At the worst, Jeff and Diane Bell were so sick that they couldn’t answer a phone call from a doctor urging them to go to the emergency room.
“I was scared,” Mrs. Bell said of being admitted to the intensive care unit at AHN Grove City for treatment of COVID-19.
A month later, the Grove City couple is doing much better, and both said they are so grateful for all of the love, care and support they’ve received from friends, family, neighbors, hospital staff and complete strangers.
“It made me realize how many people care about you,” said Jeff Bell, 65.
After hospital treatment for their pandemic-related illnesses, both are now recovering at home.
“We are just so blessed,” said Diane Bell, 62.
After 40 years of marriage, both are retired. Diane worked for dentist Dr. W. Keith Appel. Jeff taught elementary and middle school reading in Grove City Area School District, where he was also the longtime high school football coach.
They’re fairly active and neither have underlying medical conditions that would have made them susceptible to contracting the illness.
“We’re still trying to figure out how exactly we got it,” Jeff Bell said.
Before Gov. Tom Wolf began issuing closure orders for schools and businesses, and stay-at-home mandates, in mid-March, Jeff Bell visited Top Golf in Pittsburgh, and his wife attended a gymnastics meet.
But since it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to show up — and it’s possible to contract the disease from someone who is infected but not yet showing symptoms — he said it’s difficult to pinpoint how they might have caught the virus.
Toward the end of March, Jeff Bell had been fishing in Volant, making sure to keep his distance from others.
The next day, he started to feel sick and wondered if he was coming down the flu. He had body aches, headache, loss of appetite and a fever, and it wasn’t long before Diane Bell started to experience similar symptoms.
They checked in with their family physician, Dr. David Hoyt, who advised them to take acetaminophen and monitor their temperatures.
When the Bells first heard about the coronavirus, they weren’t really worried about getting sick. But when their symptoms started to worsen, Diane Bell was certain that they had the virus.
They were tested April 1 at Butler Memorial Hospital, where a tent, staffed by two employees wearing masks and shields, was set up in the parking lot. The test is done by sticking a long swab up the patient’s nasal passages and keeping it there long enough to get a sample.
“It makes your eyes water and it’s very uncomfortable,” Jeff Bell said.
The Bells were supposed to receive results five days after taking the test. During that time, their conditions deteriorated while they kept checking in with their doctor. They contacted staff April 6 at Butler Memorial Hospital, which confirmed they both tested positive for COVID-19.
That evening, their home phone kept ringing, but neither of them could get up to answer. Soon, there was a knock at the door.
It was Lori Wise, a nurse for Dr. Ed Smith, who was on call while Hoyt was out of town. The missed calls had come from Smith, to tell the Bells to get to the hospital immediately.
A relative drove them to AHN Grove City hospital, which the Bells said was well prepared to handle COVID-19 cases. They said the staff was reassuring while checking oxygen levels and ran tests. Diane Bell’s oxygen saturation levels had dropped to 74, well below the normal range of 90 to 100.
She stayed in the ICU for 10 days while her husband was in a regular patient room for five days.
Diane Bell’s treatment included having her lie on her stomach for 24 hours to help improve her oxygen saturation, a step initiated to help her avoid putting her on a ventilator. She said it was uncomfortable, but she started to improve in a few days and was finally able to talk to her husband on the phone — a big help since no visitors are allowed in the ICU as part of the hospital’s pandemic restrictions.
“That was the worst part of the whole thing,” Jeff Bell said of not being able to talk to his wife.
They were treated with oxygen, anti-nausea medication and anti-malaria medication.
The Bells credit the AHN Grove City hospital staff and encouragement from loved ones for getting them through such a difficult time.
“They actually are your family ... They’re your lifeline ... I love all of them,” Mrs. Bell said of the hospital staff.
And since the Bells are so active in the community, a lot of the people taking care of them at the hospital already knew them.
That combined with prayers from local churches, cards, meals left on their porch and more made them feel very lucky to have so much support.
It was wonderful to return home, where Mrs. Bell is still checked by a visiting nurse and continuing with breathing treatments.
Their lungs are clear, and things are slowly returning to normal as they continue to build up their strength.
Family members are running errands for the Bells, who will soon get more chest X-rays and another COVID-19 test.
Doctors do not know if they can get it again, the Bells said.
“The biggest thing about it is the unknown,” Bell said.
They are frustrated to see that some people are not taking this virus seriously, or they think that the restrictions and precautions are over-the-top.
The Bells were certain that they were taking all of the proper precautions, and they feel it’s a bit premature to start reopening some things in this part of the state.
“Just don’t let your guard down,” Mrs. Bell said.
“This is for real,” Bell said.