Even in ordinary times, Peggy Treadway would have been facing a long and trying road when she checked into an Anchorage hospital 23 weeks pregnant with twins, showing signs of labor beginning far too soon.
But March 23 — the day the 33-year-old nurse drove herself to Providence Alaska Medical Center with no more than yoga pants, a Salty Dawg Saloon sweatshirt, her purse and an iPad — was not a normal time.
With the coronavirus pandemic accelerating, hospitals all over the country were bracing for a flood of new COVID-19 patients. Most had taken extreme measures to limit their patients’ visitors and movements.
Doctors told Treadway that the risk of going into early labor was so high that she needed to be admitted to the hospital, and would likely be waiting out the rest of her pregnancy on bed rest there.
Now, she is learning how hard being hospitalized during a pandemic can be, even if you aren’t sick.
Treadway, a first-time expectant mom from Eagle River, has been in a second-floor hospital room with a view of roof tiles, parking lot and a sliver of mountains for 46 days.
She has not once been allowed outside.
Coronavirus restrictions have heightened the already-tight rules for high-risk pregnant women on “bed rest," putting Treadway on an extreme kind of lockdown.
Treadway, who works as a medical-surgical unit nurse at another hospital in Anchorage, understands why she needs to wait out her pregnancy in the hospital, for the sake of the son and daughter she’s carrying.
“I know this is where I need to be,” she said. “For the safety of not only me but my babies.”
Bed rest is prescribed to up to 20% of pregnant women facing issues that could lead to preterm labor, though most are allowed to minimize activity and stay at home. Strict bed rest can involve staying in bed almost all the time, with very little movement.
Researchers have found prolonged bed rest, especially in hospital settings, can cause serious psychological distress for women. And that’s without a pandemic unfolding.
Treadway says she has been almost completely confined to her room 24 hours a day, except when her husband is allowed to visit and pushes her for 10 minutes in a wheelchair around the halls of the medical unit. She figures she has less freedom of movement than most prisoners in solitary confinement, who get an hour of recreation time per day.
Meanwhile, Treadway says her mental health is spiraling. She’s becoming increasingly desperate to be allowed even the smallest freedoms.
“It’s depressing,” she said. “Honestly, I have begged my husband in tears to take me home. With all these days stuck in a small room, your mind turns to the bad things that could happen.”
Her biggest request is to be taken, in a wheelchair and face mask, to a garden area on the hospital campus, to get a few minutes in the outdoors.
“I just want to feel some fresh air on my face, and feel the sun,” she said. “Both of my doctors have said it’s a great place for sanity, basically."
Treadway says she’s run her request up the hospital management chain, and has been told she cannot leave the unit.
Hospitals around the country have tried to balance restrictions meant to stop coronavirus with pregnancy, childbirth and neonatal intensive care unit stays. At one New York City hospital, women were told they would have to give birth without a partner or support person in the delivery room, before the hospital changed course. Some parents have been told FaceTime is the only way they can see their premature babies in NICU units in places such as Georgia and Wisconsin.
There’s little data on how hospital coronavirus policies are applied to women who do not have the illness but are facing pregnancy-related hospital stays.
Providence Alaska Medical Center declined to respond directly to Treadway’s assertions, citing patient privacy rules, but offered a statement saying the hospital’s “approach to limiting the movement of visitors and patients in and out of our facility is based on safety for our patients and caregivers who are in spaces with other highly vulnerable patients.”
“This type of administrative infection prevention, which is similar to sheltering, is one of the only effective prevention tools available and is done to reduce the likelihood of contributing to the spread of the virus within our facility,” the hospital said.
In mid-April, Providence relaxed a restrictive policy that had confined parents of babies in the neonatal intensive care unit to the hospital, letting parents who needed to leave the building to be allowed back in with a screening and proof of a hospital-issued pass.
Other limitations could change, Providence said.
“As the situation changes, we will use a meaningful, well-controlled approach to lift some of these restrictions so we can ensure our high-risk patients are still safe,” the hospital said in a statement.
The nurses Treadway deals with on a daily basis have been kind and caring, she said. But she questions whether the coronavirus restrictions that have kept her from being allowed outside with a mask for a few minutes are overkill, and what they are doing to the mental health of other expectant mothers facing lengthy stays.
“I just want to go outside for 10 minutes,” she said. “It’s not just my sanity. There are other women on this unit in my situation.”
Because of the coronavirus restrictions, she hasn’t met any of the other mothers on bed rest in the maternal unit.
To fill the long hours, Treadway has knitted hats (“Each kid has four hats,” she said) and watched the hit Netflix documentary series “Tiger King,” along with “Gilmore Girls” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” She can FaceTime with her mom and friends. She says she’s lucky that her husband, Nick Treadway, is permitted to visit after undergoing a screening process, when he isn’t at work on the North Slope. Sometimes he spends eight hours in the hospital room alongside her.
“I know her feelings of anxiety about not being able to leave the room,” he said. “This morning she had a little bit of a breakdown. I called her and we talked about it, calmed her down. It’s just stressful.”
Treadway is also dealing with a very lonely grief. She was originally pregnant with triplets, but lost one of her identical twin girls at 19 weeks. One of the hardest moments was calling the funeral home to make arrangements, isolated in her hospital room.
She has some reason to celebrate: This week, she hit 29 weeks of pregnancy and is officially in the third trimester, when the prognosis for prematurely born babies gets much better. She still faces weeks, if not more than a month, confined to her hospital room, staring at a wall with a TV, clock and a growing collection of ultrasound images.
They remind her what all the waiting is for.
“I know I’m going to have two wonderful babies,” she said. “The struggle will all be worth it in the end.”
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