Hunker Down Diaries: Married Couple Lives Together, 6 Feet Apart : Coronavirus Updates Wendy Jackson, a pediatric emergency doctor, is working through the coronavirus crisis. Her husband, Robert, had a kidney transplant four years ago. They keep 6 to 8 feet between themselves at home.

He's Immunocompromised. She's An ER Doctor. They Are Living Together, Apart

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

While most people are practicing social distancing in public, some are also doing it at home. As part of their Hunker Down series, Radio Diaries brings us the story of Robert and Wendy Jackson. Four years ago, Robert had a kidney transplant. His immune system is severely compromised. Wendy is an emergency room doctor who runs the risk of coronavirus exposure at work. So the couple made the difficult decision to live together, six feet apart.

ROBERT JACKSON: Are you comfy in...

WENDY JACKSON: I am. Nice, comfy sofa - ready to roll.

R JACKSON: OK. We are in our basement, where I like to hang out in our house.

W JACKSON: It is the man cave - definitely not my natural habitat. There's a bunch of turntables, a couple million CDs, maybe, a huge TV screen.

R JACKSON: (Laughter) Wendy is about six feet from me. She's sitting on a sofa. I'm sitting on a love seat that's opposite of her.

W JACKSON: We pretty much exist in the same house, but at least six or eight feet apart. We use two bathrooms. We have more than one bedroom that we separate in.

R JACKSON: Yeah, I'm glad you were able to put into action our social distancing, although I was resistant of it, and I didn't understand it. But I'm glad you did.

W JACKSON: Right.

R JACKSON: Definitely, when I'm not doing what I'm supposed to do...

(LAUGHTER)

R JACKSON: ...I'm made aware of it. But, you know, it's still hard to stay six feet apart from someone you live with.

W JACKSON: It's very difficult.

R JACKSON: Yeah, very difficult. So we no longer can sleep in the same bed. We can no longer occupy the same room for a long time. So intimacy - physical intimacy - is definitely not happening.

W JACKSON: Right.

R JACKSON: And that - you know how important that is for me. How do you think that affects you?

W JACKSON: It's pretty rough. I don't know. What I miss most is just the human touch. A lot of things are better transmitted through touch than through talk. I think there's just so much that we took for granted before all of this started.

R JACKSON: Do you believe that you can be intimate without physical touch?

W JACKSON: I think so. And I might not have agreed or understood that prior to what's going on now. But, you know, I just try and do little things like, you know, fix your favorite meals or spray your pillow with lavender or the little emails or texts - just, you know, little things to show that I'm still connected, if not physically, then emotionally.

R JACKSON: I know for me, the hard part is at night. I think - one night in particular that I remember when temperatures had dropped pretty low, the wind was blowing really hard. You know, when we're usually in bed together, I can feel your warm feet next to mine. So now it's, like, a cold sheet. So it was, like, an emptiness.

W JACKSON: Yeah. Now when it's bedtime, it's just, OK. Night, night. I'm going up, or see you in the morning. And that's it. So sweetie, are you fearful about getting sick, contracting the virus?

R JACKSON: Well, fear is not the word I would use. But at the same time...

W JACKSON: That's good.

R JACKSON: ...I'm not naive because I understand that being immune-suppressed - what that really means. I mean, for me, because I have to take, you know, a certain amount of drugs every day just to keep my body from rejecting this kidney, I have to be careful. I mean, I find myself feeling helpless a lot because I'm not sure, you know, what I can do.

You know, we've been married for, like - what? - 15 years. I knew, because I've seen you in action, that you are a very good doctor. But what I didn't know is how serious you are about keeping me safe. When I saw with this pandemic, before you go to work, you're in tears because you are afraid, you know, that you're going to bring something home, and I have to encourage you that we are going to be OK, I got a really good understanding of how much you cared about me.

W JACKSON: My fear is infecting you, even if I wasn't showing any symptoms at all. It's always in the back of my mind because it's such a distinct possibility.

R JACKSON: I understand why that would worry you. That worries me.

W JACKSON: Yeah. I actually sat down one night just thinking of the ramifications and gave some serious thought about, maybe it's time to retire. You know, it's been 37 years in the field and just don't want to lose you. Then I just decided not to be fearful, but to have faith instead. All I can do is be very careful and then just taking one day at a time.

R JACKSON: Well, that's all we can do, right?

W JACKSON: That's it. Exactly right.

SHAPIRO: That's Robert and Wendy Jackson at their home in North Laurel, Md. Their story is part of the Radio Diaries series Hunker Down Diaries. And if you have an idea for the series, we're especially interested in unusual quarantine situations, so email nprcrowdsource@npr.org. And you can find all the Hunker Down Diaries on the Radio Diaries podcast.

W JACKSON: I'm going to finish cooking.

R JACKSON: What are you cooking? Tell me. What's going on up there?

W JACKSON: Well, on the menu tonight, I'm having Jamaican rice and peas, the typical Sunday dish.

R JACKSON: That works for me.

W JACKSON: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF LEONARD COHEN SONG, "I CAN'T FORGET")

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