Kay Brown wants to see her husband of almost 46 years, touch him and say to him, "I know you're OK."
For more than a month, Carl Brown has been hospitalized, fighting COVID-19.
She couldn't talk to him. He was on a ventilator. She couldn't go to the hospital to see him. She also had contracted the novel coronavirus, as did their son and granddaughter, but not as severely as Carl.
While Carl has been in Navicent Health Baldwin and then the Navicent Health Medical Center in Macon, they have been quarantined in their Milledgeville home since early April.
"It affects your breathing. You have a bad cough. You have a fever. It messes with your stomach. It's just … it’s been kind of rough," Kay said, her voice trailing off.
She said their church family at Northside Baptist has been terrific.
"Carl's on so many prayer lists," Kay said. "And I told them, truly, Carl and I are both firm believers that God has control of everything.
"If so many people had not been praying for Carl, I don't think he would still be here. There were days, every time my phone rang, I expected it to be them calling to tell me that Carl did not make it."
But Kay said Carl is improving even though days of recovery and strenuous rehabilitation are ahead.
Carl Brown went to urgent care on April 10 and tested positive for COVID-19. He stayed home and progressively got worse, getting pneumonia.
"On the night of April 16, Carl told me we had to do something, so I called an ambulance and they took him to Baldwin Navicent," Kay said. "They took him to the intensive care unit, and after three or four days, they put him on a ventilator and he stayed on a vent for almost three weeks."
But it seemed like Carl wasn't getting any better, and she had a hard time understanding what the doctors were telling her, Kay said. So she had him transferred to Macon. Within 24 hours, he was off the ventilator.
The Macon hospital set up Zoom calls between Carl and Kay.
"The first few times, he was real confused," Kay said. "I told my daughter, 'I really don't think he knows who we are.' He was so confused. He didn't know where he was or why he was there or anything."
Late last week, that changed.
"He looks stronger, he sounds better," Kay said. "He wants to come home. He told me to call his doctor here in Milledgeville because he wants to be dismissed. I told him it was not going to be quite that easy. He's still got a ways to go. Some days, he still has a fever. Some days, he's still a little confused. He's had two more tests — the first was negative, but the next was positive.
"He's better, but he's still not clear."
After being on a ventilator for so long, Carl is having to learn to swallow again. His only nourishment has been through a feeding tube.
When he can leave the hospital, he'll likely go to the Navicent rehab center in Macon.
"They told me he's going to need intensive rehab because he's been in bed so long , he's so weak and he was on the vent for so long," Kay said. "They're working with him — speech therapy and physical therapy. I had never dealt with anybody on a vent before. I've learned a lot of things."
Kay has been pleased with Carl's care in Macon.
"I told the nurse the other day, he's fixing to start giving y'all a hard time about wanting to come home now that he's come to his senses. She just laughed and said, 'Mrs. Brown, we can handle it.' "
"They call me in the morning and in the afternoon and give me a report on how he's doing. When he was in the ICU, the doctor talked to me for 30 minutes so I could fully understand. She was great."
REST OF FAMILY
So how did Carl contract COVID-19?
A 1970 Baldwin High graduate, Carl works for the Georgia Department of Transportation. He travels around the state on various projects.
"We don't know," Kay said. "My feeling is that Carl was in Fulton County, where it was so bad. And he was in Dawson, Ga. (Terrell County, near Albany), where they had it bad. My feeling is he probably got it at one of those places. But I don't know."
But Carl got it. Their son, Cody, got it. She got it. And their granddaughter, Taylor Hudson, got it.
"Carl and Cody got sick first, then I got sick, then my granddaughter. Taylor and I are a lot better. Cody was in the hospital for a couple of days. He had trouble breathing. But we're all better."
Kay, Cody and Taylor had not left their house since April 11 until they went to urgent care to be rechecked last week. Kay and Taylor came back negative. But Cody was still positive.
"I don't really understand," Kay said. "Cody seems to be OK except for a slight cough and he feels good. I don't know why his came back positive. So we're still quarantined until his next test comes back negative."
Members of Northside Baptist and Kay's daughter, Heather Harrison, have done all the shopping for them.
"They've been great," Kay said. "But I won't let them in my house. They go to the grocery store and get food and put it on my front porch and leave."
For the longest time, they didn't feel like eating much, anyway.
"I mean, I lost 17 pounds, Cody lost 15 and my granddaughter lost 15," Kay said. "Carl looks like he's lost more than that. You don't want anything to eat. It affects your appetite. It affects your sense of taste and smell.
"Since we've been feeling better, we've been cutting up about why everybody went out and bought toilet paper. I didn't know it affected your stomach."
Kay continues to worry about her daughter Heather, who is a nurse at a nursing home in Eatonton, which has had about a dozen coronavirus cases. So far, Heather is virus-free.
As of 7 p.m. Sunday, the state reported 37,642 confirmed coronavirus cases.
Carl, Kay, Cody and Taylor are among them.
The public health department reports 6,790 people have been hospitalized due to coronavirus.
Carl and Cody are among them.
The public health department reports 1,557 people have been admitted into intensive care units.
Carl is among them.
The state has reported 1,606 coronavirus-related deaths.
Thank God, Carl is not among them.
Carl and Kay hope to celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary in October. They have known each other for more than 50 years. When Kay was 13 years old, Carl would ride his bicycle across town to visit on Sunday afternoons.
Their coronavirus separation has been trying, in so many ways.
Kay had hoped to return this week to her job in the bookkeeping department at the downtown Century Bank. But she will remain quarantined until Cody tests negative.
She hopes to be able to do some work from her home.
"I told them I can't afford to go without a paycheck," Kay said, laughing.
With Carl and Cody improving, she hopes a return to normality might not be too far around the corner.
It also could mean a cold slap of reality.
"I can only imagine what Carl's hospital bills are going to be," Kay said. "I don't even want to think about it. I know it's going to be unreal."
She paused, and continued: "That's another reason Carl wants to come home. I know he's probably thinking about it, too. He told me to come get him. I said I can't do that, that he wasn't well enough yet. That he just needs to get just a little bit better. That he needs to be able to eat something before he comes home. He needs to be able to walk.
"I'm hoping in the next couple of weeks, he'll be able to come home. I don't know. It's acccording to how much time he'll have to spend in rehab. We're just taking it day by day now. We're praying for the day he can come home."
One thing is certain.
"I'm ready for all this coronavirus to be gone and out of my house," Kay said.