Pukalani resident Lillian Seiser, 95, was admitted to Maui Memorial Medical Center on Feb. 29 for a urinary tract infection and, six weeks later, tested positive for the coronavirus.
Her daughter, Barbara Carlson, was told by a doctor that Seiser, who had no underlying medical conditions, was infected by a health care worker and is now suffering from viral pneumonia, a complication of COVID-19.
“I’m saddened, I’m frightened and I’m also damn mad about what happened,” said Carlson, 67, who hasn’t been able to see her mother since the cluster of COVID-19 cases was discovered at the hospital. The state Department of Health is investigating 56 people — 36 staff members and 20 patients — potentially associated with the hospital outbreak. “Other than problems that any 95-year-old would have with walking and mobility, there was nothing else wrong with her.”
Carlson was able to visit her mother, who lives in a cottage on her upcountry property, almost daily for the first four weeks, walking freely through the hospital even though “COVID-19 was supposedly rampant.”
“I was reading that Queen’s (Medical Center) and other hospitals on Oahu were doing a lot more stringent protocol for people entering. There was none for weeks there,” she said.
The day before April 10, when her mother was confirmed positive, Carlson couldn’t reach anyone in the nurses’ station to speak to her. The next day, she found out her mother had been moved to an isolation room because of her COVID-19 diagnosis. Seiser had been asymptomatic and then all of a sudden developed a 102-degree fever with pneumonia.
“My heart dropped. I couldn’t believe it. They did not tell me they suspected her having it. I found out … by calling,” Carlson said. “It’s a nightmare. I know she’s not going to live forever, but this isn’t the way that she should go.”
Her normally calm mother, who tested positive a second time on April 16, had a panic attack for the first time and was given tranquilizers after being moved into isolation, she said.
“At one point she was yelling and gripping the handrails saying, ‘Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop,’” Carlson said. “She was probably freaking out. She was taken out at 4:40 in the morning, awoken in her sleep and all she sees is their eyes through plastic. It’s got to be a living nightmare.”
Carlson blames the hospital administration for not taking proper precautions. Hospital workers told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that they initially were prohibited from wearing their own personal protective gear, causing the spread of the infections.
“I think that my mother was subjected to an inept, almost criminally inefficient hospital administration,” she said. “You go to the hospital to heal you, not to come down with this … disease. It’s totally unacceptable.”
Hawaii’s tally of coronavirus cases has increased by six to 592, with the death toll at 12. Among the cases were three employees of Merriman’s Maui restaurant. Maui health official Dr. Lorrin Pang said there were about 100 contacts of the employees that the DOH was monitoring and that he originally misspoke when he said 65 actual cases were associated with the restaurant.
Cristina Schenk, CEO of Merriman’s Restaurants, said the three workers became symptomatic around mid-March, but the Health Department did not contact the company’s roughly 100 employees to follow up on their exposure until a month later. The restaurant is currently closed.
A total 444 patients have recovered since the start of the outbreak — 75% of all cases.
On Tuesday, state health officials announced just two new COVID-19 cases, both on Maui, but also two more deaths. The Maui News reported that Fortunato Genobia and Pearl Pruse, both part of the Maui hospital cluster, have died. A tourist on the island also recently succumbed to the disease. A Facebook post on film producer Bobby Pin’s page said he died on April 18 while at Maui Memorial and that he had just turned 50 in January.
For Carlson, she is praying for a miracle for her mother.
“For me the worst part is I can’t hold her hand. I can’t tell her it’s going to be OK. I can’t hug her, I can’t kiss her, I can’t be there for her. She’s all alone and … frightened as anyone would be,” she said. “I can’t imagine what’s going on in her mind. She’s weathered a lot. She’s had her trials as we all do as we get older, but no one prepared her for this. It’s a cruelty that she should’ve never have had to face — to be alone and isolated.”