NUTLEY, NJ - Jennifer McCusker, Nutley resident and a single mother, tells of her battle with COVID-19. McCusker was sick in early March and hospitalized at Hackensack Meridian Health Mountainside Medical Center. She believes she was the fifth person admitted at a time when the virus was just hitting the area. It has been a rough road and a long recovery for McCusker as she has multiple sclerosis.

On March 12 around 7:30 p.m. her symptoms began with chest pains, lung pain, dry cough, strange chills, severe headache, pain and burning in her eyes. “I went from feeling healthier than I had in my life to the worst I have ever felt. [A] liquid poured out of my nasal passages like a faucet within the first hour. My fever went up to 103.2 over the next three hours,” she said.  

The next day she called her neurologist when she suffered an MS attack. “I was losing feeling in my legs, arms and face. He called me back around 2:30 p.m. and told me to call an ambulance ASAP for COVID symptoms,” she said.

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She waited for her kids to come home to say goodbye and that she loves them. “I made them go to their room and told them not to go out until after the ambulance pulled away. I basically crawled outside to meet them because I didn’t want them in my house,” she said.

McCusker’s first full day of isolation at Mountainside Hospital was on March 15, her 45th birthday. “This was a horrible nightmare. The hospital was so traumatizing and being at home wasn’t any easier because of the fear of infecting my children,” she said.

McCusker was tested on March 14 but didn’t get her results until around March 23. “So many things they did at Mountainside. I had one night where they falsely told me I was negative and took me out of isolation to only have a doctor yelling to my nurse in my room get out of there she is not negative. They put me back in isolation,” she said.

She was isolated in her room for 34 days and on oxygen for 20 days. “I was on oxygen and was told if I got any worse I would be vented. I was terrified of that. I believe a vision of my grandpa, I was listening to him to get up and walk around, [that] saved me. My lungs began to loosen up,” she said.

Many of the hospital nurses had treated her for MS for over 17 years. “[They] have always been my heroes but to see this as a patient at the very beginning of the pandemic and what they were going through was surreal,” said McCusker.

McCusker said that her time in the hospital, what she witnessed and heard was unforgettable and haunt her daily. “The codes were so frequent by then they were so mentally drained and heartbroken,” she said.

McCusker’s best friend was also at Mountainside with COVID-19. “My best friend passed away in the hospital during my stay while I lay helpless listening to her code. That night I don’t know what I would’ve done without my nurse that comforted me risking her own life, because she knew me for years,” she said.

On her 14th day without symptoms she was released from the hospital but there was no celebration. “No clapping from nurses or cheers, because I wasn’t the 100th patient released. It was me that was clapping and yelling to the nurses who cared for me and the others thanking them. I was calling them heroes. Coincidentally, I shouted to them before the term was used so often, ‘You are all like soldiers on the front line of a war and thank you for risking your lives for all of us[…] They were caught off guard by me yelling. They were in tears and so distraught,” she said.

Not only did she lose her best friend but two other loved ones as well. She said nine members in her family fell ill to the virus.

McCusker and her family have learned that being recovered from COVID-19 doesn’t mean you are in fact fully recovered. “Unfortunately, we are all dealing with secondary complications such as blood clots, heart issues, kidney issues, etc. My latest is bowel issues and pain. [COVID-19] is the most vicious and painful thing I have ever experienced,” she said.

Although McCusker had many “heroes” in the hospital, her daughter, Elaina, is her biggest hero. “While the heroes are all mentioned there are many heroes that aren’t. Here I was like, my daughter, who is 26-year-old, left her job to care for her brothers while I was in the hospital. She cared for my home, my dogs, and homeschooled her younger brothers. If that wasn’t hard enough I came home and then began the task of doing all those things and taking care of me. She kept herself and [her brothers] safe with such a great effort of disinfecting and the use of PPE [personal protective equipment],” she said. McCusker added, “I am so proud of the woman she has become and no doubt one day will be an amazing mom.”

McCusker believes it is too soon to open things up. “We will have a second wave that is devastating […]. Being educated in these things, my fears of mutations of COVID-19 have appeared to come true,” she said.

She also thinks some people are not taking it seriously enough. “Between them believing they were fabricating numbers and death tolls it is ridiculous. The numbers make sense to me with the amount of code blues and deaths that occurred while I was in the hospital and then it got worse,” McCusker said.

McCusker urges people to practice social distancing. “Do not think this means stay in your house all the time. You can get out and go to the store […]. Go for walks, bike rides, or long rides in your cars,” she said.

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