The other day I sat at my kitchen table and had a Zoom conversation with Vita Walker. Vita cried and her voice broke, tears falling down her face as she told me about her husband James, 50, who passed away after an awful struggle with the coronavirus. And I cried too.
Vita told me, "He was the love of my life. And he made me know I was the love of his.” I told Vita that day that my husband, Chris Bro, had also fought the coronavirus. And I said something to her that I’ve felt a lot lately: “There but for the grace of God…”
What if Chris had gotten sicker? What if I’d had to take him to the hospital? Why did Chris recover from his severe symptoms, but others simply don’t? Did something we did make any difference or is it all just luck? Or genetics? Or the circumstances of the infection?
We have so many unanswered questions as we look back on the past five weeks. Maybe we always will.
Chris started feeling lousy on Thursday, April 2. I remember I was working on a news story, our teenagers were doing homework, and Chris disappeared to take a nap — so not like him. He came downstairs for dinner and his eyes were rimmed in red, almost like pink eye. I remember saying “You really don’t look good. I think you should go down to the basement guest room tonight.”
I now know that red eyes are a possible sign of infection. Chris had been coughing for a couple of days— a dry cough. Now he was fatigued and had crippling body aches. That first night he said he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t find any position that didn’t cause searing pain in his muscles and joints. He also had chills and a slight fever. He lost his sense of taste and smell and felt heaviness in his chest. The cough got worse. But he never struggled to breathe or gasped for air.
As you may have seen on Nightly News, I became his caretaker. I put on a mask and delivered meals to the closed door of his basement room. Those first couple of days were scary. Really scary. Chris had never been this sick. He was able to take a diagnostic test and results confirmed he was positive for the coronavirus.
Our primary care physician suggested we monitor Chris’ blood oxygen levels to make sure he was getting enough oxygen. She told us he needed liquids and could take Tylenol. As the days went on, we got a lot of advice. Clearly you should speak with your own doctor, but I will share our experience.
Our next-door neighbor’s sister — a nurse working with COVID-19 patients — said they were flipping patients onto their stomachs. Chris found it was helpful. He had slightly less pain and could breathe more easily on his stomach. Chris’ sister Courtney is also a nurse. After several days in bed, her advice was to get up and move around the room. She also advised me to get a spirometer — a plastic device that helps exercise the lungs.
A colleague at NBC reached out with a link to a video from a UK intensive care doctor describing a breathing technique that seemed to help coronavirus patients. Like the spirometer, it was meant for people who were not struggling to breathe but wanted to avoid lung issues. Chris found the exercises made a big difference for him.
And through it all, I kept bringing food and telling Chris he HAD to eat and drink liquids even though he had very little appetite and no sense of taste or smell. He said the Gatorade tasted awful, but our neighbors and friends delivered it by the gallon, and he swallowed it down.
And that’s another key thing that got us through this difficult time. On that first Friday morning when I woke up with Chris very ill and in the basement, I needed to take care of the kids, the dog, the house and work. And none of us were allowed to go outside. I sent a group text to some friends telling them Chris was sick. I told them I was going to need help since we have no family in New York.
I’m sure you know what happened. One neighbor brought over a huge pot of chicken noodle soup within hours. Another brought frozen soup to keep for later. Someone walked over with Easter candy. A family took our dog for walks. People texted me every time they were leaving their own homes to ask what we needed. It was such a beautiful thing.
After about a week, Chris started to feel better and I could feel my stress lessening a bit. His sister advised that he should get some fresh air and he did venture into the backyard. By week two he was still coughing, but not feeling pain. He is fully recovered now.
Did any of the things we did help Chris fight off the worst of the coronavirus? We don’t know. As we sit here five weeks later, what we feel most is enormously lucky and incredibly grateful.
Vita told me she was speaking out in part because she wanted everyone to realize how dangerous this virus can be.
“If it could kill someone like my husband, who was so strong and so vital, it could kill any of us,” she said. When we finished talking, I walked into Chris’ home office in tears and gave him a very, very long hug.