Swanton residents Barb and Jim Rieben are classic snowbirds—Northern retirees who head south during the winter months to escape the inclement weather and frigid temperatures. Their annual destination is the sunny state of Florida, specifically the city of Ruskin, near Tampa. In previous years, this pilgrimage provided a pleasant reprieve for Barb and Jim. However, their most recent Florida visit this past winter and spring took a decidedly unpleasant turn.
According to Tina Tedrow, the Rieben’s daughter, Barb became ill in February and showed no improvement over the course of several weeks. After Tina begged her repeatedly to seek medical help, Barb finally relented and went to the ER, where she was tested for COVID-19. “The first test came back negative, so they assumed she just had a case of pneumonia. But after a month or so, she still wasn’t getting better, so she went back to the pulmonologist, who performed a branchial wash and then put her on a BiPAP machine a few days later. At that point, we thought we would have to go to Florida and bring her home, but she seemed to recover,” Tina says.
Still, Tina was uneasy about her mom’s condition, so when she learned that her oldest daughter, Jolyssa, would be available the last week of June, she decided to take advantage of that week to drive to Florida with Jolyssa and her boyfriend and bring her parents home.
It was only after arriving in Ruskin that the real scope of the problem hit her. “When we got to Florida, we discovered that both Mom and Dad were sick and in horrible condition. Dad’s blood pressure was through the roof, and Mom could barely breathe,” she says.
Tina describes the trip from Florida to Ohio as a nightmare. There was no air conditioning in the van they were driving, and Barb and Jim kept getting worse. It seemed one bad thing was happening after another. Then, in Tennessee, they got the news that Barb had COVID. “She had gone to the hospital on the prior Monday and was tested again but never told us, and they had been trying to reach her with the results but couldn’t. I’m Mom’s emergency contact, so they finally got hold of her through me while we were on the road,” Tina says.
Tina recalls that when she heard the news that her mom had tested positive for COVID, she went into a full-blown panic and took the first exit off the expressway. Fortunately, Jolyssa and her boyfriend, who were driving a U-Haul full of Barb and Jim’s belongings, were right behind them on the road and able to take the exit with her. “I had just spent six days with my parents and two days with the three of us crammed together in a van. As someone who works in the health field, I know what that can mean. My life flashed before my eyes!” she states. “I was also scared to death for Jolyssa because she has lupus, which puts her at higher risk if she gets COVID.”
The good news is, neither Tina, Jolyssa, or Jolyssa’s boyfriend developed COVID. However, when they arrived home and took Barb and Jim to St. Luke’s Hospital, they were soon informed that Jim had tested positive. After a stay at St. Luke’s, Jim was moved to The Laurels of Toledo to continue his recovery and rehab. Barb joined him soon thereafter.
Barb has since moved back home but still has a long way to go before her health is back to some semblance of normal. Tina notes that it’s difficult to see her mother in her current condition. “Mom has always been such a strong and powerful person. She’s a breast cancer survivor and super tough. Nothing keeps her down. To see her now versus how she looked before she went down to Florida takes some getting used to. I’ve had to reset my mind that this is someone who’s still recovering. As sick and fragile as she looks, I know she may very well still come out of this.”
During their stay at The Laurels, both Barb and Jim managed to beat COVID-19. As of this writing, Jim remains at The Laurels and is fighting an infection. Tina hopes he’ll get better and be able to return home soon. She’s also grateful to The Laurels for accommodating her parents in such a time of need. “It was very comforting and reassuring to me that The Laurels was able to make space for Dad and that they kept a bed available for Mom in their COVID unit, knowing she would be coming as well. They’re still not home together, so it’s not a Cinderella story happy ending just yet, but we’re getting there,” she says.
For information on The Laurels of Toledo, please call 419-536-7600 or visit www.laurelsoftoledo.com.