[In April, a Merrimack Valley couple that contracted and survived the coronavirus spoke with us about the experience. Their names have been changed to maintain the family’s privacy.]
The illness struck on March 6, when Dave, the father of three children, wasn’t feeling well and came home from work early. Just a few days before, he had attended a work meeting at a Boston-area facility. After discovering one of the attendees tested positive for COVID-19, Dave immediately contacted local health officials and arranged to get tested at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
At the hospital, Dave entered the hospital through an ambulance-only entrance after health care workers wearing personal protective equipment met him at his car. They swabbed his nose and instructed him to go straight home to self-quarantine.
A week later, Jane woke up at 2 a.m. with a bad headache. After a few hours, she began to realize she was sick, too. Dave’s COVID-19 test came back positive the next day. With Jane’s illness beginning a week later, their quarantine extended an extra week.
Jane’s response from medical professionals wasn’t as efficient as her husband’s experience. “Winchester Hospital told me that if the state wanted me tested, then the state would figure out how to test me,” she says. “Brigham and Women’s took days to decide if they would test me.” Jane ultimately decided not to be tested. Knowing about the shortage of test kits across the country, she wanted to save one for someone who needed it.
Both in their forties and in excellent health, the couple suffered from the illness at the same time and showed different symptoms. “Dave experienced the more traditional symptoms of COVID-19 — the persistent cough and a burning sensation in the lungs,” Jane says, “while I experienced stomach pains until day eight, when the cough developed.” Jane even considered going to the hospital after three days of feeling extremely ill, but was advised not to because the highest fever she or Dave had recorded was only 99.8. Neither possesses underlying medical conditions that make them high risk for the severest symptoms caused by this illness. “I feel very fortunate now that Dave and I both came through it … although it took both of us about 20 days to get through the illness from start to finish,” Jane says.
When Dave was tested, he was given thermometers by a state nurse with strict instructions for the entire family to take their temperatures every morning and evening and email the readings to health officials. Surprisingly, neither of Dave and Jane’s 15- and 17-year-old daughters, also under quarantine, showed symptoms of COVID-19, although they may have been asymptomatic carriers. Their oldest daughter was away at university during the first part of the quarantine, and then stayed with a friend until the isolation period was over and she was safe to return.
“When you feel so sick, quarantine doesn’t feel like a penalty,” Jane says. “All you want to do is sleep and not deal with the world. It’s a horrible feeling of sickness.” While the family endured this difficult illness, Jane did notice a silver lining in the immense support they received from others.
“My community was incredible. … I have more food, cooked meals, flowers, games … the amount of people who, without asking, would just drop something off on our doorstep was incredible.”
Neighbors brought necessities, including homemade meals or drinks and snacks from a local cafe. If they needed something from a store, such as Tylenol, they would find it in their driveway. “People came out of the woodwork to help us. … People that live down the street that I don’t even talk to,” Jane says. “They dropped off prepared food with a note that said: ‘I heard through the grapevine that you’re not doing well.’ ”
Now that the family has recovered, they are eager to help others. Dave and Jane donated their plasma to a California-based company that is seeking to develop experimental therapies for the illness. Jane has other plans as well. “Hopefully we’re going to be the group that can now go out and help everyone else when they need it,” she says, “because my community is going to get it and we are here to give back.”