LOUISVILLE, Ky. — It's a hard choice for healthcare workers: Stay with your family and risk infecting them or separate and deal with whatever pain that brings.
"I'll be honest and say there were a number of tears, but it was a realistic moment where we decided it was best for me to take the girls and move out," Chris Saling, a Louisville resident said.
Their family photos are a touching reminder of what's at stake.
"I miss my family. I miss my kids more than anything. The pictures help. Video helps. More than anything, I'm just ready for this to be over," Nicole Saling, a nurse at Norton Women's and Children's Hospital said. "It's kind of 24/7 for me right now with the COVID-19 pandemic."
Her workdays, like many in her field, are filled with stress and, at times, fear.
"Before this hit, I was able to come home and talk to my husband and play with my kids, and now, I don't have that," she said.
Nicole began social distancing from her family about a month ago. But when her colleagues at the hospital began testing positive for the virus, she knew that wouldn't be enough. She made the decision to separate from her husband and two girls, Dawson (5) and Bella (8 months), two and half weeks ago, knowing how deadly the virus could be for Chris, whose respiratory system is already compromised.
"I have a disease called cystic fibrosis, which any type of cold or virus I can catch, at times, puts me in the hospital for a few weeks," Chris said.
Staying home as a family was a risk they couldn't take.
"The night we loaded them into the car, Nicole was very brave and put on a good face, but as soon as we got inside, she broke down and kind of collapsed on the floor. I don't think I've ever seen my wife so sad and crying so hard in my entire life. It was hard because I couldn't hug her or be there to support her," Chris said.
The next day, Chris printed off dozens of photos and headed for the hospital, taping each one to the windows at the entrance. They wrapped around a sign just for Nicole, reading, 'please find her and share. She really needs something uplifting today.'
"I just thought if there was a way for me to show a little of my gratitude and love for her and maybe make her smile the next day, then it might be worth it," Chris said.
And it worked.
"It meant a lot that he did that for me," Nicole said. "I was a little embarrassed because I don't think of myself as a hero. I think of all of these people I work with who are on the front lines. They come in every day, some scared and worried about what the day's going to hold, but they come in strong day after day and do what needs to be done. I'm just here to support them," she said.
They'll tell you there's no easy way to be separated from your loved one. This last weekend, they tried something new.
"We purchased inflatable costumes, a unicorn and dinosaur. It was in a way our own PPE," Chris said. "We were walking down the street to surprise [the kids] and Nicole reached out and said, 'hey, hold my hand.' And we laughed. Nicole, I didn't tell you this, but literally the moment I got to hold your hand, it hit me - I hadn't held your hand, or hugged you in over a month and just getting to do that even with these goofy costumes on, it was awesome," Chris said.
"We'll make it through, we'll come out strong on the other side and appreciate those moments even more when we're back together," Nicole said.
Contact reporter Brooke Hasch at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter (@WHAS11Hasch) and Facebook.
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