WBEZ is chronicling Illinois’ road to recovery, bringing you stories of people as they move on from COVID-19 physically, emotionally and economically.
Sandy Wilson-Muriel and her mother Gladys Wilson were the first in their family to get sick with COVID-19 in mid-March. They think it was through their weekly prayer group.
Wilson-Muriel, 53, isolated herself from her husband and children and told her mother to do the same. But her father, Cliff, refused to leave her mother alone.
“[He] said that he was always going to be with her until the end — no matter what happened to her, he was never going to move by her side,” Wilson-Muriel said.
Her parents, Gladys and Cliff Wilson of Lincolnwood, Ill., have been married for 44 years and are inseparable. They were introduced by a mutual friend after Gladys and her daughters immigrated to the United States from Colombia.
Now, they’re both in their 70s with three grown children and six grandchildren. Gladys Wilson and her two daughters run an accounting firm together. They’re also extremely religious and host a weekly religious show called Vive Jesus that airs on various Spanish language TV and radio stations.
Gladys Wilson quickly got sicker and was hospitalized on March 26. Her daughter was hospitalized a day later. Then, Cliff and Gladys’ son, who lives with his parents and was taking care of them, were also hospitalized with COVID-19. Both parents were intubated and placed in comas. They both have various preexisting health conditions that made their conditions worse.
What Wilson-Muriel remembers most about that time was how much she worried about her family. She couldn’t eat or even bring herself to talk to her children and husband via video call.
“It was severe depression, severe anxiety,” she recalled. “You don’t know if you’re going to live and they’re going to live and how you’re going to take care of all this. You’re hoping you didn’t infect anyone else.”
Her sister, Adriana Wilson, also got sick but never got tested for COVID-19. She was left to take care of everything, juggling phone calls from nurses and doctors and managing the family business.
“The faith of God is the only thing that can guide you,’” she said, choking up. “I kept on saying that one is enough, but for [God] to take all four is too much for me. I don’t know if I can handle it.”
Two weeks passed before Gladys Wilson woke up alone in a hospital room. Her family couldn’t visit her because of the pandemic. Her husband was intubated in another room, away from her.
“When I [woke] up, it was the most horrible sensation when you feel so lonely,” she recalled. “I thought my daughter betray[ed] me and my son. No one was talking to me. I didn’t know anything.”
In that time, two of her children were released from the hospital, but Wilson would remain until mid-April. Her children had to follow her progress through video calls.
Wilson was in the hospital for so long, she needed rehabilitation to regain strength in her arms and legs. She also fell in the shower at the hospital and broke her knee.
She eventually got into a rehabilitation center called the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. But her husband Cliff was still hospitalized, too weak to join her. Their children knew their parents wanted to be together.
Wilson-Muriel said she told her father that he needed to show them he’s recovering. He started working with a therapist daily, and his breathing and oxygen levels improved. By mid-May, her father surprised doctors and nurses with his remarkable recovery, and he was able to join his wife at Shirley Ryan.
When he arrived, the nurses arranged a reunion between the married couple.
“They both got to see each other and for the first time in so many months,” Wilson-Muriel said. “They both cried, and they both held their hands, of course with gloves and being covered, but it was wonderful to see them on FaceTime.”
Wilson-Muriel said she’s still feeling the effects of COVID-19. She easily gets tired and has residual pain in her lungs. She’ll also have to watch whether the virus put strain on her heart.
Even though the doctor says she can and should interact with her family, she’s still taking precautions, even wearing gloves at home and keeping her distance. She said she fears passing this to another family member.
“My son, he suffers of allergies and asthma, and I couldn’t possibly think of him getting the same thing that I got,” she said.
On Friday, it was Gladys Wilson’s’ 74th birthday. She’s home now, continuing to recover. She got the ultimate birthday present: Her husband Cliff was also able to come home.
He said he doesn’t remember much about what happened before he woke up from a coma in the hospital. Now, he’s just thrilled to be with his wife.
“You miss somebody when you’ve been with all the time for 44 years,” he said.
After 64 days, they’re back home together.