Lewis Center family emerges triumphant, but 'still anxious,' from rocky COVID-19 journey
On July 10, Emily DePaul began a post on her Facebook page with a frightening sentence: "COVID has found its way into our home."
At the time, her family was in the early stages of what was would become a two-week-plus roller-coaster ride as each of the four family members living in their Lewis Center home dealt with various symptoms to various degrees.
Hundreds of pulse-oximeter readings, five trips to the emergency room and an unknown number of tearful breakdowns later, the family was released from isolation July 24.
How did they get through it?
"Hour by hour," DePaul said.
The family got a jump on the virus through education. Both DePaul and her daughter, Isabela Gil, 19, who was at the time a freshman premedicine major at Miami University, read as much as they could about the COVID-19 coronavirus as far back as January, when news of the virus broke.
"It caused stress even before we got sick," DePaul said. "Each of us had our own thoughts about the virus. There was a lot of tension."
"I started ordering things we might need, things we wouldn't be able to get if we had to quarantine," Isabela said. "Everyone thought I was crazy."
When DePaul's 18-year-old son, Marc Gil, a recent Olentangy High School graduate, tested positive, DePaul called the Delaware General Health District right away.
The family immediately began making preparations for isolation at the house -- making sure there was a bedroom and adjacent bathroom that only Marc would use; wearing masks indoors; placing a fan in the hallway across from his door to keep as little air from escaping when the door did have to be opened.
"He started showing symptoms -- fever, chills, cough, headache, fatigue -- but had not been around anyone with symptoms or who had tested positive," DePaul said. "About 24 hours later, Bela and Isaac (8, a rising third-grader at Alum Creek Elementary School) started having symptoms, and at that time were declared presumed positive. Another day went by and I started having intestinal issues. I was also presumed positive."
Isabela, whose allergy-like symptoms were the lightest, began a routine of checking everyone's vital signs every three hours. It was a way, she said, of creating order out of chaos.
"Wake up, take vitals, help clean house," she said. "I think I would have taken those responsibilities anyway, but it helped that my case was mild."
Isaac's symptoms were primarily upper respiratory, with fever and aches accompanying sinus problems and a cough. Marc, meanwhile, was getting worse; his symptoms over the first week included a sore throat that felt like "swallowing glass," he said, plus loss of appetite, vomiting and blood clots in his feet, something often colloquially called "COVID toes."
"I wasn't scared, and I wasn't even angry. I was just annoyed," Marc said. "I felt fine when we got the (positive) test (results) back. Then when I was sick, I would wake up every day hoping I would feel better, and when I didn't, it (made me frustrated).
"I just wanted it to be over. I couldn't work. I couldn't be with my friends. I didn't want to spend the summer locked in my room.
"Some of my friends had (COVID-19), but they weren't as sick. I didn't know why I was so sick."
With everyone dealing with symptoms of some sort, DePaul's anxiety was growing.
"I would have moments where I would freak out," she said, adding that she would ask herself, "How is this going to work? How were we going to handle everything? And what could happen next? You hear stories that run the gamut, so where do we fall?"
DePaul's digestive issues were bad enough, but one day she was on the phone with a family friend who happens to be a physician. The doctor noted she was displaying stroke-like symptoms.
"She got Bela on the phone and told her to call the squad," DePaul said.
"When (my mom) left in the ambulance, I finally had a meltdown. That had been my worst fear," Isabela said. "I had always hoped she wouldn't get it or later that she would just be OK."
Diagnosed with a transient ischemic attack, DePaul was prescribed baby aspirin and returned home to continue isolation. She also began making sure Isabela knew where all the important legal documents were and how to go online to find information about disability and family leave.
Throughout, DePaul continued to share her story on social media. In addition to support from the county health district, her friends, neighbors and even some strangers reached out to offer help.
"Our community has been amazing. People would leave food, sports drinks, Tylenol, whatever for us on the front porch," DePaul said. "There was a constant stream of people. And thank goodness, because you can't do anything for yourself."
The second half of isolation was anything but uneventful, as Marc required a third ER visit, but DePaul said progress was made amid the chaos and stress. On July 24, the last family members were released from isolation.
But recovery hasn't been without its own issues.
"There's some stigma," DePaul said.
"We went to some (graduation) parties, and people were scared of us," Marc said. "I want to say, 'We can't give it! We're the safest!' "
"I still feel anxious sometimes around strangers, like at the grocery store or any time someone comes too close," Isabela said.
Just as before their ordeal, how each is dealing with the aftermath is different.
Marc intends to begin his freshman year at Miami on campus. But while classes are set to begin soon, undergraduate students' return to campus has been delayed until mid-September.
"I just think I want to have that college experience of being on campus," Marc said.
Isabela has decided to take a year off from her studies, instead pursuing work and internship opportunities that won't require choosing how to approach school.
"I remember spring, when they started making students leave campus and moving classes to all online. That's not going to work for me. I cried a lot. It's just better to take a year off," Isabela said.
DePaul said Isaac will attend Olentangy's in-person option, currently a hybrid model that alternates in-class and remote learning.
She said she'd prefer to keep him at home, but, as a teacher in Worthington Schools, she will be in a building offering distance learning to her students and can't be at home with him.
DePaul said the experience has left her family shaken but resilient.
"We stared (COVID-19) in the face," she said. "I'm not as terrified as before, but I'm still anxious."
"I have more of an understanding for people who are more worried about it," Marc said.
Isabela was more direct.
"We were lucky," she said.