SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
One of the most harrowing aspects of the coronavirus are people who are gravely ill in hospitals and alone - save for medical staff - and who are isolated from their loved ones at their loneliest moments. Louis Reese, a police officer in New Orleans, tested positive for COVID-19 after a week of fever. He and his wife, Tara, who is a schoolteacher, were forced to say goodbye in the emergency room as her husband was already undergoing chemotherapy for colon cancer. Tara Reese thought that she and their children might never see her husband again.
Well, we are happy that Tara and Louis Reese can join us now, speaking from their home in Metairie, La. Louis Reese, how are you?
LOUIS REESE: I'm fine, sir - doing good.
SIMON: What was your time in the hospital like?
L REESE: Well, at the very beginning, I could not breathe at all. I was in a lot of distress - had a real high fever - all the symptoms of a flu times 10. It was real bad.
SIMON: You knew, of course, that your family loved you and cared about you. But could you have any contact with them?
L REESE: At the very beginning, I didn't - no, sir. But then, later on - once I got off the ventilator and, again, to a regular room, I was able to FaceTime and call them.
SIMON: What do you remember of those 17, 18 days in the hospital, sir?
L REESE: It was kind of surreal because there was nobody around. That first weekend - that Sunday - was the worst day. I think I had a real high fever. So I could hear and see, but I couldn't speak to anybody and I couldn't move my body.
SIMON: That must have been frightening.
L REESE: Yes, sir, it was. It's the first time I'd had that sensation.
SIMON: How are you breathing now?
L REESE: Better. Now, I'm not 100% capacity - now every day is a little bit better.
SIMON: Tara Reese, thank you for joining us.
TARA REESE: No problem.
SIMON: What was that goodbye like there in the hospital?
T REESE: You know, they told me to bring him to the ER, so I did. And, you know, the lady started in processing him, and then another lady was about to start his temperature. And she's like, there are no visitors allowed. So you'll have to tell him goodbye. And so I just broke down, and I was crying. It was like, oh, my God, I don't know if I'm ever going to see him again. And that was my last encounter with him. That's all I kept thinking of. And then when I got into the car, I just broke down crying. And I was just hysterical.
SIMON: And how often could you have any contact? I mean, a phone call, FaceTime - whatever.
T REESE: Well, he would text me, but it was real sporadic because he would sleep a lot.
SIMON: You have two children, who are 12 and 17.
T REESE: Yes.
SIMON: What was it like for them and your family those 18 days?
T REESE: It's been hard on them. My 17-year-old - he had already researched, you know, about the longer someone stays on a ventilator, the worse it can be for their lungs. My 12-year-old was supposed to be doing online school. And she was having a really hard time focusing because, you know, for the most part, she was with me. And a lot of times, I would just break down crying. And she would come sit by me and just let me cry. And, you know, she'd pat me. So she was almost taking on an adult role.
T REESE: But she was comforting me.
SIMON: I don't know if there's anyone better, at the moment, of whom I would rather ask this question. What have you learned about what's really important in life?
T REESE: My life was very, very, very hectic. I didn't spend a lot of time at home, like, cooking meals and - it was always go, go, go, go, go. If things do get back to normal, I'm definitely going to scale back a lot of my extracurricular activities and, you know, spend more time with my husband and my family because that's what's important.
SIMON: Louis and Tara Reese, thank you so much for speaking with us.
L REESE: Thank you, sir.
T REESE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.