“I think rehab is a critical part of the story, because I’m here now, I’m practically back to normal … that’s because I went through a long period of rehab. I think there needs to be more attention paid to that part of what happens to patients.”
Gordon Quinn couldn’t speak. But he desperately needed to tell his doctors something.
The 77-year-old world-renowned documentarian was finally off a ventilator, for the second time. He had just been helped into a sitting position for the first time in weeks. But now they were talking about putting him on a ventilator for a third time.
“I was banging on the side of the bed, trying to communicate that I wanted a DNR (do not resuscitate) order. I didn’t want to be stuck on a ventilator indefinitely. I knew enough to know that could very well be a possibility,” Quinn said. “If I had to go through this again, I thought, ‘I’ve had a good life, I’ve done enough.’”
Quinn, founding member and artistic director of Kartemquin Films which is home to award-winning films like “Hoop Dreams” and “Minding the Gap,” was a COVID-19 patient at Northwestern Hospital.
Hospital staff brought Quinn a letter chart and he pointed to three letters: “D”, “N” and “R”. They set up a Zoom call with his wife, Meg Gerken.
Quinn arrived at Northwestern Hospital on a cold day in mid-March desperate for a COVID-19 test, which was hard to come by anywhere in the city at that time, knowing his weakness and unshakeable flu-like symptoms weren’t good. He was taking medication for leukemia, and had bacterial pneumonia in addition to whatever else was wrong with him.
The doctor had her own message for Quinn: If there were a DNR order in place, and he had a medical problem that she could easily fix, she wouldn’t be allowed to medically intervene. Quinn calmed down and backed off.
“That’s when I thought, I want to make a short film about how hard it is to communicate when you’re intubated. And then I said to myself, ‘OK, that’s a reason to keep living. I don’t need a DNR order right now.’”
Quinn is one of Illinois’ more than 113,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and one of Cook County’s 247 officially recovered cases,as of May 25.
The filmmaker thinks he possibly contracted the virus in Melbourne, Australia, where he was a guest at the Australian International Documentary Conference in early March.
Less than a week after returning home, his symptoms gravely concerned him. “I felt like I had a really bad flu,” he said. “My body was aching.”
At Northwestern Hospital’s emergency room, “you couldn’t go inside. You had to wait,” Quinn recalled. “There were wheelchairs there. I was so exhausted I just took one and sat down. They took one look at me and admitted me right away.”
Read the full story at WTTW.