A routine surgery took a wrong turn for a Williams County woman, and instead of coming home, she died of coronavirus.

Family members of the late Patsy Marmon, who was Williams County’s first coronavirus casualty, say she had returned to the hospital after developing a MRSA infection from a pacemaker that had been put in at Sanford Health in Bismarck.

Antibiotics had seemed to help her fight back the infection — but then her health suddenly plummeted. A PCR test confirmed Marmon had caught coronavirus. She died just two days later of COVID-related pneumonia.

Marmon had been tested on July 3 and July 8 for COVID while at the hospital. These tests came back negative. A test on July 17, however, was positive. She died on July 19.

Family members said a doctor told them, given the timing, that Patsy must have caught coronavirus while there.

“It ravaged her so quickly,” her son Roland Marmon said. “Once she got that, it ravaged her so quickly that any chance she had was taken away.”

Family members said they are speaking out because they want people to realize the disease is very real, and that it can be very serious for those who are vulnerable.

And they believe that others must be told that hospitals with COVID units are hotspots where loved ones who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 could become infected.

“People don’t think it is a real deal,” her grandson Jason Marmon said. “And I’ll be honest, I was joking about it with my dad two days before this.”

“It’s a sad joke on us,” Roland Marmon said. “It is real. It is ravaging. It is really serious.”

How Marmon caught coronavirus a mystery

The Marmons say all family members were tested for COVID-19 and had negative test results prior to visiting her in the hospital. They also all wore masks while in the room with her, and were diligent about washing their hands or using hand sanitizer.

However, not all the nurses at the hospital were wearing masks while in the room with her, family members said.

That is just one of many questions they have about safety precautions being taken, or in some cases not being taken, by the facility.

“All of the doctors wore masks,” Patsy Marmon’s daughter Romona Parrish said. “But some of the nurses did not.”

The family also did not realize that the facility where Patsy was had any COVID-19 patients, not until hospital staff were suddenly moving her to the fourth floor.

Marmon, a one-time environmental health specialist for Baker Hughes, was horrified to realize that he and his family had had been using the same elevators to go between floors that doctors and nurses were using to get on and off the COVID floor.

“These people were coming from the fourth floor without wearing gloves or booties,” he said. “If they are coming from the fourth floor, they are tracking it in and out.”

And what about the ventilation system?

“COVID could be in the air, so what are the air exchanges?” he asked. “This is a key question.”

What about the ventilators/respirators being used for his grandmother?

“Are those going from the fourth to the third floor?” Jason Marmon asked. “How thoroughly are they being cleaned?”

Sanford Health was contacted to answer those questions, however, they did not agree to set up an interview. Instead, they sent this email statement:

“We have closely followed CDC guidelines and implemented aggressive safety measures designed to keep our employees and patients safe and prevent the transmission of the virus,” the statement said. “All Sanford Health caregivers and providers working in inpatient units, clinics and procedural areas are required to wear surgical face masks at all times. In addition, all Sanford employees, patients and visitors are screened prior to entering our facilities. There is no greater priority than the health and safety of our patients, team members and the communities we serve.”

The family, meanwhile, says they were not even given any instructions about what they should do now that all of them have potentially been exposed to coronavirus.

“You kind of need to have discharge paperwork for the family members maybe,” Jason Marmon suggested. “Not a formal thing, but a handout.”

“We are all a little frightened, because we were with her a substantial amount of time,” Roland Marmon added.

Roland said that all of the family members are self-isolating at this time, which is what the North Dakota Department of Health recommends, and that they are all planning to get tested within three to five days.

One last story to tell

Jason Marmon remembers his grandmother as the “Bionic” woman. She was full of life, with lots of personality and so many stories to tell.

“She has a colorful history,” Jason said. “She raised a village and a tribe of people. This is her home, and her homeland, and she meant a lot to people around here.”

The family doesn’t want her death to be in vain.

“She has like one last story to tell, and it’s about the health care system,” Jason Marmon said. “It needs help. They are overworked and under-appreciated, scared, and maybe a little confused.”

Parrish, meanwhile, said she was told the hospital couldn’t transfer Patsy to the COVID floor right away.

“They couldn’t get my mom on the COVID floor until someone else died so she could get in there from my understanding,” she said.

Jason Marmon said he’d like to see the state use its CARES Act funding to build a COVID-19 hospital, so patients will have less risk of being exposed to coronavirus while they are at their most vulnerable due to another illness.

“It could get done if there is coordinated, collaborative effort,” he said. “In the oilfield, they call it interdependence. They usually talk about it when it comes to safety, but it’s something the oil industry already knows how to do, and it is just working together to get stuff done more quickly.”

Parrish recalls Patsy’s doctor weeping when he learned the next morning that his patient had so unexpectedly died.

“When he left at 6 p.m. that night, he sat there and told us mom had a fighting chance,” she recalls. “So when he came back in the morning, within 10 minutes after he got there, my mother had died. He was floored with what had happened to my mother in less than 15 hours.”

Parrish is a CNA and worked in an AIDS unit in Utah, back when that disease had first begun. She has seen death, many times, she said, but it did not compare to what she witnessed as the last person on earth to hold Patsy Marmon’s hand.

“I’ve never in my life seen anyone die such a vicious, horrible death as my mother,” she said. “Never, on God’s green earth have I seen anything so vicious. These people are on the front lines, and I understand why nurses and doctors are committing suicide, because what they are witnessing is sickness that I’ve never seen on such a high level.”

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