Editor’s note: The Virus Diaries is a series in which Mainers talk about how they are affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

Peter and Mary Ann Gordon pose for a photo in their Portland apartment on Friday. They are on the mend after both contracting COVID-19. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Peter Gordon’s wife, Mary Ann, was in Germany on business when the coronavirus pandemic surged.

“As the pandemic grew, it was really dicey whether she could get out of there in time,” said Peter, 66, a Portland resident.

Mary Ann did get a flight home, but then the real challenge began. Was she exposed to the virus, and could that become deadly for her husband?

“I am a bone marrow transplant survivor with a suppressed immune system and damaged lungs,” Peter said.

“In short, off-the-charts high risk factors.”

Awaiting Mary Ann’s return, Peter rearranged their apartment to keep the couple separated.

Mary Ann arrived home on Wednesday, March 25, having experienced a crowded, non-distancing experience at the Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. “We were in a closed-in area, one on top of each other, for 20 minutes,” she said. “It was crazy.”

Two days later, Mary Ann began to show symptoms of the virus. She was tested on Sunday, which confirmed she did have COVID-19. At the advice of his doctors, Peter returned to the testing center two days later for his own test, which was negative.

Mary Ann recovered. But …

“The day she was clearly getting better, my symptoms started,” Peter said. He was tested again, and the result was positive.

“It was scary. I was feeling terrible,” he said. “Probably worse than the symptoms was that underlying fear, knowing how vulnerable I was.

“I didn’t want to make a big deal of it – but there was a voice inside my head, saying, ‘This could be bad.’”

Peter’s symptoms began on Friday, April 3. “It hit me bad,” he said. On Wednesday, Peter posted on Facebook that he was improving.

He began his post: “An update from the Quarantined COVID Couple.”

Peter and Mary Ann know all about staying away from germs. Almost 12 years ago, Peter was battling leukemia, when a bone marrow transplant saved his life – an experience he described in the Press Herald last year. But such a transplant left Peter’s body vulnerable.

“There’s collateral damage. It messes with your immune system, causes damage to your lungs as well,” he said.

Mary Ann added: “So we know all the procedures on sterilizing everything. We’ve always had masks and gloves.”

The threat of the coronavirus intensified the effort.

“Before Mary Ann got home (from Germany), I moved things around,” Peter said. ”We don’t have a big apartment, but it is big enough. The bedroom and a den are separated by hallway. … I created two separate apartments.

“When you first come in, there was an area that divided the apartment. We called it the DMZ (a reference to the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea).

“Neither of us would go in there. We talked across the DMZ.”

Then Mary Ann got sick.

“On Friday (March 27), I thought, ‘Do I have a really bad case of jet lag?’ On Saturday morning, I woke up and felt awful: really bad headache, incredibly achy. It went downhill from there.”

When the coronavirus test read positive, Mary Ann immediately thought of her husband’s weakened immune system. “That was always my biggest fear about everything,” she said.

Peter could do little to help Mary Ann, except bring her meals.

“I’d make her food, then place it on a little table in the DMZ, and then get out of there, and then she’d come to get it,” he said.

With such precautions, Peter does not believe he caught the virus from his wife, but from somewhere outside his apartment. But just as Mary Ann cannot say where she caught the virus – Germany? Newark? – Peter said he can’t be sure. (Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center of Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday that, according to epidemiologists, there is a pattern of people in the same living quarters infecting each other).

Regardless of the source, Peter “felt really bad and really fast – tired, achy, out of breath, fever, headaches.”

The pain – and the unspoken fear that Peter’s body would not be able to fight the virus.

But it did.

“By the third day, I started feeling a little bit better. I clung to that,” he said.

Now, still a little achy, both Peter and Mary Ann are on the mend.

“It turns out, it didn’t hit as bad as it could have been,” Peter said. “We are so fortunate. Our hearts go out to those in less fortunate circumstances.”

Do you have a story to share about how you are affected by the coronavirus outbreak? Email us at [email protected]

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