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.
"We got the cruel news that there would be no further physical contact with her," said daughter Cami. "We would no longer be allowed to suit up and physically go into her room, rub her arm or hold her hand. We wouldn't even be able to stand on the other side of the glass and check to see if she was comfortable or restless. We would no longer be able to physically see her."
This was as devastating to the family as the diagnosis itself.
"Not being able to see her was extremely hard," said Cami. "When we were allowed to view her through the window, it helped but it also was heartbreaking. To be so close and not be able to reach out and touch her? Brutal. When she reached out her arm and you're on the other side of a wall...I can't even put it into words, it tears your heart out."
Nurses helped her video chat twice a day - and at this point, the family was waiting for what we thought was the inevitable. But Geneva had a couple more tricks left up her sleeve. After being faced with death, goodbyes said and isolation set in, this feisty mom, grandma, great grandma, church-goer, teddy-bear-builder, friend and rock...started to improve.
"Who are we to question the fighting spirit of a tough ol' Texas coot!" said Cami. "If anyone's going to give the middle finger to a killer virus, it's her."
At one point I'm told that she was seen waving her hands in the air yelling, "I ain't dead yet! I'm gonna die of thirst before I die of this Coronavirus!" I guess she really wanted a Sprite. And I can't forget to mention the homemade potato soup Cami said she's been requesting daily.
"She knew that’s what she needed to help her get better and apparently it’s working, the doctor and nurses are even wanting the recipe," she laughed.
Doctors informed our family on March 22 that after a series of tests, the final test came back negative and Geneva is officially "coronavirus free." The staff who has been treating her told her by coming into a room with a sign, all without masks. Something she hasn't seen for weeks.
"This is a true miracle!" said Cami, who jumped in the car to race to her mom's side as soon as she was told. "We get to hug her, hold her hand and tell her how many people she’s inspired."
She will be home for in the next 3-4 days where she'll be in quarantine with her family, until told otherwise by doctor's.
“This is a gift from God, his work is not done with me just yet,” she told Cami. She also wants to thank everyone who prayed for her, people who sent positive thoughts her way, her family for bringing her potato soup daily and loving her, the incredible nurses and doctors who took care of her and most importantly, God.
Now THAT’S a story of survival.
My family and I are sharing this story because we feel it's important to give people some hope.
"Getting this virus is not necessarily a death sentence for the elderly or anybody," said Cami. "Be more afraid of spreading it. It's a wake-up call to take care of each other. Find positive ways to help others out."
Cami's advice for other families going through this?
"Try your best to stay positive, find good in the bad, thank the caregivers and spend time with nurses so they know they are not just taking care of another sick patient."
Keep fighting Grandma, we love you. Keep fighting everyone - we love you all.
And for the love of all things precious people, just stay home.