Ammi Atler doesn’t know when she’ll hug her children again. She can see them from the Airstream camper she moved into Monday, but to keep them safe, she plans to keep her distance.
The veteran nurse left her Rochester Hills residence Monday morning to work her first shift in contact with coronavirus patients, at Ascension Providence Hospital in Southfield.
At the end of her shift Monday, she told Bridge she’ll avoid her house and head straight to the silver camper in the driveway -- lent to her by a couple she’d never met, who wanted to do something for the frontline heroes in Michigan’s hospitals.
“I don’t know when I’ll sit with my family again,” Atler said. “I feel scared and lonely.
“But in all this crazy and horribleness, you’re seeing the best of people.”
- The latest: Michigan coronavirus map, locations, updated COVID-19 news
- What Michigan’s coronavirus school closure means for you
- What jobs are exempt from Michigan coronavirus lockdown? You may be surprised.
Michigan has the third-most confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, with over 17,000 cases and 727 deaths as of Monday morning when Atler was beginning her first shift. Medical professionals, working to save the lives of coronavirus patients, are at a great risk of contracting the virus themselves, particularly with personal protective gear running dangerously low.
At least four Michigan nurses have died in southeast Michigan, where Atler lives and works. Between 600 and 700 employees of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit have tested positive – a startling figure that accounts for about 1 in 25 of all confirmed coronavirus cases in the state.
Atler didn’t hesitate to accept an order to switch from her normal post assisting cardiac surgery to helping patients dealing with a potentially deadly, contagious virus. “That’s what I took an oath to do,” she said.
But she said she also knew it meant she had to leave her home, her husband and three children, ages 11, 12 and 16. One daughter has severe asthma, an underlying condition that can make the respiratory coronavirus more serious.
“I have to worry about the possibility of bringing home something that is potentially deadly,” Atler said.
Social media is dotted with anecdotes of medical professionals living in their garages or renting hotel rooms to avoid the possibility of spreading the virus to their families.
A Facebook group popped up in recent weeks to help connect doctors and nurses with RV owners willing to lend their campers so the medical professionals can stay close to home, but not infect their family.
“This is going to sound crazy....I live in Rochester Hills and moving to patient care on Monday....anyone have an RV in their driveway they would love to loan me so I don’t bring this home to my family!!!? My daughter is severe asthmatic and I especially worry about her! This way I can self-isolate and protect my family!! Please just let me know and know it is appreciated beyond any words!!!!”
A day later, two strangers -- Robert and Sherri Jameson or Royal Oak -- pulled into Atler’s driveway with a silver Airstream trailer.
“There are a lot of people staying home not knowing what they can do -- they’re paralyzed,” said Robert Jameson, 48. “Our company makes T-shirts, it’s the farthest thing from essential. But there’s always something you can do.”
Atler said she is relieved to be close to her family. “When they saw [the Facebook post], they didn’t hesitate – they were here in 24 hours,” Atler said.
The Atler family was scheduled to be on a cruise this week. Instead of looking at the ocean from the deck of a ship, Atler will be on the deck of their home, “sitting 12 feet away to talk to my kids,” before heading to a camper to sleep.
“This could be weeks? Months? Nobody knows,” Atler said. “It makes me feel ill.”
Still, she can see her family. That's a better situation than some of her colleagues are enduring while trying to keep their families safe.
“There’s lots of creative ways to say, ‘What can I do? How can I help people who are helping the sick people,’” Robert Jameson said. “We can give a nurse one thing less to worry about.”
- Hey, Michigan, here’s how to make a face mask to fight coronavirus
- Michigan coronavirus dashboard: cases, deaths and maps
- Michigan families can get food, cash, internet during coronavirus crisis
- How to give blood in Michigan during the coronavirus crisis
- 10 ways you can help Michigan hospital workers right now
- Michigan coronavirus Q&A: Reader questions answered
- How to apply for Michigan unemployment benefits amid coronavirus crisis