Marley Del Carmen spent Christmas 2017 not around the dinner table with his wife, children and grandchildren, but in the ICU at Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital, his family gathered around his bed.
A year later, the Lowell, Michigan, resident returned to Blodgett Hospital to thank the doctor he said is “responsible for my being still here on planet Earth today.”
Del Carmen, 83, and Vetriselvi Moorthy, MD, the hospitalist who oversaw his treatment for bilateral pneumonia a year ago, met on a recent morning in a reunion arranged at his request by Spectrum Health Patient Relations.
“I’m extremely happy to see you,” Dr. Moorthy told him.
As Dr. Moorthy recalled treating Del Carmen, the thing that stood out was his pleasant demeanor.
“He always had a smile, even at the point where he was going to crash at any moment,” she said.
“I would ask him, ‘Do you understand what I’m saying?’ And he’d say, ‘Yes, I do,’” Dr. Moorthy said. “And he would smile at me with the mask on.”
For five days, Del Carmen had worn an oxygen mask connected to a noninvasive breathing machine called a BiPAP, with the oxygen set to the maximum level.
If that hadn’t sustained his breathing, he and his family would have had to choose to either put him on a ventilator “or let nature take its course,” Dr. Moorthy said.
“Marley was a fighter,” she said. “He was tough. He made it through.”
She remembers the night he rebounded, how he required less help from the machine.
“He was smiling that (next) morning and was ready to eat,” Dr. Moorthy said. “It was just wonderful.”
More than a job
Del Carmen admits to not always appreciating Dr. Moorthy the way he does now. When she had to limit his intake of liquid, he found it especially difficult to feel appreciative.
“My mouth was so parched,” he said.
But Del Carmen now thinks of his doctor with nothing but gratitude. She never gave the impression it had just been a job, he said—it had clearly been much more.
“She’s a doctor with a heart,” Del Carmen said. “When I was beginning to feel better, she took time and we had a little conversation.”
Dr. Moorthy recalled the exchange.
“We talked about immigrant life, when you moved to the U.S. and everything. I remember that,” she said, referring to Del Carmen’s immigration from the Philippines in the 1960s.
In addition to Dr. Moorthy’s watchful care, Del Carmen credits his family’s presence in the ICU as a meaningful part of his recovery. The fact his grandkids weren’t restricted from visiting at Christmastime helped him pull through.
“When I saw my grandchildren, it perked me up,” he said. “All of a sudden I realized that I had something to live for.”
Dr. Moorthy has received cards and letters from many former patients, but in her seven years at Blodgett Hospital, Del Carmen is the first to come back and see her.
“This is very special,” she said. “It’s very satisfying and very rewarding.”