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WKSU, our public radio partners in Ohio and across the region and NPR are all continuing to work on stories on the latest developments with the coronavirus and COVID-19 so that we can keep you informed.

A loss from COVID-19 provides an opportunity to reconnect

Erin Long holds a picture of her and her dad on her phone
Kelly Krabill
/
WKSU
Erin Long stands outside of her parents house in Massillon and holds a picture of her and her dad. Long's dad died from COVID-19 March 17.

More than 1 1/2 years into the pandemic, COVID continues to take a toll. Some families have used social media to share about loved ones who have tested positive for the coronavirus. I reconnected with a former colleague who had shared her family’s story on Facebook.

I pulled up to Erin Long’s white split-level house in Canton. Her steps are spacious and slowly curve as you walk to the door. Before even knocking, I saw her holding her dog’s collar. She opened the door to greet me and the white curly haired enormously tall Goldendoodle immediately jumped up, now hovering over me and knocked over a glass pumpkin off of the corner table.

I used to work with Erin. I guess you could say we were co-workers, but we had different jobs, in different departments and on different floors. I haven’t seen her in a while but from seeing her social media posts, I know that her life has changed in the last six months. Her dad died from Covid-19 March 17.

It was a Thursday when I got together with her. We walked through her house to the kitchen where her husband was putting raw chicken on a plate to grill outside for dinner, and her son was playing with the dog.

Erin Long's deck
Chris Long
Erin Long sits on the chairs on her deck to think about her dad because was an outdoorsy guy.

“What are you guys making tonight?” I asked.

“Barbeque chicken with some Mexican rice, but it’s a Japanese barbeque sauce,” Chris Long said.

We walked out of the sliding door, stood a few feet from the grill and talked about what it’s been like without her dad.

“You know, I’ll blow through a day and think like, ‘Oh I haven’t even really thought much about him today.’ And then there’s days that I mean it hits, you know, right when I get up, and it’s all day,” Erin said.

Erin said they recently finished their deck. It’s brown with white trim and has patio furniture. She likes to sit out here and think about her dad. He liked the outdoors. A swing set for her son sits to the right of the yard. The neighbors’ dogs keep barking from over the fence, and Erin continues to hold her dog’s leash, so he doesn’t jump on me again.

“You are such a horse,” she said to her dog.

Erin Long standing with her dog
Chris Long
Erin Long stands with her goldendoodle in the kitchen.

“He got to meet him before he got sick and my dad’s like, ‘Did he have a brother or a sister available,’ and I kept thinking like, ‘Oh my God, thank God they didn’t go back and get a brother or a sister because my mom would be stuck with this horse,’” Erin said.

Her dad was in the hospital for most of February and half of March. Only her mom was allowed to visit him because of the coronavirus restrictions, but Erin called the nurse’s station every day to check on her dad’s status. While driving to jury duty on March 16, she called the hospital as part of her daily routine, and the nurse told her to come in for a family meeting.

“I immediately pulled over in a parking lot and started sobbing on the phone with her," she said. "I went in to see him with my mom and he was like, ‘Oh hey’ and just talking like normal, and I'm like, ‘This is not normal like I'm coming in here because you're like you're done. I know why I'm here.’”

She said her dad had the virus for about 2 months. He started to feel sick in January with a stuffy nose and a sore throat, and he got tested for COVID. Her mom called her a few days later and told her that it came back positive. Erin said that the virus attacked her dad’s lungs. He was released from his first trip to the emergency room, but a few days later his oxygen monitor showed his levels to be in the low 80s. A healthy read is at least 95 so his wife called the ambulance. He then spent about 10 days in the hospital before being discharged.

“He was home on really low oxygen,” she said. “He was down to like two liters of oxygen. He was in his man cave in the basement. I mean walking back and forth, paying bills, going to the bathroom. I mean just doing normal and then his pulse ox started dropping again.”

Erin Long's dad's man cave
Lisa Tracy
The room that was the man cave for Erin Long's dad.

We drove over to see her dad’s man cave. Erin said he spent about 80% of his time here. It’s wall-to-wall wood paneling, has a few recliners and a leather couch. Erin comes down here every week to help out her mom.

“Every time we come down here to pay bills, it’s like a jab in the stomach a little bit,” Erin said.

When his oxygen dropped again, he went back to the hospital. But this time, he was never discharged. The hospital began hospice services for him there.

“They did some X-rays and stuff, and his lungs were just obliterated,” she said. “You looked at the X-ray, and it was like you were looking at the cloudiest sky you’ve ever seen.”

Erin’s dad began hospice the day of the family meeting and passed away at 1:06 a.m. the next morning.

“I just got those last 12 hours with him and that was that was it,” she said. “It just sucks being a daddy's girl, and daddy's not here.”