Seasons Magazines

Seasons Magazines

A Shared Sense of Loss

A global pandemic hits close to home

Like many guys, I often put holiday shopping off until the last minute. I usually knock off everything on the list in the week before Christmas. 2020 wasn’t like any other year, of course, and nine days before Christmas, my plan came to a screeching halt: I tested positive for COVID-19 and was suddenly under quarantine until after Santa’s big visit.

Ever since coronavirus changed the world in March of 2020, I’d been pretty careful. I wore a mask, avoided crowds, sanitized often, and washed my hands frequently. I was eating somewhat healthfully, taking vitamins, and popping elderberry gummies for good measure. I was going out in public but taking all recommended precautions.

Other than that, reporting on COVID was my only involvement in the pandemic. It was a daily part of my life to interview health experts like Hartford HealthCare President and CEO Jeff Flaks, as well as state and federal officials, including Governor Ned Lamont, and senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.

I had a few out-of-state friends who were hospitalized with COVID, and one of my cousins in Italy lost her husband to the virus early in the pandemic. But with the crisis approaching its 10th month, I had avoided getting sick and had managed to keep COVID away from our family. Then I got it from my wife, Kara Sundlun.

On the weekend of December 12, Kara started to feel as if she had a cold. On Monday, she woke up with a fever and decided to get a COVID test. The whole family did, actually. We headed to the Connecticut Convention Center and got swabbed. When the results came in, they showed that Kara was positive, and the kids and I were in the clear. Deep down, though, I knew I was going to get the coronavirus, despite my best efforts to stay healthy.

Kara quarantined in our bedroom and I moved to a guest room. I left food outside of her door and sanitized the house like crazy.

Two days later, I had a bit of sore throat and got tested again. Positive result.

As public figures, we had to announce it. The reaction from across Connecticut was one of warmth and positive vibes, and we received well wishes from people all over.

The outpouring was so deeply moving. We had friends dropping off meals, snacks, and even eggs laid by their backyard hens. They would call or text us when they arrived, leaving their offerings on the front step, and we would wave through the window.

Kara had it worse than I did, with a fever and exhaustion. My case was mild; in fact, I wouldn’t have even thought about having a COVID test if she hadn’t tested positive. I would have chalked up my symptoms to a cold.

I found myself hungrier than normal. I couldn’t eat enough, which explains the 10 or so pounds I added during the quarantine and the weeks that followed. I was also more tired, and my system changed. To this day, I find it difficult to sleep past 5 a.m.

During all of this, I was mulling job offers and decided to join WTNH News 8. Ideally, Vice President and General Manager Rich Graziano and I would have liked to announce it with me in the studio, but we had to improvise since I couldn’t break my quarantine and couldn’t have a crew at  my house.

Our assistant news director dropped off some News 8 gear and I posed for a picture in my yard. We had some fun with it, saying, “Here are two guys you never thought you’d see in red uniforms in 2020!”

Christmas was different. My mother and brother-in-law had been planning to visit for the holidays but their stays in the house had to be cancelled due to COVID, so it was just Kara, the kids, and me.

The quarantine also meant I could not visit my father, who was not doing well after a series of strokes. After coming out of quarantine on New Year’s Eve, I made plans to visit him on New Year’s Day at his home in Massachusetts, about an hour and a half away. But the following morning, I got an unexpected call, saying that my Dad had taken a sudden turn for the worse, and I needed to come right away. Kara, the kids, and I jumped in the car and headed for his house. He died half an hour before we got there.

I started my new job the day after my dad’s funeral, working in a sparsely populated newsroom, as some staffers were working remotely. We practiced social distancing, and the station was cleaned and sanitized regularly.

We launched a new show, “This Week in Connecticut with Dennis House.” Some interviews were held in person, with masks or at least six feet separating us; others were conducted via Zoom. Three of my first in-studio interviews were with vaccinated guests: Flaks, Murphy, and Congresswoman Jahana Hayes.

In March, I got vaccinated, with a Pfizer jab in my arm. As the weather warmed, the coronavirus numbers started to fall, some restrictions were lifted, and we all sensed an imminent – or so we hope! – return to normalcy. My kids went back to in-person school full time, I started to hit the gym again, and I got out in the great outdoors, including chasing a 350-pound bear through the woods for a story, and interviewing former Hartford Mayor and COVID survivor Ann Uccello, who will turn 99 shortly after this edition of Seasons goes to press.

I was lucky and blessed and am so grateful that COVID-19 was gentle on my family and me. Many people have not been so lucky. As of March 23, there have been nearly 300,000 cases of this mysterious disease in Connecticut, and more than 7,800 residents of our state have died. Thousands more are long haulers, which means that their COVID symptoms persist. I’ve met sufferers who are still on oxygen, and others with a chronic cough or debilitating fatigue.

My hope is that widespread vaccinations will curb the spread, and that the post-COVID era will be one of a renewed focus on health, and of prosperity for the tens of thousands of people in Nutmeg Nation who suffered devastating economic hardships during this pandemic.

I also hope that our shared loss will make us stronger, and give us an even greater sense of compassion and caring for others.

My heart – and my warmest wishes for a better tomorrow – go out to you all.

Photography by Stan Godlewski