Born: December 17, 1955 –
Died: March 27, 2020 Rockville, MD USA
Noel Sinkiat, 64, planned to retire in December after 41 years working as a nurse at Howard University Hospital. He would finally go on a long motorcycle trip with his friends.
On March 27 he died of covid-19, according to his family. Sinkiat was the first member of National Nurses United, which represents about 150,000 health-care workers nationwide, to succumb to the virus, the union said.
“It was so fast,” his wife, Lourdes Gerardo, said.
As he was hospitalized at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center near their house in Olney, Sinkiat’s condition deteriorated rapidly. Gerardo was able to see him only briefly, from behind a protective suit. Since her husband’s death Gerardo has tested positive, so she could not pick up his body from the hospital or gather with anyone to mourn his death.
Sinkiat worked his regular 12-hour shift on March 12, Gerardo said. But he had begun experiencing flu-like symptoms, so after work he went to an urgent care facility and was tested for the flu and for the coronavirus, she said. He did not return to work.
“Then he felt better; he has seasonal allergies, so at first we thought it was just the allergies,” she said. “But he started to feel worse again.” He couldn’t eat or drink. On the evening of March 27, she took him to the hospital. Within an hour, she said, the doctors had to intubate him; then his heart failed, and they could not resuscitate him.
The test confirming his diagnosis did not come back until after his death.
“I got better,” she said. “But he didn’t.”
Howard University Hospital said it could not confirm Sinkiat died of covid-19. The hospital did not respond to questions about what, if any, steps were taken to test or quarantine staff and patients who had contact with Sinkiat.
But in a statement, the hospital said it has “increased efforts to ensure the safety of all of our health care workers,” including testing staff and patients who have been exposed, in line with Department of Health guidance.
That guidance recommends against testing asymptomatic health-care workers who had contact with a known covid-19 patient.
“Like health-care organizations around the country, we are working diligently to expand our testing capabilities with the resources made available to us,” the hospital said.
Edward Smith, executive director of the National Nurses United-affliated D.C. Nurses Association, said that members who worked with Sinkiat have been quarantined but not tested, a “blatantly irresponsible and a dangerous practice.” Across the city, he said, some nurses are being quarantined after exposure, but others are just told to wear masks.
Five employees and one patient have also tested positive for the coronavirus at St. Elizabeths Hospital, a public psychiatric facility.
“It really shows the need that nurses, all health-care workers, have to be tested if they have been exposed, whether they have symptoms or not,” Smith said. “The District government is not allowing for that. We need to make that change so we can save more lives.”
Gerardo feels some relief knowing that their 4-month-old grandson, whom she and Sinkiat had been helping care for, has shown no sign of illness. Neither has his immunocompromised son, one of two children he leaves behind.
But she can’t believe her husband – healthy, “only 64” – is gone, she said. “I keep thinking any day, he is going to walk through the door.”
One of his sons retrieved Sinkiat’s body for a quick and solitary cremation.
At Howard, Gerardo said, she thinks staff had adequate protective gear. But she said it was her husband often making sure that door handles, telephones and other shared equipment were consistently sanitized. As one of the oldest nurses there, she said, he was often in charge. She has heard from doctors, housekeepers and security staff since his death about how he helped them.
“A lot of people there at Howard really loved him,” she said. “He was a very good nurse.”