Patrick Holland

Patrick Holland of North Pole was one of two men who first tested positive for COVID-19 in Fairbanks. Photo courtesy of the Holland family

The following was written by Haley Holland and posted to Facebook on March 22. It is reprinted with permission from Patrick and Haley Holland.

The comments on local news stories about the coronavirus often read something like this:

“Does anyone actually know anyone who has the coronavirus?”

Our answer is yes, you do.

Patrick was tested on March 14 and received a call saying he was the first positive coronavirus test result in Fairbanks. I was tested March 19 and received my call yesterday [March 21]. I am also positive.

I asked Patrick if he minded whether I write about it on here, and he said he didn’t mind. I’m not exactly sure how he feels about this, but the further into this illness we progress and the more I hear about the positive test results adding up, the more I feel like we are in a position to help others. Maybe hearing that someone you know does have it will give you some comfort.

Maybe also hearing that someone you know has it will convince you to isolate. It’s the right thing to do.

Patrick had his appointment in Seattle on March 6. He flew into Sea-Tac at 2:30 a.m. the morning of the 6th and waited until later in the day to ride the rail directly to the University of Washington Medical Center. He had his appointment for the ablation procedure intake and heart transplant evaluation, rode the rail back to the airport, and left Seattle at 11:20 p.m. that same night. He was in Seattle for less than 24 hours.

I told him to sanitize his hands, wash his hands, and do whatever he could to avoid touching surfaces. It never occurred to us that he would actually pick up COVID-19 somewhere.

He was never told to quarantine when he got home.

I wish someone had said something.

We had a birthday party the following day here at the house, and on Monday Patrick went back to work. He worked until Saturday, although on Friday, his birthday, he developed a mild fever. By Saturday night he wasn’t feeling top notch, but he was well enough to sit at the table and share bites of a homemade burger with our 1-year-old. Two hours later I was driving him to the emergency room. It hit him that fast.

Backing up a bit, there were a solid two weeks prior to this where I began to panic. There were so many people saying it was just a flu, and that the actual flu killed more people than COVID-19. People were saying wash your hands, use sanitizer when you couldn’t wash, and cover your nose and mouth when you sneezed or coughed.

But there were also people saying the disease hits the elderly and the compromised. That people with underlying conditions are at risk of dying. If we were a family of completely healthy individuals, I might not have worried so much.

We’re not. I told Patrick he was only allowed to die of heart failure — not some random virus. We laughed, because we were both thinking the same thing.

I have told a few people that I imagined a headline for when Patrick’s test results came back: “Fairbanks Man’s Coronavirus Test Comes Back Positive. Family In Quarantine. Patient Says He Is Living The Dream.” It was a joke, and we spent the weekend waiting for the call to come back with a negative test result so I could go grocery shopping. During this time we sat together, had meals together, played and talked with the kids, and slept together. If Samuel woke up in the middle of the night, we brought him into bed with us.

On Monday the 16th Patrick wasn’t feeling well. I had his phone downstairs while he sat on the couch upstairs watching TV. A number came in that I didn’t recognize, and when I answered it the woman identified herself as working with the CDC and could she please speak with Patrick Holland?

I said "Of course," that I just needed to go give him his phone.

A man interjected, “Actually, ma’am? Ma’am, when you give him the phone please stay six feet from him.”

I started to cry. I knew what that meant. And all I could think about was Fragile. Vulnerable. Underlying Conditions. Immuno-compromised.

Heart Failure.

I tossed Patrick the phone, and while he spoke with the man and woman as they told him of his positive test result, we laughed and cried.

It would be JUST LIKE PATRICK, the attention hog, to be the first positive Fairbanks test result, we thought. Always drawing attention to himself. Of course he was the first one. The brat.

But it was also sobering. He was told to go into a bedroom and not come out. I pushed the coffee table up against the couch where he had been sitting to remind myself not to touch anything in that area. Viruses die after so long on surfaces, and our dog is sensitive to disinfecting sprays, so the only choice was to quarantine that section of couch until I was comfortable that the virus was dead.

Patrick took over our youngest daughter’s room. He also took over the bathroom that was just outside her door. Those were his places. Eventually we made the concession to give him the living room upstairs, and the kids and I would remain downstairs, although he was allowed only one couch and one table to use. He had to wear a mask, but that way he could sit up, watch TV, and still feel like a human.

Throughout his isolation I took care of the kids. I brought him his meals, cooked for the family, took care of the dog and chores and everything else. When presented with a challenge like this, one does what one must. And I did it all.

Unbeknownst to all of us, I also had the virus. I was washing my hands, sanitizing surfaces, and not sharing with any of the kids. But late on the 16th I started joking about how the hard kitchen chairs were hurting my back. I have always had bad posture, and staying downstairs for hours at a time with nothing to do, while sitting on our wood chairs, felt like torture. By the 17th my whole back and shoulders hurt. It wasn’t until late on the 18th when I realized those were body aches, not posture pains. I was tested on the 19th at the drive-thru testing site and received my call on the 20th.

At that point there was no point in Patrick being in isolation anymore. I had the coronavirus, the kids were undoubtedly all exposed and had cycled through several symptoms including the sore eyes, low fevers, and congestion. And there was no way I could also take over a room and let the kids fend for themselves.

So here we are, on the 22nd, nine days after this whole mess started with Patrick’s illness and seven days into our quarantine. We have been instructed to quarantine until everyone is symptom free for at least 72 hours. We have friends and family bringing us groceries, offers to pick up any medicines or supplies we need, and the internet to keep in touch with everyone.

Patrick has been through the worst of it, but he is not out of the woods yet. There have been days where I reported to friends that he was doing better, only for hours later to report he took a downturn. Another day I said I felt he was over the hump, only for his condition to deteriorate again. Let me be clear — he has not turned a corner yet. This is still incredibly dangerous for him. He is using a nebulizer at night, and I worry that at any moment the virus symptoms could settle into his lungs and become pneumonia.

But we’re hanging in there.

The irony that Patrick is in the vulnerable class of folks most susceptible to this virus, and that he is the one who brought it back with him to Fairbanks, is not lost on us. Those “travel-related” cases? He was the first. And yes, there is guilt there. I can’t speak for him, but I wish I had told him to quarantine, just in case. I wish the professional medical community he visited while in Washington had told him to quarantine when he got home. But the fact of the matter is, the information we have about this disease evolves every day. New information is available every day and now, almost two and a half weeks after Patrick’s Washington appointment, travel restrictions are a given. There are so many “if only’s” that we could dwell on.

We are trying to focus on the positive. We will no longer be waiting for the virus to hit us. It has been our roommate for weeks. We’ve lived with it and now are just waiting for it to pass. This puts us in the position to help — to be supportive, to answer questions, to be there for those of you who have not experienced it yet.

Yesterday I came to the realization that when all of this is over — when our quarantine is done and we are allowed out of the house again — it will be like we have been living in a bomb shelter. The world will be different. The economy will be different. Social structures will be different. This time in humanity’s history is unprecedented.

But what won’t be different is our ability to find humor in the tragedy; our capacity to love one another; and the fact that we weathered yet another one of these “The World Is Ending” events.

Come on, people. This is the Y2-Corona. We can do this.