Amanda Kloots bravely reflects on love, loss, and life with her husband, Broadway star, and Tony Award nominee Nick Cordero, whose public battle with COVID-19 and tragic death made headlines around the world. In March 2020, Broadway star and Tony Award nominee Nick Cordero was hospitalized for what he and his wife, Amanda Kloots, believed to be a severe case of pneumonia. Entering the hospital, they had every reason to believe that Nick—a young father and otherwise healthy man—would return home. After an eventual diagnosis of COVID-19 that led to Nick’s being placed on a ventilator, Amanda took to documenting their journey on social media, showing the dangers COVID-19 posed to everyone, regardless of age...
Publisher: Harper (June 15, 2021) Hardcover: 336 pages ISBN-10: 0063078252 ISBN-13: 978-0063078253 Dimensions: 6 x 1.05 x 9 inches
I walked so fast I was almost running down a long, linoleum hallway in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
It was 12:13 in the afternoon but looked like two in the morning—the vast atrium was abandoned, with empty chairs around empty tables, browning plants, and an unmanned help desk in the middle.
It was eerie and unsettling to see a place that is usually so full of people completely empty.
With no one there to tell me I couldn’t, I broke into a full run, silently reciting each step of the directions I’d been given at the check-in desk moments before on how to get to the Saperstein Critical Care Tower. Take the double doors on the right, go outside, walk straight through the next set of double doors, curve around to the left, through another set of double doors you’ll find an elevator bank. Take it to the sixth floor. Your husband is in room 602.
I would do this walk almost every day for the next twelve weeks; each turn and step became something my body could do on autopilot. The walk took only five minutes, but this day, the first day, it felt like I would never get there. My body was tense, my stomach in knots, and my heart tight in my chest.
The sunlight glared in my eyes as I flung open the doors to go outside. It was April 18, another beautiful day in Los Angeles—the kind of day the three of us should be in Coldwater Canyon Park, with Nick pushing Elvis on a swing while I snapped photos. We should be headed to the beach, packing up a cooler with equal parts baby food and rosé and making family memories, or walking through Laurel Canyon with Elvis strapped to Nick’s chest, or going to check on the progress of our new house on Love Street. We should be anywhere but here.
I finally arrived at the Saperstein tower—the words INTENSIVE CARE UNIT in bold, white letters across the front. I could read them perfectly, but at the same time they seemed like a foreign language. The last time we were in a hospital together was almost a year ago, for Elvis’s birth. The maternity ward is full of new life, tears of joy, and smiles—I knew the ICU would be a very different experience.
Fluorescent lights replaced the sun as I entered. Cold replaced the warmth. I caught my breath as I encountered yet another abandoned desk. I fidgeted with my visitor’s badge as I waited for the elevator—this little piece of plastic, which I had fought so hard to get, would finally allow me to visit my husband after eighteen days of being apart.
The hospital had called that morning. Every time the phone rang that month, everything stopped. We all froze, everything fell silent, and I held my breath as the medical staff delivered the news to me. I never knew what they were going to say. In the last two weeks, Nick had been admitted to the ICU, put on a ventilator, and placed in a medically induced coma. He had tested positive for COVID-19, gotten an infection, gone into septic shock, died for two minutes on the table, been resuscitated, put on a machine called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO for short) to save his life, and then gotten a blood clot in his right leg. Clots are a risk of ECMO; the machine that saves you can also destroy you.
Nick had internal bleeding, so they could not put him on blood thinners. But blood thinners were essential to breaking up the clot and getting blood flowing to the bottom half of his leg. His leg was turning black, slowly dying, and causing further trauma to his body. They had tried a small surgery—a fasciotomy procedure—to release the pressure caused by the clot, but it hadn’t worked. For the last three days, the doctors had warned they might need to amputate Nick’s right leg; it could potentially cause damage to the rest of his body if they didn’t. Now I had to make a choice, but there was no real choice to make: it was his leg or his life. I chose his life.
“What time can you come in?” the nurse had asked me.
I almost dropped the phone when she said it. I asked every day, but the hospital had told me over and over again that I would not be allowed to come see him; they had said it again that very morning as I cried on the other end of the phone. The hospital was closed to visitors. This call, just an hour later, took my breath away—the head nurse suddenly asking, “When are you coming in?”
Right this very second!
They needed me to sign a consent form in order to do the surgery, and because of Nick’s state there was a high risk he would not survive the amputation. It’s hospital policy to allow family to visit prior to a surgery like this, just in case it’s goodbye.
I had dropped everything and run out the door, leaving my half-eaten eggs and coffee behind on the table. My brother put Elvis, still in his pajamas, into the car, and we were driving five minutes later. The streets of Los Angeles were so empty under the Safer at Home emergency order that the drive, which ordinarily would take at least half an hour, took only ten minutes.
The shock of the sudden car trip when he should have been eating an early lunch caused Elvis to go into tears, so to keep him happy we put on his favorite song—“Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”
You’re just too good to be true . . .
I sang this song to Elvis every day when he was in my womb. Nick would put a hand on my belly to feel his little kicks while I did. All Nick wanted was to be a dad. Elvis instantly calmed at the sound of it, and I looked back at my beautiful baby boy’s reflection in the mirror. He was staring out the window—now calm and content—watching the world pass by his big, brown eyes. Nick’s eyes. I felt so thankful that he would never remember any of this, and also so sad that if anything went wrong today, he would never remember his dad. Nick hadn’t been able to kiss him, or me, goodbye when I dropped him off at the hospital eighteen days before. It was too much of a risk. So he shrugged, and waved, from six feet away. That had been our last goodbye.
The elevator opened, a right turn at the hallway, and there were the doors. I could see him through the glass immediately, lying in his corner room off to the left. I had been strong today until this point—I had accepted that this had to happen and believed it would be the thing that would finally start to change his progress for the better. But with that first glimpse of him, I crumbled. I saw for the first time what COVID-19 had done to Nick. Tears streamed down my face as I took it all in.
I was handed a box of tissues that I emptied in two minutes. My surgical mask was soaked through with tears instantly, and I had to replace it repeatedly over the next hour. As time went on, bodies moved around him, preparing him for surgery as quickly as possible. But for me, it was happening in slow motion. Standing next to the glass looking in, I couldn’t believe it was real. I’d never felt so sick or helpless in my life. That was my husband in there, my husband. I couldn’t hug him, or comfort him, or pray with him, or tell him how much I loved him.
His face was barely visible under the mess of tubes, lines, and machines around him. Three giant towers surrounded his bed, lit up and flickering like skyscrapers at night. He was still asleep, but his eyelids were too weak to fully close. I could see his eyes, eerily half open. He looked nothing like the man I had dropped off just eighteen days ago. Doctors and nurses in full PPE moved around him and slipped in and out of the room. Wearing a mask and gloves, I was allowed only as far as the glass wall outside his room, but each time someone opened the door to enter or exit, I screamed as loud I could:
“I LOVE YOU, NICK!”
“IT’S AMANDA, HONEY!”
I just wanted him to hear me.
I wanted him to know he wasn’t alone.
I wanted him to wake up.