NISKAYUNA — Maya McNulty is a successful businesswoman, her resume filled with accolades – author of two books, creator of a dining and shopping app, along with various awards throughout her career in the Capital Region.
Now she can add another title – COVID-19 survivor.
It is a title that she never sought or desired.
“I thought it was just the flu,” McNulty said sitting in her Niskayuna home. “I went to my primary doctors twice and they misdiagnosed me because they didn't know early in March what the coronavirus really was.”
That led to a trip to the emergency room on March 14
“They took other tests — the pneumonia test, and I didn`t have that. Then, they tested me for corona,” said McNulty, a 47-year-old who graduated from Linton High School in Schenectady. “Then, the Department of Health called and said that I tested positive and I had to quarantine for 14 days.”
While under quarantine, her symptoms didn’t subside.
They continued to get worse.
“I was actually dying, and I didn't know it,” McNulty said. “I had respiratory failure by the time I got to the hospital.”
With her oxygen low at 80 percent, she was immediately given oxygen. Later, she was placed on a ventilator.
“I just remember them counting down, ‘5,4,3,2,1.’ I remember him telling me that,” McNulty said. “They came out and told my husband [Ron] what was going on, that I wasn't coming home and to expect the worst.”
McNulty was hospitalized for 69 days – 30 days at Ellis Hospital, then moved to Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital before returning home on May 29.
As one of the earliest cases of COVID-19 in the Capital Region, McNulty was treated with both hydroxychloroquine and then remdesivir.
“That’s the one that worked for me,” McNulty said of the remdesivir.
Her memories from Ellis were just vivid, wild dreams. Once transferred to Sunnyview, her memory is filled with pain.
“I had this fiberglass feeling throughout my whole, entire body,” the soft-spoken McNulty said from her living room chair. “I would just pray every night that God would lift the pain from me, and crush it into a billion pieces and sweep it off the Earth. It hurt so badly. It's a pain that I would not wish on anyone.”
Healthy, active and with no underlying medical conditions, McNulty wasn’t part of the at-risk population as the virus began to spread in the United States.
“I didn't really take it seriously,” she said. “I was going about my days and planning my events. Until I went to the gym, did a different routine and when I went into the sauna was when it baked, and it just took over me. I started with a temperature of 101, 102, 103 and I got severely sick.”
She had to process her diagnosis, and the pain that came with it.
“I do good in the community. I volunteer, a good mom, wife, a friend,” she said. “I contribute. I work. I asked, 'Why me?’"
She had dark moments, alone in her bed. Her lone physical visitors were medical personnel, taking blood, injecting medications, checking her tracheostomy tube in her upper chest.
“My very first week [awake] I was like, ‘OK — let me die,’” she said. “Take me because I was in so much pain. The second week is when I made a mindset that 'I'm out of here, I'm getting out, I'm going to get better.' I could feel it.”
Her strong personality took over.
“In PT [physical therapy], I would say, ‘I can do it,’” she said. “The second I told my mind I can do it, I started to walk more.”
Her first day consisted of six steps, her second day was 40. When she left Sunnyview, she was up to 400 steps.
Now, she sits in a comfortable chair and sleeps in a bed made up in the family’s living room. It could be months before she makes it up the full flight of stairs to her own bedroom.
“We have a lake house. I like to swim and stuff,” she said. “We have a pool, and it would be great exercise. I asked when they thought I could swim?”
Two months? Three months?
More like 12 months, she was told: “And I’m like, ‘Holy crap!’”
Each day on a ventilator causes the body to weaken, called muscle atrophy.
“I had to learn to eat, walk and talk,” McNulty said. “I never thought that would happen to me. I’m walking better, doing better. This makes it one month of me eating solid food.”
As New York state entered Phase 2 of its recovery plan, McNulty issued her own cautionary tale.
“People really need to wear their mask, wash their hands, and follow the protocol,” she said. “You're not anything special. It doesn't discriminate. Wash your hands, stay social-distanced. It’s so important, and God knows when it's going to end.”
McNulty continues to think about her future.
“I assume that there is another purpose for me,” McNulty said. “I don't know what the purpose is, but I have to be more diligent and try to find it to make that difference an impact.
“I'm not sure what it is, but I know that there is a higher purpose because I've been given a second chance.”
Reach Stan Hudy at [email protected] or @StanHudy on Twitter.