JERUSALEM (JTA) — In late February, I flew to Long Island to help my 77-year-old mom following her knee replacement surgery.
I arrived in the United States with the remnants of a mild winter cold, a slight cough and runny nose — nothing I was concerned about. I spent most of my time at my parents’ home, save the occasional outing and a shiva call at the home of a friend whose husband had just passed away.
On the flight home, I had a hard time sleeping, which is not unusual for me on a transatlantic flight. I returned to Israel with a headache, which I presumed was from the lack of sleep.
I wasn’t mandated to quarantine once I returned to Israel, but I thought that was the best option since I wasn’t feeling well.
I’m glad I made that decision. The following morning, my cough was worse, and my husband suggested I get tested for the coronavirus, even though I didn’t have a fever.
I am a speech therapist who works with children with special needs, and because I work with many children who have compromised immune systems, I decided to check it out. I called Magen David Adom, the Israeli ambulance service, and told them my symptoms and that I’d just returned from abroad. They said a doctor would get back to me within a few hours.
After a few hours, a paramedic called to say that he would be there in seven minutes. I was instructed to be ready, have a work surface cleared and be sitting on the couch. The medics swabbed my throat and nostrils.
The following day, I received a call from a representative of the Ministry of Health to tell me I had tested positive.
This sequence of events might be surprising to my friends and family in the United States, where tests are not readily available. It was certainly shocking to me. I couldn’t believe the results and kept repeating, “What did you say?”
They immediately wanted the details of my flights and where I’d been since returning, but I was too shaken to answer. I handed the phone to my husband, Steve, and he gave them all the information they needed.
I was told I would be hospitalized at Hadassah Medical Organization’s Ein Kerem campus in Jerusalem. A security guard phoned me and asked me to call as I approached the hospital so that someone could meet me and accompany me to the segregated facility.
I was the fourth coronavirus patient to arrive at Hadassah Hospital. I am sharing a room with two caregivers from a local facility for the elderly. I have now been here for seven days, and am among the first COVID-19 patients being transferred to the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv, which the army has converted to an isolation facility for patients.
The doctors and nurses here are caring, compassionate and professional — although it’s hard to get used to a team approaching you in full protective gear. Dr. Ran Nir-Paz, Hadassah Hospital’s infectious disease expert, met with each of us and spoke to us through a sealed window about the virus and addressed our concerns.
Most communication with hospital staff is conducted via an intercom and a one-way camera — the medical staff see us, but we don’t see them. When the medical team makes its rounds, we are all notified to put on our masks before anyone enters. I also got to see one of my daughters, a doctoral student in pharmacology at Hadassah Hospital, through a small glass window in the door when she dropped off some supplies I needed. We waved and blew kisses to one another; it made my day.
In order to trace where and when I could have contracted and spread the coronavirus during my trip, I reviewed my visit to the United States with Dr. Nir-Paz. It’s possible I was exposed to the virus or to someone asymptomatic in the shiva house while making a condolence call. But I don’t think I will ever know for sure and at this point it doesn’t matter.
I had developed a fever and am taking medication, but mostly I’m disturbed by my sleep patterns. If I wake up at 2 or 3 a.m., I make contact with my family in New York.
I’m worried about my parents, who were exposed to the coronavirus. My mother has a cough and was tested, but my 81-year-old father’s doctors said he didn’t need to be tested because he isn’t coughing.
My husband is in quarantine at our home in Israel. Our four adult children are not allowed to visit.
It’s hard to know what to expect, as we are living through history in the making. Even the doctors don’t have all the answers on how to treat this new disease. It’s anxiety-provoking, but I know I’m in a good place. With God’s help and continued difficult changes to all of our lives to slow the coronavirus’ spread, we will all get through this.
MERYL JACOBS is originally from Woodmere, N.Y. and now lives in Israel, where she is a speech therapist who works with special needs children.
In the photo above she is shown in the Hadassah Outbreak Ward.