The Last Call
A story of one family devastated by NYC’s COVID-19 outbreak. First, her daughter spiked a fever. Then, her aunt was rushed to the hospital. As illness swept through Jessica Caro’s family in the early weeks of New York’s coronavirus crisis, she and her mother confided in and supported one another through calls and texts. Then her mom developed a cough.
(phone connects, nurse speaking)
>> JESSICA CARO: Okay.
>> NURSE: I'll let you see her,
and then I'll just kind of put you by her ear.
>> CARO: It's just been unreal.
At one point, I felt like my heart
was just gonna give out on me.
>> NURSE: If you don't feel comfortable,
or you'd like to stop, just let me know.
>> CARO: Okay.
>> CARO: I think the worst of it is not being by her side.
Just getting glimpses.
It's just not fair
that that's what this virus has left us with.
>> WOMAN: One, two, three.
>> ALL: ♪ Happy birthday to you
>> CARO: We thought 2020 was just going to be
a great year.
It's a new decade.
I was planning on graduating from my bachelors in nursing.
My son was going to graduate from eighth grade
and have his confirmation.
And my daughter was turning 16.
And my mom, she's going to be turning 80.
We had every intention of making it a good one.
I remember my daughter getting sick
right around March 9.
She couldn't get out of bed,
she couldn't walk to the bathroom by herself
The first time that I got a thermometer on her,
I almost dropped it, because it was 105.
Not 100.5, it was 105.
(phone keyboard clicking)
I asked a doctor if she felt like my daughter
would possibly be a candidate for the testing,
and she said, "Well, it doesn't hurt to try."
>> MAN (on phone recording): Thank you for calling
the New York State COVID-19 hotline.
>> CARO: So there was a phone number that I had that I called.
>> MAN (on phone recording): If you would like to request
a test for COVID-19, press 1. (phone beeps)
>> CARO: And this man was, like,
"Has your daughter traveled to China?"
I'm, like, "No."
He's, like, "Well, has she had contact
with somebody that's positive?"
I'm, like, "Well, I can't,
"I can't confirm that, you know.
We don't know."
And the last question was, "Is she short of breath?"
And I'm, like, "Well, not currently, but she's very sick."
And the man tells me,
"Well, if she's not short of breath,
she doesn't qualify, I'm sorry," and hangs up the phone.
At that point, I was furious.
>> REPORTER: New York and California and Illinois
are in lockdown mode.
>> REPORTER: The state's 19 million residents
are being told to stay at home as much as possible.
>> CARO: During this time, I tried to stay away from my mom.
She was a primary caregiver for my grandmother,
who is 102 and has dementia,
and my aunt, who's disabled.
My mom had been caring for them for about seven years
in the apartment where I grew up in, in Riverdale.
I said, "I'm just going to stay away from you guys for a while,"
until this kind of blows over," hoping that it would.
>> REPORTER: Concern over anticipated shortages of food
and other supplies...
>> REPORTER: Panicked consumers rushed to stock up on items
they fear could soon be hard to reach.
>> CARO: So my daughter, I mean,
she got better.
And then I get a phone call from my mom that my aunt is ill.
So I told her call, call the ambulance,
call 911. (phone buttons beeping "911")
Every time we called,
they would kind of tell us the same thing.
Like, "Listen, the hospitals are just overwhelmed.
"She's sick, but she's not that sick.
"We can take her, but she may not come back,
because this is how bad it is over there."
Couple of days go by, and my mom says, "Listen,
she's very ill, she's gonna die on me."
(ambulance sirens blaring)
At that point, my mom,
while I'm on the phone with her, she said,
"I have to tell you something."
She said, "I have a fever."
And I said, "No, Mami, please don't,
don't, don't tell me that."
And she goes, "Yeah, I have a fever.
And I started coughing and I'm scared."
And I said, "Well, Mom, I'm coming over."
She said, "Absolutely not.
"I don't want you to get exposed, you need to stay away.
I'm sorry, you know, but I can't have you come here."
(rain falling steadily)
I went to her door and knocked on her door.
But she, she didn't open the door.
She was behind the peephole.
We basically were, like, "I love you so much.
And I'm so sorry I can't see you, I can't hug you."
Little did I know that at that point,
she was starting to become short of breath.
She was kind of keeping that from me.
When I call her in the morning,
the home attendant picks up and she says,
"The paramedics are here for your mother."
I almost dropped the phone.
She was actually fighting the paramedics,
she didn't want to go.
Because she didn't want to leave my grandmother alone.
I told my mom, "Don't worry, I'll go over there.
I'll stay with her tonight."
My mom came to this country at the age of 19.
She worked for Scholastic in printing services,
and then went on to work for MetLife for 30 years.
Once I had my children, she decided to retire
to help me raise them while I went to nursing school.
The one time that I spoke to her on the phone,
she was very out of breath, like, it was, like,
her running a marathon and trying to speak a word.
At that point, we're just conversing by text.
I, I had text her at some point in the evening,
and she hadn't answered me back, so I text her again, you know,
"Is everything okay? You're not answering me."
And I text her again and I don't hear back.
And I, like, now started getting worried.
I get a text from her...
Garbled gibberish, and then it was, "Call me.
Call me now."
The doctor was there, and the doctor is telling me,
"Unfortunately, at this point, we need to intubate."
(nurse and Caro speaking on phone)
>> CARO: The hospital was kind enough to be able
to Facetime her with me.
>> CARO: Okay, thank you, I appreciate it.
Thank you so much.
>> NURSE: So...
>> CARO: Hi, Mami.
Hi, Mama, do you hear me?
Mami, I miss you so much.
(crying): Hi, Mama, I miss you.
I need you to get better, Mami, okay?
Mami, we miss you so much...
>> CARO: In my heart, I know she was able to hear me,
but it was hard to see her like that.
>> CARO (crying): I love you so much.
You're so strong and you're fighting.
I know you are, I know...
>> CARO: Um, I told her, "Mami, you have to fight."
(crying): "You have to fight,
"you have to keep fighting for me,
and you have to fight for the kids."
>> CARO: Mamalinda, I love you so much.
>> CARO: Not being able to be there and hold her hand
and let her hear my voice
has just been the worst of all of this.
(people talking in background, celebrating)
>> ALL: ♪ Happy birthday, dear Annie