Maybe if Deanna McCloskey had stopped working when her husband asked her to, he wouldnt have died.
But how could she have quit? They relied on her income to pay the bills.
Maybe if she had followed the news as closely as her husband had as coronavirus cases ticked then spiked, he would still be alive.
But no one else had her husbands absolute certainty that the country was at the beginning of a catastrophe. Why would she have been scared?
Maybe it wouldnt have mattered.
She will not ever really know.
Among the coronavirus unique cruelties are the questions it creates for its survivors. It can be impossible to know exactly when and where the disease gets contracted, particularly for those with jobs that force them to interact with others. People are left to wonder if they passed a virus that killed their own friends and family, and how they can live with themselves if they did. That guilt is why Danica Danali thought she would have to quit her job and why Adelina Rodriguez-Mata opened her vanity and looked at her pill bottles and wondered if she could make an overdose look like an accident. They watch vaccines roll out and people lose their caution, they try to make sense of things with strangers from around the country they met in a Facebook group, and they wonder if they will ever be fully back to normal.
Everyone tells Deanna not to feel guilty. They tell her: You couldnt have known you were sick. You cant be sure he got it from you.
Danica Danalis daughter did not want to do sixth grade from home (Whats the point of sixth grade if not to socialize?), so she attended school in person.
It looked safe. The students in her Cypress-Fairbanks school wore masks and social distanced. They had put up plastic shields between desks and made the kids skip a seat at lunch. They didnt worry too much.
Danica, 42, did not think of the coronavirus when her daughter came home on a Friday in February, complaining she was tired. On Monday, she had a fever. By Tuesday, she felt fine.
So when Danica felt the exhaustion creeping in herself, she was sure that whatever it was would pass. She went into her job on the Friday before Valentines Day. She works delivering food for a national chain. Everyone wears masks. They take them off for a few minutes to eat or take a drink of water.
She did not think anything of it.
John Wadens worries began on March 16, 2020.
I think you need to get some of them disposable gloves like at the hospital and keep it in your car at your desk, he texted his wife. He had followed the coronavirus news since the virus sprung up in China from his home with Deanna in Allen Park, Mich. It scared him.
John and Deanna, 54 and 45, had met in Georgia. After eight months, he asked, Do you love me? Cause I love you. She loved him. They moved to Michigan in 2011. Everyone called him Big John for his size (6 feet 2) and his personality (South-Carolina polite with a talent for calming upset people during his years as a bouncer at a Georgia bar). In Michigan, they both worked in car shops until John came down with leukemia. He beat it after a stem cell transplant and stopped working in January 2019. A year before everyone donned a mask, John wore them everywhere.
On March 19, Deannas phone buzzed. She had just gotten up from her desk at her job in an auto shop. John had texted: I think Ill leave it up to you if you think financially will be OK take the day off plus I feel the less youre around people the better chance you dont get anything but I know you have to work and we had to pay bills so whatever you choose Im cool with.
And then: if we can afford it Id rather you stay home.
Going and staying till like 11 a.m., she texted back. She did not think they could afford it.
The case counts climbed. Deanna pulled herself out of work. The governor issued a stay-at-home order three days later.
Four days after she stopped working, Deanna got a cough that wouldnt go away.
Adelina Matas job is cold, but on a Friday in December she felt hot.
Adelina, 42, works at a grocery store in Austin in the receiving department, with chilled dairy products and cold meats. She called her fiance and said, Im getting sick.
Raymond, 39, was at his regular dialysis appointment and told her he felt fine. They had met in 2005 and watched the sunset off the Capital of Texas Highway in Austin for their first date. She had seen him through a lupus diagnosis. He balanced her. When she would come home from work and tell him rapid-fire about everything that had happened to her that day, he would wait until she finished and say, OK, did you get it all out of your chest?
Adelina went home early and took her temperature. 102. By the time Raymond came home with takeout, their Friday routine, she had chills. She stayed out on the couch in their one-bedroom; he sat and watched TV on the other sofa. On Saturday, she had chest pressure. On Sunday, she told him she needed to go to urgent care.
Because of COVID protocols, he stayed in the lobby while she went and got tested. A nurse shoved the nasal swab up Adelinas nose. She flinched.
Raymond texted: Hows it going?
She told him one of the nurses had hurt her with the swab.
He said: Well, I guess Im not going to get tested.
Danica woke up at 2 a.m. with the worst chills shed ever experienced.
She shook so hard she woke up her husband. Whats wrong with you? he asked. She didnt know.
That morning, she went to urgent care. She had trouble breathing. She tested positive for the virus. She sent her husband for a test. Positive.
She called her manager to tell him her diagnosis.
Were you in contact with anyone? he asked.
Yeah, she said. Everywhere.
On Monday, she asked her manager if anyone else had gotten sick. No, he said, they hadnt.
The answer would change. Five of her coworkers came down with the virus. One of the five was her best guy friend. He quarantined himself and passed the disease to his wife.
On March 2, 2021, he texted her.
My wife just passed away this morning a lil after 1:30, he wrote at 4:06 a.m. She was sick and think it was COVID.
She read the text when she woke up. She typed back, Oh my God. Im so sorry. Can I do anything for you?
It did not hit her until a few hours later. She was the one who brought COVID to the workplace. She had killed her friends wife.
A week after she stopped working, Deanna brought her husband home to die.
He had gone to the hospital at 11 a.m. that Saturday in March 2020 with a 100.3 fever. Deanna stayed at their home. She didnt think they could possibly have the virus.
She woke up at 5:30 a.m. and scrolled through Facebook. She paused on his status update: Please pray for me. Im COVID positive.
She grabbed her phone from her nightstand. Hed texted her the news while she slept. When she called him, she cried. She knew he was immunocompromised. She knew he had stayed home for months. She knew she had given it to him.
On the phone, he told her, My bodys not gonna make it.
The doctors treated his pneumonia with antibiotics and attacked his blood clots with a blood thinner. John kept Deanna posted by Facebook messenger. He heard doctors discuss transferring the most severe cases to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He heard the machines of other patients trill as their hearts stopped. He texted Deanna: It is very scary in here.
At the worst time in his leukemia, Deanna and John had talked about end-of-life options. He had not wanted to rely on a machine to keep him alive. He had not wanted to leave Deanna with the burden of pulling the plug. He made the same decision with the coronavirus: He did not want the ventilator.
The doctors let Deanna into the hospital to pick him up. He had been asleep when she came in. He woke up slowly. She told him he was going home. Still groggy, he asked: Was he better?
She said: No honey, youre going home on hospice. Remember you and I talked about that?
She calls the next 36 hours her husbands living eulogy. She set up his bed near their front window in the living room so people could sit on the porch and look at him through the glass. They FaceTimed his family and friends in Georgia and South Carolina. She fed him watered-down Coca Cola and milk. She wiped the crust off his eyes and the snot from his nose with a warm washcloth. She put chapstick on his lips. He responded up until the last few hours.
Just before her husband died, Deanna told him: Im so glad that we met.
He slurred: Im glad I met you too.
She told him: I love you.
He mumbled: I love you too.
Raymond was running late.
Adelina had set an appointment for him Thursday to get a coronavirus test. Her own had come back positive. Raymond had spent the week caring for her, making her grilled cheese and chicken noodle soup that she could barely keep down. Her fever spiked and ebbed and spiked again.
She woke him up at 9 a.m. Gotta get ready, she said. Im going to make some tea, come to the sofa.
He drank his tea. He barely spoke.
You want me to drive you? she asked. Is it because youre tired? Did you take some pills late or something?
He told her he was cold. She brought him a blanket. She would drive him straight to the hospital, she decided. Something wasnt right.
Raymond went to the bathroom and got in bed. He asked her to fix the blanket. She did.
In a little while youre going to get up and were going to the hospital, she said.
OK, he mumbled. He closed his eyes. She went back into the TV room. He did not come out.
She heard a thump.
Raymond had fallen from the bed onto the floor. She was too weak to move him. She called EMS and she sat and she waited with him. She told him she only had a week left of quarantine. She told him he would be home soon. He opened his eyes. He looked at Adelina. He closed them.
The EMTs, geared up in PPE, made their way into the bedroom and reached for Raymond.
Theres no pulse, one of them said.
As her first day back at work got closer, Danica lost control of her thoughts.
She could not possibly go in. She would have to go in. Should she go in and quit? Her coworkers would hate her. Everyone would hate her. She had gotten them sick. She had killed her friends wife. How many people got the virus because of her? How many more people did she kill without knowing it? What about the woman with her adult son living at home? What if he had passed it to brothers or sisters she didnt know about? What if he passed it to a grandparent? What if
She pulled into the parking lot. She had not eaten anything all day. She had forgotten what it felt like to sleep through the night. Her lungs felt tight. She told herself: breathe.
She went inside. Everyone welcomed her back. Her manager reminded her: She had not known she was sick. It was not her fault.
Danicas main symptoms lasted 10 days but she still carries the aftereffects. She gets dizzy randomly. She reaches for words she used to know and cannot find them. When she drives down the streets around her neighborhood, she feels like shes exploring an entirely new place.
She texted her colleague whose wife died: PLEASE let me know if there is anything I can do for you! I understand if youre angry with me :(.
She asked if she could come over and make him food. He agreed. He thanked her for everything she was doing. How could he thank her? Danica wondered. Shed killed his wife.
She told him she felt responsible for what had happened. He understood. But it wasnt her fault, he said. It was his. His wife had deteriorated fast at home. She had refused to go the E.R., and he had accepted it. He told Danica he cannot stop wondering about what might have been different if he had forced her to go the E.R. earlier.
He does not blame Danica. He blames himself.
On the exact one-year anniversary of her husbands death, Deannas mother got her second dose of the vaccine.
Deanna has been in therapy. She still feels guilt, no matter how many people tell her not to. All she knows is that there were three cases of the coronavirus at her job the week she went home, and that her husband is dead.
Almost a year after John died, Deanna got his medical records. Shed wondered about his quality of care (Did they do everything in their power to save him? Did they give him the opportunity or make him feel like he had no hope?). In his records, she saw that the leukemia they thought John had beaten had come back. She wondered if the doctors had told him.
Deanna found a Facebook support group for coronavirus survivors and those who have lost their loved ones to the virus that has taken more than 550,000 lives in the U.S., 43,000 in Texas. She tells people: You never want to be in that position to know you have brought something home to somebody, and they die from it. Because you carry that for the rest of your life.
On March 12, 2021, 11 days before she would get her first dose of Moderna and 17 days before Texas opened vaccine eligibility to all adults, Adelina and Raymond were supposed to have been married.
They had planned to get married in October 2020. They had picked a venue for 350. With the virus, they had downsized. It would have been the first time their full extended families had met. After he died, she looked at the pills in her medicine cabinet and wondered: If she took enough, would it look like shed just died of COVID?
Her father saved her without knowing it. He texted her at least five times a day after Raymond died. Had she eaten? Had she had water? Had she tested negative yet? Could he see her?
She has not seen Raymond in her dreams. Sometimes she looks for a sign of him. She cant find one. She cant listen to his music (80s hits) or watch his shows (The Walking Dead). She can barely watch TV at all, because TV was an activity they did together. She thinks about how he spent the last week of his life taking care of her. She didnt even see him deteriorate until he was gone.
Adelina has learned to forgive herself. She had the symptoms first, but her group at work is careful. Raymond was the one who went out to do their grocery shopping. Raymond was the one who resented wearing a mask, who sometimes didnt cover his nose. When they were together, she would say, Show me your hands. He would open them, palms-up, and she would spray his palms with hand sanitizer.
Adelina still lives in the apartment where Raymond died. On what would have been her wedding day, she woke up before the sun rose. She laid out Raymonds tux and pink tie. She arranged the train of her dress, white lace with a rhinestone belt. She put her shoes by the dress and their rings on Raymonds tux. She wrapped a wreath and white roses around their wedding clothes. Above the gown and tux, she put a curlicue carving: Mr. & Mrs.
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