Constable: Palatine pair survives virus, still wears masks and practices social distancing
Bob Dix first heard the word coronavirus "when I had it," he says.
Without using their names, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker hosted a news conference on Feb. 28 to announce that the 77-year-old Palatine CPA was the third patient in Illinois to be diagnosed with the virus, and his wife, Regina, 76, was the fourth.
Regina Dix showed no symptoms, aside from some fatigue, but her husband spent 10 days at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.
By March 20, when Pritzker's executive order closed most businesses, prohibited public gatherings, restricted travel and set social-distancing guidelines that now have continued for six months, the husband and wife already were virus-free. As the death toll from this pandemic tops 200,000 in the United States, this two say they are fully recovered, with seemingly no lingering problems.
"I had a little lung issue when I got out of the hospital," Bob Dix says, recalling how pain when he took deep breaths soon went away. Visits with his regular doctor and his cardiologist have gone fine.
As two of the first people in the United States diagnosed with COVID-19, the couple don't have all the answers, but they are confident they got infected during a vacation and visit with her brother and sister-in-law in California, who didn't get the virus.
"I picked it up on a gondola ride in Palm Springs," Bob Dix says, recalling how he and his wife were packed into an aerial tramway with 30 strangers for a glorious, but crowded, view of the breathtaking cliffs of Chino Canyon in the desert resort city east of Los Angeles. "There were a lot of people."
The crowd included tourists from across the globe, Regina Dix says. They all ate together at the top.
That ride was on Feb. 12. By Feb. 15, Bob Dix said he felt miserable and was so weak, "I was almost passing out."
They took the aisle and window seats on the plane home on Feb. 16, and a suburban woman they didn't know sat between them. There was no social distancing or masks then.
"She was really nice, and I hope we didn't give her anything," Regina Dix says.
Still sick, Bob Dix went to a medical clinic the next day.
"They took an x-ray and said I had double-pneumonia and the flu," Bob Dix remembers. Unable to shake his 103-degree fever at home, Bob Dix went to the emergency room on Feb. 23 and was admitted to the hospital. He wasn't in need of a respirator and didn't require oxygen. No one even considered the coronavirus, which hadn't yet become an issue in Illinois.
"The first case was in Hoffman Estates, and we read about it in the newspaper," Dix says of the first two Illinois patients, who also recovered. "I was watching TV all the time, and it was just starting to make the news. On the fifth day I was in the hospital, Gov. Pritzker said everybody in hospitals had to be tested."
When Dix's test was positive, he was whisked away to an isolation room, "and I never saw a doctor in the room after that," he says. Instead of doctors stopping by often to see how he was doing, visits from medical workers were limited. Anyone (including his wife) who came into his room wore protective gear and threw away the gown on the way out.
On March 3, when he was dismissed and feeling well, the virus still inspired fear.
"It was so funny when he came out," remembers Regina Dix, recalling the strict hospital protocols. "They said I had to park in the space for ambulance parking only."
An ambulance driver told her she couldn't park there, and she explained that she was directed to park there because her husband had COVID-19.
"He said, 'Oh, no!' and he ran away," Regina Dix says.
A registered nurse who retired after a career working with hospice patients, Regina Dix says she felt obligated to tell family, friends and neighbors that she and her husband had tested positive for the coronavirus.
"Our family and the neighbors all brought a dish over," she says.
They quarantined at home for 14 days, as did their adult son, Joe, who lives with them. The family was on a first-name basis with Mabel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The CDC was calling every day to see how our son Joe was doing," Bob Dix says.
"They wanted to put him in a trailer in Elgin," Regina Dix remembers, noting that he declined the offer in part because that mobile home didn't have air conditioning.
The family finished their quarantine just as Pritzker announced that schools would be closed statewide beginning March 17.
"We have to wear masks. We don't know if we have the antibody," Regina Dix says, noting she donated her plasma in the effort to help.
"I feel like I'm immune," says Bob Dix, who says he still adheres to peer pressure to practice social distancing and wear a mask in public. Perhaps people would give Dix a pass if he wore an "I had the virus, got better, and feel fine" T-shirt.
"I thought of that long before you said it," he admits.
Their close-knit neighborhood often has Friday night gatherings on someone's driveway. A woman who lives nearby saw the gathering, drove up in her car and asked, "Did you know the people who live across the street have the virus?"
"Yeah," the host replied. "He's sitting right here."
Striking just in time for the busy tax season, the pandemic shut down his Dix & Associates office briefly. But it reopened with all the necessary safety requirements and got the work done when the IRS extended the tax deadline by three months.
"I think we have to follow the recommendations of the scientists," Regina Dix says, noting her husband got the flu shot this week. "We usually go to Mexico, but I think we're not going to go this year."
The couple has fared better than many of the people stricken with the coronavirus, though the pandemic still causes hardships for them as it does everyone else. But Bob Dix finds something positive in his experience.
"I lost 15 pounds during those two weeks. That was really good. I haven't been that low in 20 years," Dix says. Of course, 2020 isn't going to let him fully enjoy that.
"Unfortunately," Dix says. "I've gained most of it back."