Editor’s note: The following is a first person account from The Marshall News Messenger City Reporter Jessica Harker. Her family, including Jason Montgomery, lives in Ohio and she has not been back to visit them, staying in social isolation as much as possible, herself, here in Texas.
It was almost a month ago that my step dad, Jason Montgomery, got sick. It was right when the coronavirus epidemic started to ramp up, but before it felt like a real tangible thing that is capable of affecting my life.
President Trump had discussed it on national news, China had shut down, but it hadn’t quite reached our front door.
He just turned 40, is very healthy, doesn’t smoke, and has not traveled recently. He is a father, currently living with his 13-year-old daughter, my sister, and her stepsisters and their mom. The youngest of the little girls is 8 years old.
Based on the Center for Disease control regulations at that time my family decided to be safe, rather than regret it later.
Everyone in contact with Jason self isolated, he himself was isolated from the rest of the family in the house, and everyone was careful with hand washing and social distancing.
But he continued to get sicker.
Eventually, he was hospitalized in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Ohio. Then he was eventually moved to the intensive care unit. For two weeks, Jason was in a medically induced coma. He was on a ventilator and a feeding tube, and was in total isolation. No one outside of hospital staff was allowed in the room.
He, along with the rest of my family, are still living in my home city of Youngstown, Ohio, a part of Mahoning County. In Ohio, this is the county which has the highest rate of coronavirus deaths and the third most cases of hospitalization for the disease, according to statistics on the official State of Ohio website.
My grandmother, Jason’s mom, was the only person who was contacted by the hospital for updates on Jason’s conditions.
For two weeks my family relied on technology connecting us over thousands of miles for the little information available on how he was doing.
We were constantly texting, calling and video chatting with each other as we all tried to make sure everyone knew each piece of new information as it came out.
Meanwhile, as the city reporter for the newspaper I was trying to keep up with my job and the never ending barrage of information now coming at us because of the COVID crisis.
Constantly keeping up with all of the breaking information and making sure the public was safe and informed was more than a full time job. I felt lucky to have a job and a distraction.
It was during this two week period that the entire country started to shut down. Governor Mike Dewine in Ohio and Governor Greg Abbott in Texas both worked to protect the states they govern by putting various regulations in place.
Churches, businesses, public spaces and entertainment all began to close to protect the public from the spread of the virus.
The only thing my family could do was wait, in self isolation, with some of us thousands of miles away.
There were a few scares where Jason took a turn for the worse. At one point he was placed on a specialized bed for patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, and for a grueling couple of days we did not know which way things would turn out for him.
But finally, last Sunday March 28, we got good news. Jason reacted well to a new experimental drug and was recovering. He was waking up from sedation and breathing on his own.
On Wednesday he video called me, and I got to see him laughing and joking around for the first time in a long time. He told me he was working on physical therapy, and the hospital is now talking about release dates.
It was a painful, humbling experience for my entire family. The kind of thing that makes you realize just how little control we have over the course of our own lives.
We are among those who should consider themselves lucky, with the death toll rising every single day due to complications from the virus.
According to ourworlddata.org there have been more than 50,000 cases of death due to COVID-19 so far in the world.
The number of cases of the virus are unknown, due to the lack of access to testing in the amount that is needed, which is a global problem.
The take away from this story, and from every story that comes out about a family’s personal experience with this pandemic, is to be kind.
Be kind to each other and be kind to yourselves. Follow the recommendations made by the Center for Disease Control, don’t go shopping more than once a week, and take care of your neighbors.
Things are hard everywhere, and the only thing we have control over is what we do next.