For new and expecting parents in the coronavirus age, there is almost no worse scenario than what Urszula Osborne now faces.
Her 40-year-old husband, Ray Osborne, is intubated on a ventilator and in a medically induced coma at Massachusetts General Hospital after contracting the coronavirus a few weeks ago. His kidneys have failed, so he’s on intermittent dialysis, too.
Urszula Osborne is 41 and 7½ months pregnant with their second child. She has also tested positive for coronavirus. She’s isolating in their Quincy apartment with their 3-year-old son, Sebastian. She’s so ill, she can barely speak.
“I’m still very weak, I can’t eat much, I’m forcing myself to drink. I started taking high calorie shakes because I’m worried about the baby," Osborne said in a text message Wednesday. “The cough is so bad it makes you vomit."
Osborne is a nurse at Mass. General in the cardiac surgery department. Her husband has been a restaurant manager at Buttermilk & Bourbon in Back Bay. They’ve been married 11 years. Ray Osborne has high blood pressure, but otherwise, his wife said, he’s healthy. She doesn’t know how they got sick; her best guess is she picked up the virus while riding the T to work. But on the evening of March 16, Urszula developed a sore throat and runny nose, and her husband had chills and a 102 degree fever. They were both so weak, they could do little more than sleep.
She suspected they both had COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. But when she called her primary care physician on March 18 and described their symptoms, her doctor only agreed to test her because she’s pregnant and works in health care. Her husband’s symptoms, she was told, were too mild to meet the testing criteria.
But his condition rapidly deteriorated. By March 23, he was dehydrated and had trouble breathing. He was too weak to drive to the hospital and Urszula doesn’t have her license, so she called for an ambulance. That morning, he was admitted in the emergency department at Mass. General, where he later tested positive for COVID-19.
“I felt scared and helpless. I was so confused about what was going on. I, myself, was so weak I couldn’t function,” Urszula Osborne said. “Just to sleep and feed my child were my two priorities after they took Ray away. And it’s been like that since.”
Meanwhile, her worries have multiplied. She’s been stressed for days, concerned she’d have to use some of the 12 weeks of paid time off she’d saved for her maternity leave while she recuperates at home. But she was relieved to learn Thursday night of a new MGH policy that allows employees who test positive for COVID-19 to stay home with pay and without using their accrued time off.
Her husband’s boss has laid off the entire staff at Buttermilk & Bourbon, but he agreed to keep Ray on the payroll for now. Urszula is grateful, but she doesn’t know how long his employer’s generosity will last.
As for her husband, all she can do is hope and pray.
“I’m obviously worried about Ray, I want him to get better but they keep telling me they can’t make any promises and to take it day by day,” she said. "I’m worried Ray will not be there when the baby is born. . . . I’m just so exhausted.”
Perplexingly, her initial test results came back negative for coronavirus. Her diagnosis was only confirmed last week after she was tested again at MGH’s emergency department. She was still ill, with chest pain, shortness of breath, and mild pneumonia, but healthy enough to go home with Sebastian.
In the meantime, Osborne’s co-worker Angela Abate, who’s also a cardiac surgery nurse at MGH, has stepped in to help. Osborne is an immigrant from Poland; her husband’s family is out of state. With no nearby relatives to assist them, Abate has begun driving from her home in Cohasset to drop off groceries and medication in the Osbornes’ driveway.
If Urszula’s condition also declines, Abate has agreed to take in Sebastian until her sister can come from Poland.
“I’m thinking in my head this woman is alone, pregnant . . . and she can barely breathe and her husband is fighting for his life right now,” Abate said Wednesday.
Beyond delivering groceries, there is little else Abate and others can do to help Osborne, who is still sick and contagious. When Abate and her 12-year-old daughter left groceries at the apartment last week, they could only watch from the car while Osborne struggled with the bags of food. When her daughter reached for the door to help, Abate had to restrain her: “I said, ‘We can’t go near her right now.’ It’s awful. It’s like you have this big scarlet letter."
The Osbornes’ friends and colleagues have rallied around them to help the couple finance their day-to-day expenses and Ray’s rehabilitation therapy, should he recover. A GoFundMe campaign, organized by Abate, has raised more than $23,000.
On Tuesday, Osborne said, Ray’s doctors tried changing the settings on his ventilator, to see if he could breathe at all on his own, but he couldn’t. His white blood cell count is high, which means his body is fighting off infection, but, according to his wife, his doctors don’t know where the infection is located.
Osborne is, fortunately, feeling a little better. She still lacks the energy to cook or clean or play with Sebastian. She hasn’t washed their clothing because she’s not strong enough to carry the laundry basket up or down the stairs. She hopes her future daughter is resilient enough to survive. Early studies suggest it may be possible for infected mothers to pass the coronavirus on to their fetuses. Osborne’s more pressing concern, however, is delivering in a hospital full of COVID-19 patients, aided by nursing staff who have been exposed to the virus — and without her husband by her side.
“He was there when Sebastian was coming . . . and he was just so wonderful,” Osborne continued by text. “I don’t know how to do this by myself.”
The 3-year-old is too young to understand why his father isn’t home, but Osborne can tell he misses him.
“He woke up this morning and his first words were, ‘Is Dada home yet?’ ” Osborne said. "He keeps trying to leave the house and go to the beach and the playground. His favorite thing is picking shells and rocks at the beach. . . . That’s what Ray and him do a lot on their days off together. He says he’ll make him the nicest card with dinosaurs and a squid.”