Maryland Department of Health
“I started this year with a father, and now he’s gone. This is what we need to be talking about. People are fighting so hard — just to live.” ~Sue Engelbert
For Sue and her family, a simple family tradition in her New Jersey hometown became a life-shattering encounter with COVID-19, which sickened her and her sister and tragically resulted in her father Edward’s death.
Sue, an educator at Baltimore’s National Aquarium, went to New Jersey to visit her family for her dad’s 74th birthday. Her sister Beth had a cough.
By the end of the weekend, both Sue and her father were sick but did not think of COVID-19 at that point. “We just thought Beth had given us a bug,” Sue recalled. Neither her mother nor her brother showed any symptoms of the virus.
After a few days of feeling better, the “second wave” of worsening symptoms hit all three of them. Beth recovered, but both Sue and Edward worsened. After two weeks, Edward was advised by his doctor via telehealth to stay home when he complained he was having trouble.
“The doctor told him that if he got worse, to go to the ER,” Sue said, her voice breaking as she remembers the terrible night of March 28 when she called 911. “So he went.”
That was the last time most of his family, including her, saw Edward in person.
Edward endured what Sue called “three weeks of torture.” For most of the three weeks, he was isolated in ICU and unable to have visitors. He struggled for every breath alone.
Each day, one person in her family would get a call about his progress. “If his oxygen levels were high, it was a good day and we thought he was getting better,” Sue said of the ordeal. “Then they would drop and it would be a bad day.”
On April 18, five weeks after Edward caught COVID-19, a call came telling the family that he was losing his fight. Only one person was allowed to see him before he died. “At least my mother got to say goodbye,” said Sue.
While still grieving, Sue suffered her own devastating “long COVID” symptoms. She stayed in New Jersey with her family, recovering at their home, for three months. She didn’t return to work until July.
“I can now walk without feeling like there is a Mack truck on my chest,” she explained. “But I still can’t smell anything. What little I can smell is terrible smells.”
Sue wants people to understand how COVID-19 can change your life in an instant. “People go out without a mask like it doesn’t matter. I want to scream at them – ‘Don’t you see!? My life is forever changed by this.’ This disease has a face — and it’s mine.”