Editor’s Note April 9, 2020: Jason’s wife just posted this message about her husband: A Message From Jason (now home from the hospital),
“Hello World, I’m back from the brink! Thanks for all of your well-wishes and for taking care of my wife, mom, and Karen while I have been ill. I’m going to return all of the well-wishes next week after getting some much needed rest and quality time with my lovey!”
Editor’s Note April 7, 2020: Jason’s wife Leslie Flanagan just posted great news on her Facebook page: “Afternoon Update (3.92 Days Post-Extubation): Jason continues to do very well and will transfer out of the ICU today to a regular room! YAY! Over the next several days, he will receive extensive PT and OT to build up his strength. He’s one step closer to coming home! ???”
“Love is the most important healing power there is.” -Louise Hay
Thank you all so much for all of your love, prayers, and strength. He is fighting this!! #JasonStrong ❤️
Eight days after being tested for the coronavirus, Jason Flanagan’s wife and mother finally got the results everyone was waiting for.
The 39-year-old Prince George’s County high school teacher, who has been in the intensive care unit at Frederick Memorial Hospital since Tuesday, tested positive.
Flanagan’s wife, Leslie Flanagan, said she was told the unprocessed test had been sitting in an Indiana testing lab for days. The popular teacher and former freelance reporter for the Baltimore Post-Examiner was first tested for the virus March 20.
“It basically sat at the processing center in Indiana for several days,” she said.
After pushing for days to get the result, she said on Thursday she was told it would take two-to-four additional days to get the result in, so she was surprised the result came in on Friday.
Now, 14 days into the illness, Flanagan’s mother, Diane Flanagan McNinch, said the results did not surprise her.
“At first, it was a quick shocker,” McNinch said from her South Carolina home.”But it wasn’t a big surprise because they were already treating him as if he had it.”
McNinch said with his symptoms and sudden decline she thought more than likely he had it.
“It’s just official now,” McNinch said.
Now that the diagnosis is in, Flanagan’s wife has also taken the test. On Thursday her physician ordered the test for the next day.
“The test really became more prevalent when my husband went to the ICU,” Leslie Flanagan said. “His symptoms seemed to be really be behaving like COVID-19.”
Up until Flanagan’s admittance to the hospital on Tuesday, Leslie Flanagan said she and her husband were self quarantined at home, but they were not really convinced he had the virus.
“I didn’t know until today that he had coronavirus,” she said Friday. “We didn’t really suspect until this past Tuesday and at that point, both of us were at home and quarantined.”
With the positive COVID-19 diagnosis, Leslie Flanagan said she spent the better part of Friday calling people to inform them of the test results.
She said one of the biggest takeaways is that something very private, her husband’s health, now has far-reaching implications that are suddenly very public.
“I have an ethical responsibility not to keep that private,” Leslie Flanagan said. “I have an ethical responsibility to inform – the school system he works for, basically anyone I might have come in contact with, anyone where we live that we can think of, that we might have been in contact with. I have made a lot of phone calls today and I’ve sent a lot of messages to people and I posted on Facebook.”
After an overwhelming day learning her husband’s diagnosis, being tested for COVID-19 herself, calling people to inform and responding to a barrage of hungry journalists, the teacher’s wife has another message.
“I want people to know if you tested positive for coronavirus, you shouldn’t be blamed for it. You shouldn’t blame others for having coronavirus,” Flanagan’s wife said. “I understand people are going to be nervous and scared and maybe even angry, but they have to remember at the end of the day it’s not that person’s fault for having coronavirus. It’s not that person’s fault for potentially coming in contact with people.”
Flanagan’s wife said her husband’s illness began with what are now familiar symptoms of the deadly virus – fatigue, fever, and a small cough. Following the Center for Disease Control guidelines through his primary care physician, Flanagan went home for self-treatment – plenty of fluids, rest when he could get it and overlapping doses of Ibuprofen and Tylenol.
But Flanagan didn’t get better. His temperature fluctuated for days between 99 and 102, and his cough worsened. Only once did the couple think the popular teacher might be on the mend – when he woke up last Thursday without a fever, but that was a false alarm.
On the tenth day into the illness, the couple reconnected with a doctor because Flanagan started suffering from shortness of breath. The doctor ordered a chest X-ray.
On the eleventh day into the illness, the medical staff at the imaging center said Flanagan’s oxygen levels were too low to allow him to go back home. He was taken by ambulance to Frederick Memorial Hospital, his mother said.
There, Flanagan was put into a medically-induced coma and placed on a ventilator. His wife and mother were told he would need to stay on the ventilator for a minimum of four days.
On Wednesday, after lowering Flanagan’s oxygen level to 65 percent, his fever spiked to 103.
With urgency, the nursing staff was able to lower his temperature by applying cold pads to his body. His temperature fell to 101, then eventually to 99.
“He had a bad day,” Leslie Flanagan said.
On Thursday, Flanagan’s fever was back, and the toll of not being able to see their son and husband in person was settling in.
Flanagan’s wife and mother would take times calling, trying to space it out so they could stay as current as possible on his condition. The communications seemed to be too much for the hospital staff.
Flanagan’s wife was informed by the day-shift nurse that only one person could serve as the family member point of contact each shift, and Leslie would be the POC during the day.
“I’m having a problem with the morning nurse,” McNinch, 58, said. “They told Leslie I will talk to the night nurse. I understand they’re busy. I guess I was calling. [Leslie] was calling. The nurse was like, I just want one person as a point of contact.”
Hospital visitation for inpatient care across the state and country is now largely banned, due to the coronavirus. Calling a shift nurse is the main way for loved ones to stay informed, unless a patient is well enough to communicate for themselves. For Flanagan, that wasn’t an option.
But McNinch, who lives 500 miles away in Rock Hill, S.C., and unable to travel because she’s in self-quarantine due to underlying heart and lung conditions, pushed back on the nurse’s policy. So did Flanagan’s wife.
“It’s hourly with this thing,” McNinch said. “If I call three times a day, I don’t think I’m bugging you that much. If I call in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening, I think I should get that report. I’m his mother. I gave birth to him 39 years ago. You will talk to me and let me know how my son is doing.”
Flanagan’s wife said she also relies on her mother-in-law’s help.
“I understand [the nurse’s] theory that you can’t just update multiple family members,” Leslie Flanagan said after both women tried unsuccessfully to reach the day nurse for an update. “Today we weren’t able to get in touch, so that’s probably why she got worked up. We’re not overwhelming anybody.
“I feel like we’re really respectful. It’s more like 3 or 4 times a day,” Leslie Flanagan said of the calls. “I want [my mother-in-law] to be able to call. That’s her son, and she has a right. And also I can’t do it by myself.”
At times, Flanagan’s wife is on the phone for hours handling her husband’s medical information and keeping family and friends informed of his condition. On Thursday, she said she spent at least six hours updating people.
“I’m still sick myself,” Leslie Flanagan said. “I can’t sustain that over a long period of time. I know I have to take care of myself. As a point of contact, I have to update so many family members and so many other people wanting updates.”
So much concern was pouring in, that Flanagan’s wife said she finally had taken to Facebook to post updates on her husband.
“Hey everyone, keep the phone calls and messages coming…but if Diane and I don’t get back to you right away… please know you are in our hearts. ☺,” she posted to Facebook around 4 p.m. on Thursday.
But Flanagan’s wife said, as much as people hope for and want positive news, she knows her husband’s fate all boils down to a waiting game.
“I just think time is really important,” she said Wednesday. “That’s what I’m trying to keep in mind today. I know we really all want a fast answer, a fast response and a fast recovery, I don’t think it’s going to be that fast. I think he’s still going to be . . . it’s going to take a lot of time.”
Seven days out – COVID-19 test results still pending
“They said his fever’s still up a little bit today,” McFinch said on Thursday. “I wish they’d hurry up and get it because there’s other people need to know – anybody that’s been in contact with him. Leslie called his primary doctor and is trying to push for the results, which is crazy taking so long. Hopefully, it will be there today.”
Sometime Thursday evening, after taking his sedation down a little, Flanagan responded to the nurse’s commands and wiggled his toes.
At 11 p.m. in a Facebook post decorated with hearts, Flanagan’s wife posted: “Jason had a good ICU day today!! He’s starting to make progress.”
By Friday morning, Flanagan’s mother had worked out the phone call situation with the day nurse. Around 7:20 a.m., she posted on Facebook:
“Spoke with his nurse this morning they have his ventilator down to 60% he’s still sedated but he’s responded to the nurses’ commands to wiggle his toes and squeeze her fingers. Such awesome news. His fever is staying lower. Thanks to all our friends and family for all the outpouring of love and prayers. Still have a ways to go but Jason is strong. Much love to you all”
By 2 p.m., Flanagan’s oxygen level was moved down to 50 percent, his mother said.
“We switched turns in calling, so we didn’t bombard the nurses,” McNinch said. “We only call 3 times a day .”
Flanagan’s wife said his mother typically has been handling the early morning call while she takes the evening call. They figure out who will call mid-day, and she doesn’t feel like she’s restricted to a certain number of calls. She said the large time gap makes sense because the nurses have to have something to gauge their last update to.
“They were still having a problem with his fever,” McNinch said Friday late afternoon. “He’s having a good day today, and we’re making progress . . . Right now he’s responding. They’re bringing him out of sedation just a little.”
Flanagan’s mother said she’s praying her son will take a turn for the better, but she also can’t say enough how important it is to take the virus seriously.
Saturday morning state health officials reported 992 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in Maryland. On Friday, the state experienced a 33 percent surge in new cases in one day. Five people have died, the latest death occurred in Anne Arundel County. The others were in Prince George’s, Montgomery and Baltimore Counties.
“People need to take precautions,”‘ McNinch said. “I didn’t think it was going to hit my family. I never imagined it would. When it hits your family, and I can’t be there for him, it’s just so devastating.”
She said her son is in God’s hands now.
Feature Photo: Diane Flanagan McNinch with Jason and Leslie Flanagan, via Facebook
Glynis Kazanjian is a freelance journalist and award-winning investigative reporter with an eye for transparency and accountability in government and politics. Kazanjian’s reporting has triggered state investigations in police corruption, as well as changes to state policy in campaign finance and regulatory reform. During her 10-year freelance journey, she has also worked for cable television production companies like the Discovery Channel and Reelz providing true crime timelines for television series scripts.