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‘You won’t have a warning’: Army family in Vicenza shares tips as spouse recovers from the coronavirus

Jeff and Jacquie Alderson and their two children, shown at Christmas last year, spent this Thanksgiving in quarantine and isolation in their Vicenza, Italy home after Jacquie was infected with the coronavirus. The Aldersons, who took ample precautions to avoid the virus, say that people should still be well-prepared for it to happen to them.

ALDERSON FAMILY

By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 15, 2020

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VICENZA, Italy — It was probably just allergies and a sinus headache.

But then Jacquie Alderson lost her sense of smell, so she went for a coronavirus test at the base health center in Vicenza.

It came back positive, leaving the mother of two feeling guilty and worried that she’d infected her family, she said.

“That’s the crazy thing — we were so careful,” she said. “We washed our hands constantly, we wore our masks … I was amazed I got it.”

Moments after she got the diagnosis, public health workers called her and said her husband, Jeff Alderson, a retired colonel who works for U.S. Army Africa, and their two children had to come home immediately.

“It was do not go to the post office, do not go to the commissary, do not pass go,” Jeff Alderson said. “People should start paying attention now.

“If you don’t have that box of food in the storage closet, if you don’t have money on your phone or the computers for your kids, you’re going to be hurting. You won’t have a warning.”

Their children burst into tears when they were told what happened. They were fearful that their mother might get as sick as their grandmother had when she caught the virus last spring in the U.S. The grandmother spent three days on a ventilator and wasn’t expected to live.

But Jacquie never felt sick enough to be hospitalized.

“The day I was diagnosed — that night I felt the worst. And the day after,” she said. “Some days I felt nauseous. Some days I’d feel good and the next day I’d feel horrible.

“I kept thinking about my breathing. And I was so thirsty.”

She isolated on a separate floor, seeing her children, her husband and the family dog only through Facetime or a window.

The children shifted from in-school classes to online learning. They wrote their mother notes, saying they missed her.

“Ava would knock on the window and wave,” Jacquie Alderson said of her daughter. “I think it was hardest on her. She said she wanted to give me a cuddle.”

Jeff fixed all the meals and took care of the kids, trying to stay positive and worrying what would happen if he got sick.

The family had taken the virus so seriously they bought a freezer and filled it with meat and frozen meals. Their kitchen was stocked with pasta, rice, cereal and macaroni and cheese.

“We didn’t want to go out any more than we needed to,” Jeff Alderson said. “So we were in pretty good shape.”

Still, they needed fresh fruit and vegetables, which Jacquie said was all she wanted to eat.

Jeff called his boss to let him know he was quarantined and reached out to friends for things they needed.

“That’s the biggest lesson — know who you can call,” he said.

At least four people took turns dropping things at the house every couple of days, for which they said they were extremely grateful.

The couple initially found it difficult to tell people about the positive test.

“There’s like this stigma to it,” Jacquie Alderson said. “You don’t want people to say, ‘Oh, she’s had coronavirus, maybe she’s still contagious.’”

Jacquie tested negative for the virus after 13 days in isolation and was still recovering weeks later. She tires easily, she said, and her sense of smell isn’t yet back to where it should be.

She still has no idea where she got the virus.

“It’s put me off to go anywhere, to be honest,” she said.

The rest of the family never got sick, but they were traumatized by Jacquie’s bout with virus.

“I really want people to understand this virus is no joke,” Jeff Alderson said. “And wear a mask for God’s sake.”

montgomery.nancy@stripes.com
Twitter: @montgomerynan