By Stan Finger / Wichita Journalism Collaborative
No one has to tell Maria Gonzalez how real COVID-19 is.
“It’s a nightmare,” she said.
Her mother came down with it. Her three children, too. She got it as well.
But no one was hit harder than her father-in-law, who was hospitalized on July 12 and placed on a ventilator days later.
My heart aches for my father-in-law,” said Gonzalez, who is 33. “He’s another father to me…I cry every single day, wanting to take my father-in-law’s place (in the hospital), because it hurts.”
After nearly a month on a respirator, Alejandro Gonzalez died on Aug. 9. He was 65.
He had traveled to Baja California to help take care of his 98-year-old father, who had come down with the virus. After taking care of his father for a month, Alejandro returned to Wichita. His father died shortly after he left.
Alejandro immediately returned to work as a truck driver when he returned to Wichita, but began to feel ill at the end of June. That’s when Maria came down with it, too. She developed the chills for a day and her fever rose to 101.
“The next morning, the only thing I had was a sore throat,” she said.
She slept all day that Friday and felt pretty normal on Saturday – except she’d lost her senses of taste and smell.
“I couldn’t smell my favorite perfume, and it’s a strong perfume,” she said. “That threw me off a little.”
Her nose began to run a little that night, and then the cough arrived.
“It was an up and down roller coaster” after that, including losing her appetite. Her children — a 12-year-old son and two daughters, age 11 and 13 — became sick the same time she did.
“The weird thing is, we all showed different symptoms…we thought it was allergies,” Maria said.
Her oldest child’s only symptom of note was the loss of smell. Her youngest suffered fatigue and severe headaches and “would sleep most of the time,” Gonzalez said.
Her son complained of a sore throat when he woke up and his eyes turned red and would itch. Both Gonzalez and her son endured severe abdominal pain.
“I felt like all my guts were going to come out,” she said.
Her children and mother have pretty well recovered, but Gonzalez has been plagued by a persistent cough and occasional cold night sweats. Her senses of taste and smell have recovered somewhat, but not fully. She was already working from home before the pandemic struck, and she has been able to keep working on days she has the energy for it.
Somehow, through it all, her husband has been able to avoid coming down with the virus, even though they all live under the same roof. Like his father and grandfather before him, he is diabetic, making him more vulnerable to the worst the virus can do.
“This thing is crazy,” Maria said. “It attacks the way it wants to attack, I guess.”
Everyone washes their hands frequently and they sanitize everything they touch to protect the one family member who hasn’t come down with COVID. They even wear masks inside the house.
“We try to take every precaution we can here at home,” she said.
Her children have not complained about being stuck at home in quarantine, she said.
They want to be there to help however they can.
“My children have the biggest heart ever, the greatest spirit ever,” Maria said. “They are my big support system.”
This story was produced as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of seven media companies, working together to bring timely and accurate news and information to Kansans.