Michael O’Donnell, 81, catches a football Tuesday as he throws around with staff and residents of the Sunrise View Retirement and Rehabilitation Center in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Michael O’Donnell, 81, catches a football Tuesday as he throws around with staff and residents of the Sunrise View Retirement and Rehabilitation Center in Everett. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Inside Everett care home hit hard by COVID-19, life goes on

Michael O’Donnell, 81, is upbeat. He likes the room service. But good friends were among the COVID-19 deaths.

EVERETT — Michael O’Donnell is high-risk but low-worried.

He’s 81 and a resident of the nursing home hardest hit by coronavirus in Snohomish County. COVID-19 has been a factor in 15 deaths and 69 people have tested positive at Sunrise View Convalescent Center and Retirement Villa.

A few of his good friends numbered among the fatalities. O’Donnell was tested last week and as of Sunday had not received his results.

Quarantined since March 14, he misses socializing, but enjoys the room service.

“It’s like a cruise ship on land,” he said.

O’Donnell faces the future unafraid.

“I was in the Marine Corps boot camp in 1956. I did that like a piece of cake,” he said. “This doesn’t bother me.”

It has cramped his style, though.

No more trips to his son’s restaurant, Shawn O’Donnell’s American Grill & Irish Pub, or home-cooked meals with his daughters.

No more Cricket on his lap. He had to send his 11-year-old poodle mix pal to live with his grandson.

“I couldn’t take her outside and walk her down the block,” O’Donnell said.

The lockdown hit just when he was getting good on the guitar. He had to stop the weekly lessons he started at age 80.

For this self-proclaimed “free-going boy,” staying put is hard at times.

“I was down for a couple days last week,” he said. “I had a good talk with myself.”

Staff come in twice daily to take his vitals.

“My oxygen is running 98 percent — 100 is perfect,” he said. “My blood pressure is 128 over 65. My temperature is 97.6. My respirations are about 18. My pulse is around 73.”

O’Donnell retired from Boeing, where he was a numbers guy in an engineering finance division.

Sunrise administrator Diane Lopes said about 70 residents are quarantined.

She said one resident remarked: “I wonder if people know we are in here.”

Lopes has managed Sunrise for 26 years.

“We have settled into an abnormal normal,” she said. “Out of the chaos, there’s this nice silver lining of community support.”

People dropped off cards and Easter candy. The family of a resident who died brought in hundreds of food cans and items for staff to take home.

Without communal dining and activities, social isolation is a concern. They’ve improvised by having a weekly poker game where a playing card is delivered every day for the best hand. Bingo is played in a similar fashion. A daily newsletter gives updates and inspiration.

Michael O’Donnell, 81. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Michael O’Donnell, 81. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

O’Donnell moved to an assisted living apartment at Sunrise two years ago with his wife, Alix, who later had to go to a long-term care unit. She died in September.

“It’s sort of a blessing. She wouldn’t have understood,” O’Donnell said. “I brought her ice cream or coffee every night. We were married 62 years, 10 days. I got a picture of me and Alix kissing each other on the door. I have a picture of my last halibut fishing trip.”

Photos of family fishing and duck hunting trips decorate his studio pad, where he spends most of his time alone with his guitar.

“I’m not any good yet,” he said. “I’m embarrassed to play in front of anybody. I’m also working on my voice.”

He crooned a few verses of a song. Not bad.

A favorite outside pastime is to toss a football, social-distancing style, with a few others.

“I play catch four days a week,” he said. “Sometimes three times a day, morning, noon and night.”

He takes short walks.

”It’s 100 feet between the gazebo and the end of the parking lot. I do that 12 to 20 times a day.”

It tuckers him out enough to go to bed at 8 o’clock every night.

He likes getting notes and cards. He also writes encouraging notes to others. He gets an occasional text.

“The one I get most often is from Verizon: ‘Your bill is $40.31, due on the 27th.’”

Phone calls are the main connection to his three children, Paige, Carrie and Shawn. They can’t visit but leave him things — white socks and tennis shoes, fresh blueberries and strawberries.

He misses the in-person contact.

“I love talking to people,” he said.

O’Donnell survived cancer shortly before he moved to Sunrise. It was caught early, thanks to a fall when he was going hot-tubbing at a neighbor’s house.

“I slipped on the driveway and banged my head,” he said. “I went to the Everett walk-in clinic. They took X-rays of my head and there was no bleeding. I had hit my shoulder, too, and they wanted to see if there were any broken bones. And there were none. But the astute radiologist discovered that I had a tumor on my lung. It was first stage.”

He celebrated his final radiation treatment with the fishing trip displayed on his door.

He looks forward to more fishing ventures, and for Cricket to come home to share the recliner with him.

“There will be an end to this,” he said.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

Spread some cheer

The residents enjoy special stories, notes, jokes and anything to brighten their day. Packaged treats and items, such as sunglasses or games, can also be dropped off. The address is Sunrise View Convalescent Center and Retirement Villa, 2520 Madison St., Everett, WA 98203. Call 425-356-2107 or email rgrinde@sunriseview.org.

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