‘Stay the Fu@# Home’: A South Orange Family Copes With Coronavirus

by The Village Green
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Jessi Gottlieb Empestan’s Facebook profile picture is graced with the frame “StayTheFu@#Home.”

Empestan is not messing around. She’s been dealing with COVID-19 firsthand for weeks now at her home in South Orange, NJ. Since March 25, she’s been chronicling the experiences of her young family on social media.

She gave permission to Village Green to share her story here.

On March 25, Empestan posted on FB:

Friends, I’ve tested positive for Covid-19, and Ro likely has it as well. We wanted to share our experience with you to (1) calm some fears; (2) remind you of the importance of staying home; and (3) encourage you to be prepared for when it hits your household.

A week ago last Thursday, I woke up with what I thought was a bad cold. I was coughing, my throat was sore, and I had no fever. R had planned to work from home anyway, and G mentioned that she didn’t feel well, so we kept her home from school too. By 10 am that day, my fever spiked to 101.7 and I called the local Covid-19 hotline. After waiting 90 minutes to speak with someone, they recommended that I consider myself a suspected case and self-isolate at home. M came home from school on the bus 2 hours later and our family’s self-quarantine began.

I spent 3 days in bed nursing a high fever, aches and pains, and a terrible cough, then I started to feel better. A call with my family physician changed my diagnosis to a likely case of Whooping Cough, and she prescribed an antibiotic. While we remained self-isolated, I was feeling mostly better and no one else in the family had gotten really sick. We played outside in our backyard and chatted with neighbors across the street from our front stoop. We ordered delivery and our neighbors dropped off whatever we couldn’t source otherwise. We washed our hands raw and Lysoled the house daily. I used my free time to sew masks for healthcare workers (wearing a mask and gloves myself), and we made plans for when our self-isolation was over. A pesky cough lingered but I generally felt like I’d recovered.

Then on Sunday night, I had trouble catching my breath. R had recently filled a prescription for his asthma inhaler, and in desperation I tried a few puffs to see if that would help – it didn’t. A call to my doctor resulted in strict instructions to get to the ER. Thankfully, we had kept 5 surgical masks from our stash when donating the rest.

Once at Overlook, I had to wait outside in the cold for nearly an hour (where they are isolating suspected Covid cases) before an isolation room opened up in the ER. They warned me the room would smell like bleach, but I had by then lost my sense of smell.

The ER itself was frightening. The nurses are given one respirator per shift, and other PPE are severely limited. They are also given a limited number of surgical masks per shift, which they wear over the respirators. The doctor, after examining me once, took my cell phone number and called me through the window for the rest of my stay in order to preserve PPE. While there, the patient in the room next to me had to go on a ventilator – according to the nurse, it was the last ventilator.

I was discharged at around 4 am, and told to hurry back if my breathing worsened. The chest x-ray showed some loss of function but not pneumonia, and with all luck it will be temporary. I’ve spent the last 2 days in bed, getting out of breath when I just walk the 15 feet to the bathroom. Thankfully, I’m not getting worse. Yesterday, my test results came back and I’m positive for Covid-19.

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Last night, R came in to say goodnight and nearly fell over. He now has a temperature of 101, and we find ourselves both sick and largely bed-bound. We have two young children, and I had to tell them today that they’re in charge of themselves. They know how to feed themselves simple meals, have iPads and books and toys, and for one day they’ll need to manage. I’m hopeful that after today I’ll be able to get out of bed more so I can parent them and Ro gets a chance to rest.

For all of our self-isolation plans, we never prepared for what would happen when we’re both debilitatingly sick, and who would take care of the kids. I wish we had a better plan in place, but we’ll be okay. And I’m so grateful that we can gain some comfort in the fact that we acted (mostly) responsibly and did our best not to pass this on to others.

Update on March 26:

Update: thank you for all of your concern and support. First, our kids are amaze-balls. They fed themselves all day (3/4 of a giant Babka, and some real food), and G even gave M a bath.

R’s fever hasn’t broken yet, and he’s slept most of the day. My breathing is getting a little better, although my cough is still really rough and I’m quite worn out. Our doctor calls to check on us daily, and she expects that I’ll be on my feet within a week, and that R has a milder case than I do (thank goodness).

March 27:

Extreme fatigue. That’s the stage I’m in now. I was able to get up with the kids this morning, then slept for about 4 hours in the middle of the day. I’m trying to stay awake now so I can tuck in the kids in about an hour, but not sure that’s going to happen. R has been sleeping most of the day, so I’m now the one who’s kind of in charge.

March 29 (to Village Green):

Last night we had a scare as R’s temperature went up to 102.9 and worked with our doctor on a plan in case we had to rush him to the hospital.  Thankfully, we’ve brought his fever relatively under control and, while he’s very congested, his breathing his stable and we’ve been able to keep him home.  

 

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