Intensive Care
Guideposts|September 2020
Intensive Care
Dan Radice was an exercise specialist who brought Dr. Rick Pitera through cardiac rehab. Now it was Rick’s turn to save Dan’s life
RICK: St. Barnabas felt like a war zone, one of the busiest hospitals in New Jersey for Covid-19 admissions—close to being overwhelmed. I’m an anesthesiologist, a St. Barnabas lifer. The entire postanesthesia care unit had been converted to an ICU. I intubated patients, monitored how they were doing on ventilators. I tried to keep patients’ spirits up and reached out to their families. I’m big on making that human connection, especially after my heart attack six years earlier. But patients were dying every day. We were short on masks, other PPE, ventilators. Hope seemed like one more essential running low.

DAN: I was in the bathroom at home when the walls started swimming. I grabbed for the sink just as my body sank to the floor. “Christine!” I yelled. In seconds, my wife was at my side. It was March 26. Six days earlier, we’d both tested positive for Covid-19. She’d gotten better. But I had a fever of 103.8. Sweating buckets. “I’m calling 911,” Christine said. “We’re getting you to St. Barnabas.” I’d worked there forever, moving up from patient transport to a cardiac exercise specialist. Christine’s a nurse. But we’d resisted going to the hospital. We knew how bad it was there.

RICK: I was doing rounds, checking patient charts. We’d had a couple new admissions. Radice, Dan, I read. In his early fifties, intubated, on a ventilator and an IV. Barely hanging on. I patted his leg and moved on. I was nearly through all the patients, my mind on a million things when it hit me. I knew that guy, only I’d always called him Danny. He’d saved my life. Now he was counting on me. I rushed back to his bed and bent down. “Hey, dude,” I said. “How are you doing?” He looked at me blankly. Oh, man. He really wasn’t himself.

DAN: I knew a lot of the docs at St. Barnabas, but with the gear they were wearing now, all I could see were this guy’s glasses peeking over his mask. With the vent tube down my throat, I couldn’t even ask his name. I hated being so helpless. Not like in the cardiac rehab unit, where I was the one helping people get their lives back.

RICK: Walking into rehab the summer of 2014, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Three weeks earlier, a heart attack had landed me in the hospital where I work. The day before my 48th birthday, my chest started hurting something awful. I thought it was heartburn. Finally my wife said, “Either you stop complaining or I’m taking you to the ER.” She’s a nurse. I knew better than to argue.

Now I scanned the rehab workout area. A dozen people on the machines. No one huffing and puffing too bad. I could power through this, no problem. A trainer strode toward me. He stuck out his hand. I shook it. Let’s do this.


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September 2020