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Separated in their own home, a Michigan family adjusts to coronavirus

That sadness on her husband’s face will forever define COVID-19 for LaShawn Rushing.

As Darrick Rushing drove home late Sunday from University of Michigan Hospital to their Canton Township home, his wife of 21 years had been turning down the bed for him.

He had spent the last day struggling for breath, convinced it was asthma and maybe a sinus infection. Diagnosed instead with COVID-19, doctors had deemed Darrick, 51, not sick enough for a hospital bed, sending him home instead for self-quarantine.

“It’s like someone hitting you in the chest and the stomach at the same time,” the former sheriff’s deputy told Bridge this week. “You try to catch your breath. You can’t.”

And so on Monday night, Darrick Rushing stood in their bedroom door at the couple’s home.

Over the top edge of the bright-yellow surgical mask, LaShawn recalled, were the eyes of a man who has been told he must cut himself off from his family for 14 days, maybe more.

She wanted to hold him.

“It will be OK,” she said instead. “We will get through this together.”

Life redefined

For the Rushings, Friday is Day 5 of life redefined by COVID-19 and the precaution guidelines set out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wash hands often. Disinfect. Wear masks. Cover sneezes and coughs.

And absolutely no unnecessary contact.

This is the new normal for thousands of Michigan families who either have tested positive for COVID-19 and sent home to self-isolate or those who have been turned away because of limited testing supplies but told by providers to assume they have COVID-19 infection and to self-quarantine.

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Every few hours, LaShawn, 52, climbs the 15 stairs to the couple’s master bedroom that Derrick hasn’t left since Monday. She knocks on the familiar white door and leaves a wooden tray of hot tea and honey, sandwich or fruit and medicine for the husband who she said “makes me laugh when I least expect it, because when I least expect it is when I need it most.”

From the other side, Darrick counts several seconds until he knows the woman he loves for a strong will and persistence has moved away. 

Then he slides the tray inside and closes the door.

“I’m so scared I will make her sick,” he said.

Days that topple into each other

On a normal day, LaShawn teaches high school students; Darrick works security. 

But now there is no work to go to. There is no church for now where Darrick is a song leader, and no school day for 10-year-old Zoie, a fourth-grader at Bentley Elementary School in Canton Township.

The parents have told their 19-year-old twins and college students, Alex and Andrew, to put their fast food jobs on hold. 

Visiting friends? Grocery shopping? Absolutely not, their parents have made clear.

The 2009 white Malibu they share sits in the driveway.

“We know that any of us could be infected and not know it. I don’t want to be the person who spreads it into the community, so we are being very, very careful,” LaShawn said.

All this means that a normally busy household has turned into long hours that have stretched into days that are beginning to topple onto each other.

There are only so many games to play, nails to paint, silly pictures to share, and movies to watch.

Wednesday afternoon was Darrick’s lowest point so far. Zoie stood outside his door. She wants to be a doctor one day and just a few weeks earlier, she’d worn her brilliant purple dress and did her hair for a daddy-daughter masquerade dance at school, he said.

Couldn’t she just see him? she pleaded. Please?

“I said ‘No, you can’t come in,’” Darrick said. “I said, ‘You need to go away.’”

TV? “I’m done looking at it.”

Social media? It’s too infuriating — the way people make light of or spread misinformation about a virus that has killed one friend, a fellow sheriff’s deputy, and sent Darrick’s older brother to the St. Mary Mercy Livonia.

Darrick said he’s called his siblings to find out more: “They tell me he’s fine, and I just need to concentrate on getting better, myself.”

Yet in this, there have been moments of reconnection, too — the giggles between LaShawn and Zoie after unexpectedly raucous matches on a Wii tennis court, the goofball energy of pent-up teenagers, and the calls of concern from people who long ago fell out of touch with them.

Darrick Rushing has realized, he said, “how much you touch people because this many years later, they call and they still care so much.” 

Taking no chances

Before they go to bed each night — LaShawn has been sleeping on the couch in the family room — there is one last family ritual. LaShawn, the twins, and Zoie each grab wads of Clorox wipes.

Everything gets wiped down — counters, sinks, door knobs, bathroom surfaces, phones, and light switches. 

Everything, LaShawn Rushing makes clear.

“We aren’t taking chances,” she said.

With a diagnosis of COVID-19, this separation within their own home could stretch another two weeks. LaShawn is keeping a close eye out on any signs of symptoms in each other. They both worry for their children. Darrick keeps looking at the backyard from his bedroom window. 

He thinks he’ll plant a  garden — something he’d previously never considered.  The family will grow cucumbers and tomatoes and strawberries, he said.

They will pray. They will stay connected over Facetime and text.

And they will look forward to swinging open all the doors on the house again for good, LaShawn said: “I miss my bed. I miss my husband.”

“We’ll get through it,” Darrick said. “Right now, though, this is a gut punch."

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