CHEYENNE – Strong families stick together, no matter what. That’s why, when COVID-19 hit Wyoming, Misty Savage and her family already had a system in place to keep her mother as healthy as possible.
Savage’s mom, Julie Hunt, was diagnosed with a lung condition in 2014 that doctors in her then-home of Texas said would give her only another year to live – unless she got a bilateral double lung transplant.
“I said, ‘I can’t take care of you there, and we want to be with you,’ so she sold her house, quit her job and moved here,” Savage said. “She got the transplant here in 2015, barely survived that, was in the ICU for six months, and in the process her kidneys failed. So she’s on dialysis three days a week now, and is on a kidney transplant list that’s been on hold because of COVID-19.”
The living situation was originally meant to be short-term, but when it became clear she was going to have a hard time living on her own long term, Savage and her husband built a completely new home to share with Hunt. They’ve been under one roof, along with Savage’s two daughters, ever since, but Hunt has her own “suite” and deck where she’s been mostly isolating since 2015 because her immune system isn’t as strong as it used to be.
When the pandemic reached Laramie County, not much changed for Hunt, who already spends most of her day – even meals – in her own room. But everyone in her three-generation household has ramped up their personal sanitation practices to ensure that she’s as safe as possible.
Amy Phillips also lives in a multigenerational home in Cheyenne that found themselves well-prepared for the pandemic, particularly because they’ve always needed to take additional health-related precautions.
Phillips and her husband live with their daughter and their two 18-month-old granddaughters – a living situation that has always put them at a higher risk of getting sick because Phillips works at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center’s Wyoming PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) clinic, and her daughter works in a medical lab.
Phillips’ husband also drives to and from Platteville, Colorado, every day for work, so there are many ways in which a disease such as COVID-19 could infiltrate their home.
“He’s just very adamant about his handwashing, wears a mask, comes home and changes his clothes right away,” Phillips said. “(My daughter) does the same thing – she wipes off her shoes and puts her clothes in a trash bag and keeps them outside the house.”
Her husband is typically the only one from the house who they’ll send to the grocery store, and other than not going out to dinner or on other public outings, she said those have been the only major changes they’ve had to make to their everyday life. They already had the kinds of sanitation routines in place you need when living with higher-risk individuals during a pandemic, but Phillips said she does find herself wiping down more surfaces more often.
The family was already close-knit, she added, and they’ve continued to do most indoor activities together, including all meals. But concerns related to COVID-19 are still always in the back of her mind.
“With the little kids, sometimes things happen and you don’t always have those practices in place,” she said. “Like sharing cups, they don’t know – you can’t explain to them that you can’t drink out of their cups and whatnot.”
They’re humans, and she recognizes there’s no surefire way to keep everyone in the house 100% safe from coronavirus. She copes by remembering this is not a time to panic, but to continue following basic procedures like thorough handwashing everyone normally should do every day.
As for Savage’s family, life continues as normal as possible, but those same worries still linger.
“She’s on oxygen, so we’ve been on a mission since 2014 to extend her life, and now this COVID-19 has put a big barrier to that mission, for sure,” Savage said. “We’ve already been to the hospital three times in the last two months – she’s been tested twice for COVID-19 and been negative both times.”
Savage recently came to the realization that what her mom needs is a balance of practices that will help not only her physical health, but her mental health.
Sure, everyone in their house needs to continue to sanitize themselves when they come in and out and to limit their physical contact, but they also need to give Hunt the freedom she needs to find joy in the same things that brought her joy pre-pandemic.
One of those things is visiting with her best friend in town, Carol. As a self-professed social butterfly, Hunt admits it’s been hard to forgo their weekly visits.
“She told me she was thinking about stopping by one day and was afraid I wouldn’t be happy about it, so she didn’t,” Hunt said with a laugh, adding the two will likely soon reunite on her deck for a socially-distant outdoor visit.
“Carol said she wanted to poke her head in and just say hi and wave, and I said, ‘That’s up to you,’” Savage said of the conversation with her mom. “‘You have to balance the risk with your own well being. You have to make that decision for yourself. I’m not going to tell you how to manage your relationships and your well being.’”
As the weather warms up and those porch visits became more of a possibility, Savage looks forward to seeing her mom as happy as possible. It’s been a long road, dealing with all of Hunt’s health problems, but Savage wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It definitely is a challenge, but it’s so worth it because it’s our core belief as a family,” she said. “My daughters get to spend time with their grandma, their nana, and I think it’s a life lesson for them and gives them a perspective about relationships, and about how fragile life is and how important our time is together.”
And on the bright side, Savage added, maybe her daughters will be inspired to take care of her someday.