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Since the middle of March, Rachel Rosenthal and her family have been self-isolating in their Bethesda, Maryland, home to minimize their exposure to coronavirus.
Rosenthal has Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disorder, so as COVID-19 began to spread in the U.S., she was diligent about keeping herself, her husband Jon, and her twin 12-year-old daughters, Marin and Ellie, away from unnecessary exposure to the virus.
"We had done everything right," Rosenthal, a TODAY Parenting Team contributor and professional organizer, told TODAY Parents. "I was being hyper-sensitive and just crazy about things. We didn't even get takeout because I was nervous. We hadn't been to a grocery store — we'd been getting groceries delivered and disinfecting everything in our garage. I was cleaning every single night."
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think that it would impact us," Rosenthal continued. "My worst worries were having to homeschool the kids and work at the same time and that seems beyond trivial now."
On April 4, Rosenthal felt extremely tired and spent large parts of the day napping. The mom of two thought she had been overdoing things — cooking, cleaning, working and homeschooling — while quarantined.
"The next day I woke up and said to my husband, 'There's an elephant standing on my chest,'" said Rosenthal, adding that while she didn't think she had COVID-19, she decided to quarantine herself in her bedroom away from her family just in case.
Rosenthal's condition worsened, progressing into high fevers, severe headaches and pain in her chest, back and lungs. The 42-year-old was tested for coronavirus, but a week later, amid still worsening symptoms, learned her test was negative.
"My doctor thinks it was a false negative — that the test wasn't done properly or that I tested too early because I was only on day two of my symptoms," she said. "He also told me 30% of tests are giving a false negative right now and that he definitely thinks I have it."
While she remains sick in her bedroom, Rosenthal says she is focused on doing breathing exercises to help her lungs take in air, drinking lots of fluids and taking hot showers for the effect the steam has on her ability to breathe. Her only method of chatting with her tween daughters has been FaceTime, and her husband delivers meals to her door wearing gloves and a mask and sleeps on the sofa in her office.
Several days after her own symptoms began, Rosenthal's daughter, Ellie, began showing the same symptoms. Because their doctors suggested they not quarantine in the same room due to being in different stages of the illness, the 12-year-old is currently quarantined in a room alone.
"It's been horrendous for everybody," said Rosenthal. "As mothers, I think in general we're the heads of our households: cooking, cleaning and all that. As a caretaker, it has been so hard for me not to do anything."
Rosenthal's husband, Jon, has stepped in, taking care of his sick wife and step-daughter, cooking and taking on cleaning and laundry duties. At present, neither Jon or Ellie's twin sister, Marin, have shown symptoms of coronavirus.
Rosenthal says the sickness has been unlike anything she's experienced. And, having to surrender and accept help — both from her husband and her friends and community — has been a humbling experience for the mom, who is used to doing things for herself.
"I've been through a horrible divorce. I've been a single mother. I've always been the one doing everything for everyone else and I've had to stop," said Rosenthal. "It was difficult, but I had to because I was literally just worrying about breathing at that point."
"Having my daughter get sick has been terrible because as a mother, it's painful and hard not to be able to take care of her," Rosenthal added through tears. "My 'healthy' daughter cries every night. Being separated and not being able to parent your children physically and hold them and tell them this is going to get better is very scary."
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During her isolation, Rosenthal's husband arranged for her to speak with CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who has been candid about his own coronavirus symptoms and diagnosis.
"It was very early on and one of the days I could barely breathe or speak," Rosenthal recalled. "We talked about how this is mental as much as physical. You're isolated from everybody and you just want to do things but you can't because your body is fighting and you just have to let it."
Rosenthal shared her story on Instagram this week, hoping it would help more people take the pandemic seriously and realize it's affecting people they know.
"I see people in my Facebook feed who aren't wearing masks or think they won't get it," said Rosenthal. "I didn't want to make people fearful, but I wanted to say this is happening to us, to me. It is very hard and it is scary. It's not just happening to healthcare workers and the elderly and people you don't know."
By sharing her story, she hopes people will see that COVID-19 is devastating, even to people who seem young and healthy on the surface, and will take the suggested measures to stop the spread of the virus.
"I wish my biggest concern was what salad or starter I could order at a restaurant or that I was craving some girl time with my neighbor," she said. "I want to get out of my f------ room. I want to be breathing."