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When the whole family comes down with COVID-19 | COMMENTARY

We know that COVID-19 is easily transmittable. So it’s not surprising that a whole family might come down with the virus.

That is exactly what happened to a Gaithersburg family of five — a mom, her fiance and her three daughters. Four family members were officially diagnosed, and a doctor believes the youngest daughter probably also had it, but she didn’t take a test because she showed no symptoms.

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Living up to its designation as a novel disease, COVID-19 attacked each person’s body in a unique way. It was a challenging time for the family members, who say their bonds grew stronger as they quarantined together and that they are fortunate, because they are all still alive.

Here are their coronavirus stories in their words.

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Courtney Rau, Kylie Rau, Julie Rau and Maddison Rau are family members from Gaithersburg who all contracted COVID-19.
Courtney Rau, Kylie Rau, Julie Rau and Maddison Rau are family members from Gaithersburg who all contracted COVID-19.

Julie Rau, 49, mom

For me, the COVID experience was quite a bizarre journey. Toward the end of March, I thought I was dealing with my usual spring sinus infection. Then a few weeks later, I lost my sense of smell and taste. There was also unusual tightness in my chest, and I, as well as my fiance, came down with a fever and severe chills.

I went with one of my daughters to get tested a few days after my fiance. We all had what came to be known in our house as “the plague."

The reaction from people was quite alarming. Something I understood given the novelty of the disease, but didn’t like. “Oh my God, you came in contact with your parents two weeks ago," one person said. “You are going to have killed them," said another. It was so devastating to feel the lack of empathy, and instead blame and shame.

As a single mom of three girls, life had to go on. I had to get two of my children home from college, and my youngest had to transition into a new life at home with a house infected with the virus. I still had dinner and laundry to take care of and grocery shopping, though at stores with mostly empty shelves. It was physically taxing.

As the weeks passed, the symptoms began to dissipate. But even today, six weeks later, I still have a residual cough and cannot smell or taste the same. That is one of the most frustrating parts for me. Not only have I suffered through a vast amount of symptoms, such as exhaustion, fever, chills, congestion and more, the simple pleasures in life of taste and smell are gone. It makes me quite anxious.

But people do and can survive coronavirus. I have asthma as a preexisting condition, yet with the help of inhalers, I survived. The stigma around coronavirus will hopefully dissipate as the public realizes that the vast majority of people infected will recover, and so many people have it and don’t even know it because they have no symptoms at all. We all must remember, this is not a death sentence for everyone. Stay positive.

Andy Braner and his finace Julie Rau of Gaithersburg contracted COVID-19 at around the same time. Julie's three daughters also had the virus.
Andy Braner and his finace Julie Rau of Gaithersburg contracted COVID-19 at around the same time. Julie's three daughters also had the virus.

Andy Braner, 44, fiance

Five weeks ago, I felt the beginnings of coronavirus run through my body. Hot and cold, sweaty and clammy, I knew there was something wrong but didn’t have a clue what I was in for. I woke up Saturday, and the sheets on my bed were soaked with sweat, and I had a headache. It felt like the flu had set in, and I knew it was time for hydration and chicken soup. Little did I know the next turns of this journey would be some of the darkest days I’ve experienced in 44 years.

By Monday, my entire body ached, and I was scared. Fearful of the global pandemic, scared of the news stories filled with ventilators, positive cases and ultimate death, I knew I needed to get tested — and tested fast. My symptoms began to shift on Wednesday, and my lungs felt the tickle of the micro-invader working itself through my respiratory system.

That day, I met the doctor in his parking lot. He was geared up with the latest personal protective gear — full gown, mask and gloves. He took a long swab and stuck it so far up my nasal cavity I thought it might touch my brain. He told me it would be 24 hours. Stay hydrated. And if there was a moment I couldn’t breathe, call immediately.

I remember that night, after being on 600 milligrams of ibuprofen every four hours, the fever wouldn’t relent. Body aches and shallow breathing brought me to a place where I thought it was over. This is where I would die, alone in a quarantine during a global pandemic.

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Two days later, the test results were in, positive for coronavirus, and it was official. It was time to stretch, work out and fight back against this microbe invading my lungs. For the next several days, I felt like it was war. It was either me or the coronavirus, and I was determined to win. Full of vitamins C, D-3 and Zinc; coupled with stretching and breathing exercises, slowly I climbed out of the darkness.

Now four weeks away from the original diagnosis, I feel like I’m on the mend. My lungs are still scratchy, but I’m riding my bike again, walking without losing my breath and able to think clearly for the first time in weeks.

One thing is for sure, this coronavirus is real. It’s not made up, and even for someone who doesn’t have underlying conditions, it’s easy to catch from a grocery store or a gas station. (I am still unclear how I caught it, but those seem like the likely places).

For those who will get it, I would say there are dark days, but in the end you can survive. My hope is we can all move forward in a world with less fear than today, more health than yesterday, and we can build a future bright for those who come after us.

Courtney Rau, 22, daughter

As a senior broadcast and digital journalism major, I had read story after story about this new virus taking over the world, but what really was COVID-19? Was it made in a lab? Did it come from bats? I didn’t know, but I did know it was terrifying. This virus was killing thousands of people, shutting down nations, and changing life as we knew it.

My friends and I were headed on our last spring break trip of college in March when we were told to pack for an extra two weeks, just in case the virus closed campus. That Friday — the 13th — things started to change, fast: airports were empty, highways were eerily quiet, no one was leaving home. Looking back, it all happened so fast.

By April, classes had moved online, and graduation loomed over our heads. I was just starting to get re-acclimated to life at home with my mom and sisters when our world came crashing down. My mom was the first to feel symptoms and after that, the virus came like a domino effect, knocking us down one-by-one.

I tested positive for COVID-19 on April 26, and each day that passed, a new symptom arrived. Ghastly stomach pain, migraine headaches and shortness of breath. I’m no athlete, but even walking to the bathroom caused me to lose my breath. I had read about coronavirus chest pain and coughing, so why was I experiencing stomach pain?

April 29 was my worst day of symptoms and I wrote in my journal:

“Today was a horrible day. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. with piercing stomach pain that wouldn’t go away no matter what way I twisted my body. I tried to get out of bed and collapsed onto the ground — I know, it sounds dramatic, but it really was that bad."

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My last day of symptoms was May 2. Arguably the hardest part of the experience was feeling like an outcast.

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This time is unprecedented. Life as we know it was turned upside down, and we were forced to say goodbye to so much of the normal we once knew. But, if there’s one silver lining in this all, it’s that we got through it.

Kylie Rau of Gaithersburg gets tested for COVID-19.
Kylie Rau of Gaithersburg gets tested for COVID-19.

Kylie Rau, 19, daughter

Fear. The only word I can use to describe how I felt on the morning of April 17th.

I opened my eyes around 7 a.m. to uncontrollable body tremors. No matter what I did, I could not stop trembling. I had the worst fever I had ever experienced, but also chills. I was afraid. It was the middle of a pandemic. I was sick.

I rarely get sick, so I knew something was wrong. Was I going to die? Was I infected with the coronavirus that I had read so many terrible things about?

I pulled myself out of bed around 9 a.m. and took a scalding hot bath to attempt to warm myself up — probably not the best idea when I have a fever, but I couldn’t think of anything else I could do to get rid of my chills. I could not stand when I tried to get out, but used all my arm strength to push myself out of the bath and barely made it back to my bed.

I wrote in my journal: “I could breathe fine. So I definitely don’t have coronavirus right? I don’t have a cough. I could hold my breath for a minute. My nose was runny for a few days before that. Allergies. For sure. But why do I have a fever?”

As I lay in the bed my heart pounded as I thought about everything I had seen and heard about coronavirus. The videos of the horrible test that leaves people bleeding from their nose and in tears, the number of deaths, fights erupting in grocery stores when people stand too close. All I knew at this point was fear.

My mom gave me ibuprofen to help my 101 degree fever and pain. By the end of the night, the strangest thing happened. I woke up from my nap around 7 p.m. and I felt fine. Definitely not the coronavirus. Maybe food poisoning? I don’t know but it was something weird.

I was fine from that day on, minus the headache that stung every time I shifted my eyes. That I could definitely handle over chills any day. After a few days, Andy’s test results came back with positive results. That meant the rest of us probably had it too.

My mom and I got tested on April 27 in the parking lot of our doctor’s office. I don’t think I had ever been more nervous about anything. My palms dripped with sweat, and my heart pounded hard in my chest. The doctor stuck what looked like a large Q-tip up my nostril and it hurt, but really wasn’t too bad. Nothing like the videos I had seen on Tik Tok and Twitter.

My results came back on April 29 — positive. I had coronavirus. Lucky for me it was just one day of sickness and a few days when I lost my sense of taste and smell. The rest of the time I worked out in my basement, and did my normal school work as I quarantined so as not to infect anyone else.

There is still much to learn about coronavirus, but we can get through it.

The Rau family's primary care doctor prepares to administer a COVID-19 test.
The Rau family's primary care doctor prepares to administer a COVID-19 test.

Maddison Rau, 17, daughter

As the youngest person in my family, I never thought that the coronavirus would impact me as it did.

In March, my high school announced that we would be transitioning to online classes due to the pandemic and to comply with Gov. Larry Hogan’s stay-at-home guidelines. It was very hard to adapt to this new routine of learning through a screen for seven hours a day, and it definitely took time to get used to not seeing my friends every day.

After my family was first diagnosed, I wrote in my diary: “Today I woke up and am feeling 100%, even though I am living with four people who tested positive last week. I definitely have the virus but never felt the need to get tested because my doctor only had one more test available at that time. I wanted to give that test to my grandma because my grandpa had tested positive and they live together so it was important that she sees if she had it as well.”

I woke up nervous most days during my family’s coronavirus ordeal. I would check my temperature and see if I could hold my breath. Every day I asked myself: “I wonder if I ever actually had it and if I did, which is very likely, I wonder at what time period I had it or if I was the one who actually gave it to my family since I was asymptomatic.”

The only thing I would say from the experience is to be very careful in public. Not just around other people, but in case you are a carrier because you don’t always know. My family and I were very cautious when going out in public before contracting the virus, but still ended up with it. Sometimes things like this are just inevitable.

No matter how much caution we took — wearing plastic gloves to walk our dogs and masks and scarves to make sure nothing was reaching our nose and mouth; using loads and loads of antibacterial sprays and soaps whenever we walked through the door — we still contracted COVID-19.

Although the coronavirus has had an enormous impact on the entire world, it really did not take a huge toll on the health and well-being of my family as it has for many, and for that I am forever grateful.

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