Together Since 1952, A Couple Separated When Coronavirus Hits Gets A Happy Reunion
It started with a low grade fever in late March. By then, the novel coronavirus was infecting large parts of the country including Henderson, Nevada where my parents, Larry and Anne Sandell, live in an assisted living apartment community. The residents had been quarantined in their apartments for two weeks and their temperatures were checked by the staff twice each day. On March 27, my 84-year-old mother had a low grade fever. The nurse decided not to take any chances. An ambulance was summoned to take her the ER around 10 p.m.
At the hospital, she was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and sent home the next morning to my father with antibiotics. And that, we all thought, was that. But my mother's condition continued to deteriorate. She was confused, no longer eating or drinking and falling asleep mid-conversation at their dining room table. It was clear my 85-year-old father was struggling to care for her in quarantine. He looked haggard.
When my mom's COVID-19 test came back positive from the hospital four days later on April 1, everyone was surprised. An ambulance was again summoned and she was whisked away to St. Rose Siena Hospital, my father not allowed to accompany her.
I told my husband, "My dad's got the virus too, he's been right next to her for days with no mask."
Sure enough, the next day his temperature was 102 and he was sent by ambulance to St. Rose San Martin Hospital — a different hospital than my mother. The precautions put in place by their facility and the careful attention paid by Steve Hall, the nurse there, may have saved their lives.
Their apartment was now empty and the other residents shaken.
How in the world did my parents get it when they'd been quarantined for weeks?
That remains a mystery.
My father grew sicker, his fever spiking to 104, and he was put on oxygen for COVID pneumonia. My mother was suffering cognitive decline. She could not remember her own birthday or what she was supposed to do when she heard the telephone ring. My parents have been together since 1952 when they were 16 and 17-year-old college freshmen. The novel coronavirus separated them from each other and from the rest of the family for four weeks - the longest they had been apart with the exception of my dad's tour in Vietnam as an Army judge.
Slowly but surely they began to improve. After two weeks, my mother was transferred to an inpatient rehabilitation hospital. Over the next 14 days, my mother began to come back to us. Her cognition improved dramatically.
Dad was a different story. Caring for my mother unprotected for days had drenched him in the virus. After more than three weeks in the hospital he was finally released on April 25. My parents couldn't go back to their apartment in the assisted living community; it was quarantined and my father was still positive for the virus. So my younger brother, Bruce Sandell, and I rented them a furnished house.
On April 29 my mother was discharged from rehab and my parents were reunited after four weeks apart, but the closest they could get to each other was across the room, their faces covered by masks. They could not have their first kiss or sleep in the same room until May 8. Bruce, who is able to work remotely, stayed at the house with them for most of the next five weeks, along with professional caretakers and therapists.
For the past month they've been consistently improving. My mother is now completely well; my dad is much better but, like many people post-COVID-19, still tires easily. Last Friday, they moved back to their apartment, welcomed warmly by other residents and staff. It's been a long two months.
As an ICU doctor with 30 years of experience, I believe the moral to the story is this: In a world of pandemic virus, speed is of the essence. Because of the daily temperature testing and assessment, my parents were sent to the hospital as soon as they developed a fever. I believe that may have saved their lives.
Don't hesitate to seek testing or tell your doctor if you or loved ones have symptoms and believe you could be infected. Your lives might depend on it.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.