By Molly Blake, UCHealth
When ABG Gellert was on her way to the emergency department in Gunnison, she asked her sister, Susan, to drive past the field where her horse, Cowboy, was grazing.
“I was sure that I would never see him again,” said Gellert, who lives in Crested Butte. “He wouldn’t come up to the window, but I could see him and I just cried.”
“I was terrified to go the emergency room because of COVID-19,” said Gellert. “I thought if I went in there, I would never come out.”
Days earlier, on April 8, Gellert started vomiting uncontrollably, which was unusual for the longtime event producer with a self-described iron stomach.
“I travel all the time and pretty much never miss a meal,” said Gellert. “Even on Yom Kippur, I fasted in the morning and that was it.”
By Sunday, April 12, Gellert was close to passing out. She couldn’t keep anything down and decided to see a doctor. The problem? Gellert, 44, has asthma and an underlying gastrointestinal condition that she has battled since 2011.
Scheduling a Virtual Visit
Nearly 100 primary care and specialty clinics have been offering virtual care for about a year and UCHealth’s Virtual Urgent Care, which offers 24/7 care to anyone in Colorado, has grown in popularity during the pandemic.
What is a Virtual Visit?
Providers see a patient through a secure video and audio chat.
How do Virtual Visit work?
Patients with access to a smart phone, tablet or a computer with a camera and a microphone can do a Virtual Visit. If patients don’t have good internet access or a smart phone, they can do a phone visit instead.
How do I make an appointment with my primary care provider?
For a Virtual Visit with a primary care provider, if you are an existing patient, you can use online scheduling to make an appointment. Just log on to your My Health Connection account. Then look in the upper right corner and find the button that says Schedule Virtual Visit. If you are a new patient, please call the primary care clinic where you wish to be seen and staff members will help you set up your first visit with a provider. Click here to find locations near you.
Gellert decided to do a Virtual Visit before going to the Gunnison hospital. Susan downloaded the app and set up the online appointment. Dr. Elaine Reno, an emergency room physician with UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital, appeared on Gellert’s laptop and listened intently to the symptoms. Normally alert and energetic, Gellert was physically and mentally exhausted. She detailed the horror of the previous days: vomiting, constant nausea and severe abdominal pain. Reno instructed Gellert to go to the hospital in Gunnison, despite her misgivings, where doctors gave her fluids and medication to help with the nausea.
“But they would not admit me,” said Gellert. “There just wasn’t room for me.”
Back home, the symptoms worsened. By Tuesday, Gellert was back in the emergency room. Again, she was sent home. Susan, her sister, called her friend, Dr. Jean Kutner, chief medical officer for the University of Colorado Hospital, and asked for advice.
“ABG needs to see a GI doctor (gastroenterologist), urgently,” Kutner said.
That’s when Gellert scheduled another Virtual Visit with gastroenterologist Dr. Blair Fennimore, with University of Colorado Hospital.
Virtual visits are exactly as the name implies. It’s like Facetime or a Zoom meeting. The patient and the doctor are both on camera looking at one another through an iPad, computer or phone. Fennimore is a big fan of virtual visits.
“The appointments are on time, efficient and still allow for a personal connection between myself and the patient,” said Fennimore. “Seeing the patient allows me to get a sense of what’s going on so I can decide how to best treat them or even admit them to the hospital if necessary.
“It’s a big shift in medical care,” Fennimore said. “But it’s one that a lot of patients actually prefer.”
In Gellert’s case, Fennimore had reviewed her records before the visit began. A few clicks later, the two were connected.
“Dr. Fennimore could see me, look me in the eyes and ask me where it hurt,” said Gellert.
Fennimore recalls Gellert was in obvious pain and weak. He told her to get to Denver. She needed to be admitted.
“My system was falling apart,” said Gellert. “I hadn’t eaten in almost 10 days and I still couldn’t stop vomiting.”
“Seeing her convinced me that she needed an expedited workup to get on the right trajectory,” said Fennimore, who took time to allay Gellert’s fears about going to the hospital.
“We can’t stop medical care altogether and if you are sick enough to be in the hospital, then that’s the right place for you to be, but we’re going to make sure you are safe and we’re not going to keep you here any longer than you need to be,” Fennimore told Gellert.
Road to recovery
From her hospital bed at UCH, where she received treatment for severe ulcerative colitis, Gellert had a crystal clear view of the mountains. Bright-eyed and sitting up for the first time in days, her phone rests on her lap where she can check My Health Connection app.
“It’s so helpful,” said Gellert. “I pull up test results and feel a lot more prepared when the doctors come in to talk to me or when they call me on my hospital room phone.”
Indeed. The old-school telephone, curly cord and all, is seeing a resurgence of sorts due to the COVID situation. Doctors and nurses now pick up a phone and call the patient’s room to ask or answer questions. Gellert doesn’t mind. She realizes it’s a smart way to keep the spread of germs at bay.
“I feel really informed,” she said.
Gellert is back home. Back to the mountains she loves, the big blue sky, the smell of cookies baking in her oven but most of all, her tall, syrupy-colored horse, Cowboy.
“He is just the love of my life,” said Gellert.