A phone call from a recent dinner companion who had tested positive for COVID-19 suddenly changed life for the Jeddeloh family.
Rick Jeddeloh’s cough, the one that he and wife Kirsten had chalked up to late July allergies, suddenly seemed ominous.
“He literally came in and was like, I have a temp, I’m going to get tested, done,” Kirsten said. “And, he was out the door before I could even like take a sip of coffee and realize what was happening.”
Rick was positive with COVID-19. As soon as he got the results, he quarantined himself in the basement guest room. Because of their exposure, Kirsten and their 12-year-old daughter Clara got tested too.
“Kirsten tested positive,” Rick said. “So all of a sudden, all of a sudden our life is even more challenging and more difficult.”
The Jeddelohs split up the house. Rick stayed in the basement, Kirsten confined herself to an upstairs bedroom. Even though she hadn’t tested positive, Clara ‘s exposure required a precautionary quarantine that would keep her from her friends. The living room would be her space.
The tight-knit family faced a type of separation unlike anything they had ever experienced.
“Even though we were you know what, we might have been one floor away from each other in our house,” Rick said. “It seemed like we were a million miles away.”
Clara fended for herself. She built elaborate blanket forts, played basketball outside and had video chats with her friends. It was boring, she said, but the family stayed in touch through texting and video calls. Even under the strict isolation, they still found ways to see each other.
“It was nice when [Kirsten was] in like the porch and I was in like the living room or something,” Clara said. “Just to be like, be able to see your face...We have a glass door between the inside of our house and porch. So we would hug each other through the door.”
Neighbors and friends left food, presents and even activity baskets for Clara on the front steps of the house while her parents recovered.
Kirsten experienced painful headaches and extreme fatigue. She would check on Rick, and return back to her quarantine space upstairs where she would sleep for hours.
Rick’s experience was even worse.
Several days into isolation his symptoms hadn’t improve. His breathing was labored and his fever didn’t break.
A scan revealed that pneumonia had settled into Rick’s lungs and that he would need to be hospitalized. Underlying health issues and age put him at higher risk, he realized.
He also realized that he never got to say a proper “goodbye” to his wife and daughter. It was the lowest point in his life, he thought.
“It became more than real, it became something I thought about me not being here anymore...each day I was there it became harder to be away from these guys,” he said. “The truth is, I had a hard time FaceTiming Clara just because I knew that if I did I would start to cry. And I didn’t want her to see I didn’t want her to see me you know like that.”
‘It’s gonna be OK’
During the five days Rick was in the hospital, the isolation was also weighing on Kirsten and Clara. One night, past midnight, Clara started breaking down and Kirsten decided she needed to find a way to be there for her daughter, even for the briefest moment.
“We were both crying and we put garbage bags over us, cut out holes,” Kirsten said. “We wore masks, I put a hat, I put glasses on and we did everything. We went outside and we held our breaths and turned our faces the other way. And we just hugged.
“She just needed that. That physical touch, that contact of like, it’s gonna be okay.”
Overall, Kirsten and Clara spent 10 days apart. Rick needed to stay isolated upon returning from the hospital. He ended up being separated from the family for 26 days.
When the family reunited, there were hugs and a sense that things were slowly getting back to normal.
“I could hear (Rick) wrestling in the other room, and laughing and you know, and (Clara) comes out and she looks at me and stands in the kitchen, she goes ‘Dad’s back to normal,’” Kirsten said. “It was really sweet. Like, ‘we’re wrestling again, I can tell Dad’s back to normal.’ In her mind, that’s how she’s like, ‘we’re better.’”
Rick and Kirsten are still recovering from the effects of the coronavirus. Kirsten continues to experience painful, lingering headaches and Rick still needs time to catch his breath. But during this time of being apart, the family feels their bond strengthened.