Family Affected by COVID-19 Shares Story

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Dan and Melanie Schell

About a month ago, BJU health sciences faculty member Melanie Schell’s husband Dan was diagnosed with COVID-19. In this interview with BJUtoday, she shares the story of her family’s experience with the novel coronavirus.

How was Dan diagnosed with COVID-19? I’ve heard that you have to be very ill in order to be tested for the virus. Was that true for him?

Dan is not the typical COVID-19 patient. He is extremely healthy and has no underlying health conditions that put him at higher risk. We still have no clues as to how he contracted the virus. The week of March 16, Dan began to develop a cough. However, by that Friday, he had started to run a slight fever, and the cough was definitely getting worse. Monday morning, March 23, he had a telehealth video call, which led to him being tested for COVID-19, even though he was not very ill.

We were told to go to Greenville Memorial for their drive-thru testing; we did not realize until we got there that the testing was in the parking garage on the bottom level. Well, we were in Dan’s big work van, with ladder racks, and we would not fit under the low clearance of the parking garage. Fortunately, they made an exception for him and allowed him to be a “walk-up” instead of a “drive-thru.”

What symptoms did Dan have? Did he follow the typical case?

Dan had a fever for two to three days, but the severity of his cough was the most alarming of his symptoms. He did not have shortness of breath. Five days after his test, on Friday, March 27, I ended up taking him to Urgent Care — we were really afraid that he would continue to get worse over the weekend. By then he was also experiencing some severe GI issues, which was also the result of the virus.

The doctors at Urgent Care did a chest X-ray, initially diagnosed him with bacterial pneumonia, and admitted him to the hospital. It was not until the next morning that his COVID-19 test came back positive (six days after he was tested).

What level of care did Dan require? How did you balance his care and your other responsibilities?

In the hospital Dan was in isolation, and because personal protective equipment was in short supply his doctor asked him not to press the call button unless absolutely necessary. He quickly realized the loneliness that many patients have reported. He said that nighttime was very long and oppressive as coughing made sleep difficult and hydroxychloroquine caused weird, vivid dreams. As a believer though, he recognized God’s goodness even in small ways. His second night, our niece was his nurse, and a kind, familiar face was what his spirit needed in that moment. We also saw God’s grace in that Dan did not need oxygen treatments after the first 48 hours.

From the time Dan first began to develop symptoms, my son and I kept our distance and Dan tried to isolate himself as much as possible. We cleaned like crazy and did everything we could to minimize our risk, especially as the week wore on and he continued to worsen.

The weekend he was hospitalized, I did what I could to prepare a convalescent space where he could be quarantined. He came home on Monday (the day classes started back online). The week was busy as I had to change roles many times throughout the days. But even in that, God was so good to send family and friends alongside to help with meals. Just having food arrive each day allowed me to focus on school and taking care of him — God truly knew what I would need before I even knew.

What isolation and other safety measures did your family take? Did anyone else catch the virus?

I spent several weeks in our guest room, but it was a small price to pay for the good outcome Dan has had. Three weeks out, he is still weak. However, each day we see progress. No one else was infected with the virus. We are so thankful for that fact. God has been so good to us.

How did your family handle any anxiety and/or fear you faced?

As a couple, Dan and I have always faced trying times with the knowledge that God has a plan to see us through. There was definitely an element of fear, I guess, because we were dealing with so many unknowns with this disease. But the presence of God was very reassuring.

I know many people were posting passages from Psalm 91 during those first few weeks, as the news each day brought more restrictions and heightened our fears. Then the Sunday that Dan was in the hospital, our Sunday School teacher taught from that passage, and God really used His word from this Psalm to soothe my soul. “I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God, in him will I trust” (Ps. 91:2).

I am thankful that God’s plan was to provide healing. We were so humbled by the hundreds of people who prayed with us through the last few weeks. Even with physical distancing, God brought people into our lives through the power of prayer. God allowed us to be apart, but never alone.

What advice do you have for other families affected by the coronavirus?

Preplanning is helpful. Have a logical strategy for how to isolate a family member, as much as possible. Use paper products for a couple weeks if you don’t have a dishwasher to really sanitize things adequately. Use paper towels when possible and change out bath linens daily. Set your washing machine to a sanitize cycle if you have that option. Keep your family member comfortable and well hydrated. And then, at the end of the day, don’t panic and fret. Trust God and pray that He will ultimately be glorified through the illness.