CINCINNATI (AP) — Chris Hahn could tell right away something wasn’t right about his brother that morning.
At 6-foot-4, Gary Hahn was a bear of a man with a handshake like a vice grip. But on this day, March 16, he moved uneasily around the metal shop where they worked, as if every step caused him pain.
When Chris asked if he was OK, Gary shook his head.
“I feel like crap,” he said.
Gary went home early that day and never came back. No one knew it at the time, but the novel coronavirus already was doing its deadly work on the Hahn family.
Gary was the first. But in less than two weeks, four family members and two others with ties to them would fall ill. The virus was as merciless as it was swift, spreading from brother to brother, father to son, son to mother, wife to husband.
“It’s just a vicious cycle,” Chris said. “It never stops.”
Gary, 65, who also suffered from liver problems, went to the emergency room at Mercy West Hospital days after he showed up sick to work. He was on a ventilator in the intensive care unit soon after.
His brother, Chris, 63, started feeling sick on March 19, a few days after Gary. Sore throat. Dry cough. His chest hurt. His back hurt. Everything hurt. He figured he’d caught whatever Gary had. And while he didn’t know for sure what it was, he’d seen enough on the news to know what it could be.
Chris called his doctor, who sent him to the drive-thru testing station closest to his Green Township home to get checked for coronavirus.
He wouldn’t get the results for another week, but any doubt was gone a few days later, when younger brother, Scott, 62, got sick, too. His symptoms were the same. Suddenly, the global pandemic had become more than an inconvenience, or an abstraction.
Chris couldn’t be sure how they got it. They all worked together in the same shop. They all spent time together outside of work, riding Harleys or hanging out. They were as close as brothers could be.
Now, they were all sick and getting sicker.
By March 29, Chris’s wife, Cindy, had seen enough. His fever was rising and his heart rate was up. “You’re sick,” she told him. “You’ve got the virus.” Then she drove him to Good Samaritan Hospital in University Heights, where he was admitted.
Around the same time, Scott went to Mercy West and was put in a room not far from his brother, Gary. Soon, both were placed on ventilators to help them breathe.
Chris’s breathing was labored, but he wasn’t as bad off as his brothers. His fever, though, hit 103 and he was about as miserable as he’d ever been.
The day after he was admitted, Chris said, a doctor came into his room and told him he’d got the results from his drive-thru test the week before.
“Mr. Hahn,” he said, “you tested positive for COVID-19.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Chris said.
The next several days were rough, but he slowly got better and went home a few days after learning he’d tested positive. The hospital gave his wife instructions to quarantine inside their home: Use separate bathrooms, sleep in different rooms, don’t share meals.
Chris stripped off his clothes in the garage when he got home, threw them in the garbage and went inside to shower. He would do exactly as he was told.
But the virus wasn’t done with his family. Gary’s condition continued to deteriorate. On Sunday, April 5, he died in the intensive care unit.
He was not surrounded by his friends and relatives. They couldn’t have a funeral for him either, because no one has funerals now. That bothered Chris a lot. Gary was a good man – a “gentle giant” is how people described him – who’d raised two children and two step-children. He had grandkids, a girlfriend and friends all over town.
All Chris could think was how much his big brother deserved a funeral, and how much everyone who loved him deserved to be there.
A few days later, on Wednesday, the news got worse. Scott was improving, but his son, Brian, was now sick. Brian, 34, has cerebral palsy and needs full-time care. He splits time with Scott and Scott’s ex-wife, Karen Kuhlman.
Karen said Brian tested positive for the virus, too, and was still in the hospital late Thursday.
Karen is coughing now, and running a fever. She said she and her husband started feeling ill this week and were told to quarantine at home by the health department.
Everyone seems to assume they have the virus, she said, and she has no reason to think otherwise. She’s been tired and her throat hurts. She struggles to breathe walking up and down the steps.
Speaking by phone Thursday, she paused several times to cough, and to listen to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s afternoon press conference about the pandemic on her TV.
“I never thought this thing would hit home like it has,” she said. “It hit this family big time.”
She’s worried now about who will take care of her son if he gets out of the hospital and his caregivers are still sick. He needs to be fed and bathed. At 66, she said, it was getting hard for her to do the job when she was healthy.
“If I wasn’t living through this,” she said, “I wouldn’t believe it.”
Chris is struggling to process it all, too. The days and weeks of the past month run together in his mind. He checks a calendar, with help from his wife, to remember when everything happened, how everything changed so fast.
On his front porch Thursday, Chris said he’s feeling better, physically, at least. He’s grateful his wife never got sick and that his brother Scott appears to be on the mend. He’s grateful he has two siblings who haven’t fallen ill.
But his family is changed. His big brother is gone, and he misses him. They were born 18 months apart and worked together for more than 30 years. They knew everything about each other and could talk about anything. Anytime.
It’s not always that way with brothers, but it was with them. They shared so much, Chris said, right up until the end.
“There’s really nothing you could do,” he said. “This thing will kill you.”