Shivers. Sweats. Shivers and sweats. Coughing that would not stop ….
“I took the COVID testing in Ephrata. They said they’ll know in 4 days… .
“I didn’t have that long ... .”
So begins an email newsletter titled “View from the ICU,” by 43-year-old Rabbi Elazar Green, who heads Rohr Chabad Jewish Center in Lancaster.
The newsletter chronicles Green’s brush with the COVID-19 virus that left him, his family and friends fearing for his life.
He describes gasping for breath and burning with fever.
In subsequent emails to this reporter, he described his symptoms as “a constant cough, and it felt like really bad heartburn.”
Green sent the newsletter to a number of friends on April 5. He agreed to a story about his illness and indicated he would answer email questions quickly.
But in the days that followed, Green did not feel well. He was fatigued and had to stop to catch his breath when talking. On April 17, he replied to the questions and added that he was feeling better. His doctor has told him it will still be several weeks “to get to 100%.”
A persistent cough
The cough began March 12.
“I started feeling weird and achy,” he explained. “Fever started Sunday (March 15.)”
Green took a coronavirus test on March 16. Eight days later, March 24, after his temperature reached 103, he went to Lancaster General Hospital. A chest X-ray confirmed he had pneumonia. The medical staff got his blood oxygen levels under control and sent him home.
His wife, Shira, however, was worried about a relapse.
“Every cough made me worry,” she confided in an email, “every time he felt a need for pulse-(oxygen) check or needed to take oxygen.”
Green returned to the hospital less than 24 hours later.
“My biggest concern when he went to the hospital,” she wrote, “was that he would be one of those patients who go in for troubled breathing and then a few hours later dramatically worsen and need to be put on a ventilator.”
Her fears were well-founded. Green’s condition continued to worsen.
“For 2 days, I burned and burned and gasped for breath. They checked vitals every 8 hours.”
Unable to talk, he texted Shira. They also connected by video.
At this point, he said, he began contemplating his death.
On March 27, he rang for the medical staff “because I was not feeling well.”
They ran a blood oxygen test. It was 71%. (Normal levels in healthy individuals are 95% to 100%.)
“They didn’t believe it,” he wrote. “So they got a new sensor. Still 71%.
“They did an X-ray and showed me my lungs were all white.
“ ‘They need to be black,’” they told him and prepped him to be intubated.
Green looked up intubation on his phone. What he found was not encouraging.
“Organ failure is 50% survival,” he wrote. “Intubation has a 30% successful extubation.
“I was going to die.”
He said Shema — a prayer that is a declaration of the basic principle of Jewish belief, proclaiming the absolute unity of God.
Shira Green also was actively trying to help. She contacted a family friend, Dr. Avi Rosenberg, assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins, who was familiar with the Yale COVID-19 protocol. He recommended prescribing tocilizumab, an experimental drug that is currently part of a random double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial.
But Elazar Green said doctors initially declined, in part because clinical trials had not been completed.
He was transferred to the intensive care unit and “hooked me up to an oxygen machine that had huge capacity.”
He had yet to be intubated when the decision was made to administer the drug.
“They started me on tocilizumab at 5:20 p.m. Friday,” March 27, he wrote.
The staff also sent a swab to Philadelphia for a rapid test.
The next morning, March 28, the results of the rapid test confirmed that Green had COVID-19. That same day, “my fever broke. For the first time in 2 weeks.”
Green wrote that he also was treated with anti-malarial drugs and azithromycin.
“By Sunday,” he wrote, “I knew I wasn’t going to die.”
He was transferred out of the ICU on March 30 and was discharged two days later.
As he was putting on his shoes, he received a phone call about his initial test two weeks earlier. He was told he had tested positive for COVID-19.
“I am being discharged as we speak,” he replied, “thanks for your help though.”
Thanks to all
In his newsletter, Green wrote of his support system. It includes students at Franklin & Marshall College and adults and youth from Lancaster and York Jewish communities who prayed for him and shopped for his family.
He thanked the staff at LGH, “especially the ICU nurses.”
He thanked Rosenberg for his expertise and his wife, children and extended families for their love and support.
And he thanked God “for some more time on this earth to serve you.”
He concluded his writing with the Hebrew exclamation “Mi K’Amacha Yisroel!”
The words mean, “Who is like Your nation, the Jewish people.”