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

This photo of Doris “Dolly” Roach was taken in 1951, while she was in a Presque Isle sanitorium with turberculosis. Photo courtesy of Robin Juris

Like many older Mainers, Doris “Dolly” Roach, 88, has been isolated during the coronavirus outbreak. A widow, she lives alone in an apartment in Windham, chatting with her eight grandchildren on Facetime, watching the news and baking homemade bread.

Roach knows all too well about living in isolation during a time of highly contagious respiratory disease. From age 17 to 21, she lived in a Presque Isle sanatorium, ill with tuberculosis. Her memories of that time are frightening and lonely, but also hopeful – because she never stopped believing she’d get out.

“I was 17 and had a sore throat and I went to the hospital in Houlton and they said I had tonsillitis, so I had them removed,” Roach said. “After that, I was still tired a lot. I started carrying a fever. I started coughing a lot and lost a lot of weight. So the doctor gave me a chest X-ray and they found I had tuberculosis. The next morning my father carried me out to the car and took me to the sanatorium. I was too weak even to stand up. I went in on Jan. 5, 1950 and I came out July 15, 1954.

“But I never once thought I would die while I was there. There were at least three or four who died. But I prayed a lot. I was on a ward where there were seven or eight of us. We all had our own little room. They would wheel us out onto the porch and open the doors at night. We had blankets on and a little bonnet and mittens. They believed very strongly that bed rest and cold air helped a person with TB tremendously.

“They also gave us a liquid every day and it was the worst liquid. It made you throw up. I used a bed pan for three years. After more than three years, I stood up and tried to walk to my friend, Millie’s room, but I fell right down. All I could think was, I want to get back and finish my education. I had been a senior when I went in.

Doris “Dolly” Roach with one of her eight grandchildren, Ben Leighton. Roach is isolated in her Windham apartment during the pandemic but keeps in touch with relatives via Facetime. Photo courtesy of Robin Juris

“One day the doctor said they took my X-ray down to doctors in Fairfield and decided to remove my left lung. I said, ‘I’ve been here almost four years and I’ll stay another four before you remove my lung.’ He came back a few days later and said they were going to put me out on exercise. I thought, ‘This is wonderful. I’ll be able to go outside again and touch the ground.’ ”

Decades later, Roach says those painful years were, “just a blink in my life.”

“Today, I’ve got this cute little apartment over in Windham by a river and I have a lovely view. I’m happy as a lark. Of course, I miss my sisters and brothers back up home. I’m hoping to go back there. I’m still driving. Where I live (in the summer) on East Grand Lake, I love it. People today, they have computers and cell phones and everything in the world to have. They just don’t appreciate the things they do have compared to when I grew up. It was unbelievable in the sanatorium. We didn’t have any of those things.”

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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