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November 1, 2020

A Gratitude Story: Community Rallies Around Tampa Dad as He Battled COVID

By Tara Payor, Ph.D.

Life is replete with twists and turns. Some, we’d rather bypass. When twisting and turning bring life full circle, we find ourselves standing with grateful hearts. Recent, jarring twists and turns led the Cringolo family to concentric circles centered on gratefulness—ones resounding with joyful noise.

Downward Diagnosis  

Rob and Ginny Cringolo are both certified registered nurse anesthetists and parents to Luca (14), Marco (12) and Ella (10). They were navigating jobs, online schooling and all that comes with pandemic parenting when one Tuesday, life’s course veered toward drastic changes.

Ginny recounted: “Rob came home with a slight cough, tired, and sore—normal for many parents. With COVID centerstage, we disagreed about his condition.” A 101.5 temperature the next morning led Rob to forego work and go for testing. “By evening, we knew he was positive.”

The next week was rough terrain, but the Cringolos maintained a ‘we’ll get through this’ mindset. Rob’s breathing got more difficult, leading to an overnight hospital stay after which oxygen was brought into the house. Ginny wore PPE at home. “I was in and out of the room minimally. I felt like I couldn’t care for him.” When Rob couldn’t get out of bed alone, Ginny and Rob headed to the hospital—again.

“I had to drop him off. His ears were black. I didn’t think I’d see him again.”

This is what COVID-19 did to a healthy, 45-year-old man. Ginny had to physically and emotionally shield their three kids from the avalanche. “It was a blessing and a curse I couldn’t go to the hospital because the kids needed me.” Fourteen days passed before they spoke to him. Ginny set up a camera so Rob could see the family singing and dancing—though he doesn’t remember.

When Ginny’s phone rang at 6 a.m., she thought Rob was calling to give good day wishes. It was news a breathing tube was being put in. It was the last time they’d speak for three weeks. “I felt better knowing he’d sleep through everything. He’d suffered so much.”

While the kids knew Rob was sick and a machine was helping him, they weren’t aware of details. “Video games became my allies in shielding them. We were watching TV one day and the president was talking about ventilators. I decided to let them know daddy was fortunate to get one.” Ginny was in uncharted, hellish terrain: unable to be by her husband’s bedside, determined to be stoic for their children and all the while, a human—also needing softness, support and solidarity.

   

Social Circles

Anguished over Rob’s lack of physical contact from loved ones, Ginny begged for hospital entry. It didn’t happen. “I know why the hospitals are doing it. But it’s horrible when you’re living it.”

Although Ginny stopped social media at first, she later realized that it was a way to share their story. It was also a road to connectedness.

“Childish as it might seem, every “like” meant something. Every comment mattered—reminders we weren’t alone,” she says. Virtual worlds can’t replicate all aspects of life, however. “Dropping Ella off at horse camp, I broke down talking to the instructor. She immediately hugged me. It hit me that I hadn’t been hugged in so long.”

Ginny’s friends saw through her “I’m fine; we don’t need anything” statements and started texting the kids directly. Former CRNA colleagues reached out. People helped manage their rental properties. There were calls from the kids’ schools.

“Every woman I know wanted to share food and every man mow the lawn. It was beautifully overwhelming. People we didn’t know were doing things for us. Realizing how many communities we’re a part of was amazing; they wanted to take us in. It’s incredible how many people Rob’s story has touched.”

The couple, known for a healthy banter, jokes about how liked Rob is, Ginny says. “He always told me how much people like him, and I’m just glad to have his big, stupid smile back home.”

Gratitude  Gratitude  Gratitude

Homeward Bound

Back-to-home-life has had bumps. “He was emotional when he woke up—not understanding how much time had passed. He cried a lot.”

The family got all the equipment common in elderly patient care, and Rob’s friends bought him a recliner. “After 32 days in the hospital, he lost 31 pounds. Even a phone felt heavy. He lost his ability to write.” Rob has gained most weight back and started working in late September. “We’re dealing with the aftermath of what COVID did to his body. He’s weak.” An avid hockey player, he’s not cleared for cardiovascular activity yet.

The kids, epitomizing resiliency, remain involved in Rob’s care. “Ella was the first person he smiled for. Their relationship is special.” Still treading through a drawn-out process, some normalcy exists in the Cringolo home, and loud, school-morning “discussions” are back on. “I’m thankful for that. We’re not walking on eggshells with him.”

Full Circle

Ginny made a box filled with cards people sent and pictures the kids drew during Rob’s hospitalization. He’s looked through all of it. Reading through Facebook posts has proven emotional. The Cringolos feel reaffirmed in their friendships and communities. Gratitude drives their want to pay it forward.

“Sometimes you consider doing something for someone and you don’t. Now, I do it,” says Ginny. “Seemingly small moments matter. We don’t realize how much we can positively impact others.”

Road Less Travelled

Rob and Ginny aren’t promulgating fear. They know, statistically, most won’t get as sick as Rob. Still, their world is repaved. “We learned that it’s not only happening to other people; we became the other people.”

Uncertain terms about COVID’s potential aftershocks are concerning. They understand why people are loosening up, but they aren’t making holiday travel plans. “We haven’t seen our families in Philadelphia and Delaware in almost a year, but we don’t know if the risk is worth it.” Staying home can be frustrating, but they’re intent on ensuring all five remain home and healthy. “We’re most grateful our story has a happy ending. Rob is home and healing. Even if he’s never 100%, we have him.”

Dave Matthews’ joyful noise circles: “Now I’m thinking that you did all you could / When you said my love / Take it slowly / Amazing what a minute can do / Around, around, around / So damn lucky.”

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