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Madison House resident Isabella Meder, 103, was recently was pronounced recovered from her COVID-19 infection. (Photo courtesy of Tracy Giuliani )
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In the window of Isabella Meder’s room is a framed picture, balanced on the sill. It shows a woman with stately features, standing tall, gray bun pulled tightly around her head wearing a flowing dress in a formal and almost royal depiction, glowing and full of gravitas.
“Me, I’m not a beauty,” Meder said. “For sure. Because when I take a look at myself and what I used to look like—some nice beauty, boy! I was a beauty, boy!”
In a recent Facetime conversation with The Source, Meder, 103 and a resident of The Madison House, an assisted living facility, at first wanted to talk about her family, her old job working at a senior center, a tattoo her great-grandaughter had just gotten. There has been a lot of changes recently in the world, she said, some good, some bad, and plenty in between.
One recent change is something that Meder, her family, and everyone in the Madison House is celebrating. After testing positive for the coronavirus at the end of April, last week Meder received the best kind of news: two negative tests, meaning she is deemed fully recovered from the deadly disease, and making her the oldest Madison House resident to beat it, according to Madison House Recreation Director Tracy Guliani.
“103 and COVID-Free” reads the sign that Madison House staff put together for Meder in a celebration last week. It was a joyful moment marking a singular triumph even as there is no clear end for the pandemic at The Madison House, with lockdown restrictions and cohorting of patients (placing those with the same disease in the same room) likely to continue for weeks or months.
Meder said she doesn’t have any insight into why or how she was able to beat the disease at her age. Guliani said there isn’t really a rhyme or reason to how the disease affects people, with some of the healthiest, most active residents succumbing to it.
“It doesn’t discriminate against anyone,” Guliani said of the novel coronavirus. “We’ve had people that didn’t make it through the virus that were as alert and oriented and active as [Meder]. It just depends on where the infection takes over.”
Meder said she didn’t know why she was able to overcome the disease, but credited nurses and staff at the Madison House for “[getting] us in shape,” though she did describe herself as “a tough old bird.”
“Like anything else, you have your good days and bad days,” Meder said. “So this is the way the world goes.”
She also credited her son, Donald, saying she “wouldn’t have made this” without him.
Donald calls her on the phone daily, she said, and whenever there is anything she needs, he brings it to her— leaving it at the front desk, still unable to come down the hall to see her.
But being free and clear on the other side of her own battle with COVID isn’t something she is actively celebrating yet, Meder said. Along with some worries that the disease might return, the one thing Meder said she wants following her recovery is to have her family and friends all together in one room, which is still impossible, with no clear timeline for when nursing homes will be able to allow visitors, according to Guliani.
Meder grew emotional when asked what she would like to say to her loved ones waiting outside the walls, still unable to sit next to her bed or give her a hug.
“Tell all my friends I miss them and I love them,” she said. “They’re all good people—good, good people, very thoughtful, and they take care of me, too. I don’t know what I can say. They are all good people...and there are good people in here, too.”
Until the day she can be reunited with all these folks, Guliani said the Madison House wanted to make sure Meder knows how special she is, bringing as many of the people who had worked with her during her disease for a little celebration, and making a sign for her to hold.
Guliani also pointed out that Meder technically lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic, though she was only a baby at the time.
Mostly, though, Meder was doubtful about any characterization of herself as someone who was tougher, or that her beating the disease was something momentous.
She spoke about how her age gave her perspective not only on the current circumstances of the pandemic, but on any number of other issues or ideas, thoughts or disagreements that came up on a daily basis—with family, or with Madison House staff and residents.
“They’ve got to be 103...to see it, how it fits,” she said.
Tradition is one of those things Meder said she held onto and cared for through the difficult times, with one particular phrase that is used for goodbyes in her family holding a special place in her heart. It’s something she says to her great-grandaughter at every visit.
She used it herself to sign off from her bed in the nursing home, with the hope there would be future visits with family and friends in the future that will end on the same happy note:
“A bushel and a peck,” Meder said, “and a hug around the neck.”