SEATTLE (KOMO) - To say that we are in the midst of a truly surreal time in history is an understatement.
As the death toll from COVID-19 continues to rise and more people become ill from a disease that is spreading terror and uncertainty along with it, my family - who have been directly impacted - felt it was important to share our story. It's about my husband's grandmother, who tested positive for the virus on March 6.
You may be surprised to learn it's not a "doom and gloom" story.
First and foremost, to families that have lost a loved one or find themselves with a different story, we are beyond sorry for your loss. It's truly awful and there are no words. To families currently fighting and hoping and praying for a positive outcome - we want to introduce you to Geneva Wood, a 90-year-old great-great grandmother who her family describes as a "bat out of hell." While not technically my blood, she's been my honorary grandma for 17 years and counting. We love her, everyone loves her.
Geneva has been at the forefront of this virus locally; she entered The Life Care Center in Kirkland in January after suffering a stroke. This beast of a woman, with the help of the staff at the center, beat the odds and regained the ability to walk, use her right arm and talk. Even before coronavirus, this is a miracle in itself. She showed us all then that she was a true fighter, but that was just the beginning.
"Just when my mom beat one thing, another 'thing' rolled her way," summed up her daughter and my mother-in-law, Cami Neidigh.
Mid to late February, as the COVID-19 crisis ramped up and seemed to settle right around the Life Care Center where Geneva was still was being treated, we were extremely worried. So when she came down with a fever, we felt immediate panic.
Our worst fears realized - she was taken to Harborview on March 5, and tested positive for COVID-19 the next day.
We were stricken, and in shock. A virus that had only been a scary, ambiguous monster for us up until now was right here, in our family member. News and reports from local and national officials had us believing this was a death sentence. After all she'd fought through, this virus would be the thing to take her? Honestly, we were mad.
Geneva had a slightly different response.
"I'm going to fight this for my family and make everyone proud," she told Cami through a glass pane while in isolation at Harborview after the diagnosis. With five kids, 11 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and 3 great-great-grandchildren, the love of her family had been a driving force in everything she did pre-coronavirus. No way was this going to change after-the-fact.
Of course the family knew she was a strong woman, but even we were wary that an immunocompromised senior citizen at the epicenter of the virus in the U.S. would be able to beat this with just grit. So in the meantime, we prepared for the worse - but remained cautiously hopeful.
"She has always been a survivor and very determined," said Cami. "When she fell and broke her hip, I knew she would be disappointed and be a bit down for a little while, [but] I knew that she would pull herself up again and get busy to get better. [But when] they took her to Harborview and put her in isolation is when I started to worry. She needs her family. She doesn't do well by herself. I was afraid this would be her straw and she would give up. She did. She declined until the doctor called with concerns that they felt she wasn't going to make it and for us to come to the hospital."
Her four living children rushed to her "side" (which was really to the Harborview's lobby, where they took turns being escorted one by one to communicate with her through a glass window). When things seemingly took a turn for the worse, they were fully suited up, and taken into the room to say goodbye.
"When she started crying for us, the nurses got permission for us to go through protocol and suit up for a visit," said Cami. "It was a gift and at the same time cruel. We could touch her hand, rub her arm through the gloves. No hugging. Talk softly, slowly and comfort her. Let her know we were all okay and not to worry about us. She wanted to tell each of us goodbye, tell us how proud she was of us."
Doctors told us she was "comfortable" and that she'd likely be gone any day now. My husband stood at the glass with a hand-written note with the words, "I LOVE YOU." She could barely hear through the barrier, and tears were flowing for all. After that, doctors moved her into a shared room with another positive COVID-19 patient.