June Is for Pride, but This Story Makes Us Year-round Proud
Often, many of us from Rehoboth, Lewes, and our ‘burbs can’t quite verbalize what makes this community so special. LGBTQ welcoming, for sure. Also, the sophisticated culinary scene, the work of CAMP Rehoboth, our dedication to the arts, and a million little ways in which thousands of people, LGBTQ and straight alike, feel safe and supported as they live, work, and visit here.
But if there’s one story exemplifying our culture of supporting each other, it’s the story of Joe Zuber and Darryl Ciarlante, long-time Rehoboth business and homeowners, currently owners of Diego’s. They tangled with COVID-19 over the past three months, and without any intention of doing so, showed all the reasons why we have such tremendous pride in our community.
The public saga started with a three-word a Facebook post on March 29: “Please PRAY today.”
But the story started days before as Joe learned that Darryl, back home in Rehoboth, was sick, probably with COVID-19. They spoke several times daily, about Darryl’s symptoms, doctor’s advice, and finally, when things got really bad, with Joe staying on the phone as Darryl drove himself to Beebe Healthcare on March 29.
From the emergency room, Darryl told Joe they’d probably take his phone, so they said their goodbyes. Darryl said, “I’ll talk to you as soon as I can.”
That turned out to be 40 days later.
Still in Mexico, Joe talked to the Darryl’s doctor, who asked what the two men’s relationship was—married? Boyfriends? Friends? “He wanted to be sure to address us properly,” Joe said, and told the doctor that Darryl was his husband.
Then, the doctor asked Joe’s permission to put Darryl on a ventilator.
“When I hesitated, the doctor said ‘Mr. Zuber, you husband is in very critical condition. He may not be alive in 30 minutes unless we do something.’” The doctor also asked Joe if the hospital could call clergy if last rites were needed.
Joe gave permission for both the ventilator and the clergy.
And as his flight home from Mexico was ready to board, Joe posted those three words: “Please PRAY today.”
By the time Joe landed in LA for his connection, there were 25 messages with prayers and hugs on his Facebook account; by Philly the number leapt to over 150. The two flights, with frustrating delays, were “the longest 13 hours I have ever spent,” Joe says. But while he was in airplane mode silence, Facebook exploded with family, friends, acquaintances, and customers, sending prayers, healing energy, positive vibes, and a whole litany of good wishes.
Darryl was in very critical condition, sedated, breathing with a ventilator, and connected to a network of tubes and monitors, as Joe spoke with Beebe doctors, chaplains, and support staff.
“Darryl is such a private person,” Joe says, “I didn’t know what he’d think of my telling everyone what was going on, but so many people wanted to know.” So many, that daily Facebook reactions, those little hearts, thumbs up, crying emojis, etc., approached 400, with another 160 daily comments. This was a massive neighborhood watch.
People sent Joe posts of hope, optimism, healing light, and a thousand warm, sincere messages of support. There were added prayers on Good Friday and Passover, and then Easter, with hundreds of Facebook posts every single day, plus calls and texts and whatever else people could think of doing to help.
By two weeks into the nightmare, Joe wrote “I am continually honored and touched on the ongoing support we have—many BLESSINGS...Happy Easter” he told Facebookers, announcing he finally saw which room Darryl was in and could stand outside and look up at the window. A nurse put a speaker phone in the room so Joe’s comatose husband might be able to hear his voice.
One morning Joe wrote “Beebe is over the top with compassion and professionalism,” continuing, “And yes,” Joe said, responding to pleas that he take care of himself, “Yes, I do sleep and eat—I am good—know you are worried. I AM OK!”
He was also much more than merely okay with the hospital staff, with everyone from phone operators to nurses and doctors asking Joe how his husband was doing. Yes, using the word husband. This level of sensitivity at a place where 20 years ago, many of us, myself included, encountered rampant homophobia and disrespect as our partners received care. This wholesale change is a tangible sign of the success our community has achieved and the bridges we have built by working together for equality.
But then came a cascade of terrifying complications. As medical staff tried to wean Darryl from sedation and oxygen, he got pneumonia, and a temperature spike to an unimaginable 107 degrees, plus blood clots, a low platelet count, and the need for transfusions. Beebe staff was up to the horrific challenge.
It was a rollercoaster of good news, then frightening set-backs. A trach was placed in Darryl’s airway; his COVID-19 test was negative but other issues clouded that report. He remained critical but stable, sedated, and comatose. Joe began calling for a miracle.
The community hovered in unison, praying and waiting. Businesses donated to the Beebe COVID-19 relief, restaurants and CAMP Rehoboth fed the medical team at the hospital, continued thoughts, hugs, prayers, love, hearts, and rainbows came pouring in—now closing in on 500 daily Facebook reactions and hundreds more daily comments. The whole community, thousands of people, checked in daily to wait for better news.
Finally, it happened. Sedation reduced, Darryl was waking up and the ventilator was doing less of his breathing. Nurses and therapists had him up in a chair, starting to assess his memory and cognitive function. They had him doing leg lifts, arm lifts, and exercise to regain his strength.
Virtual cheers by the thousands went up online when the team got Darryl up and walking. Joe posted “I CAN NOT THANK each of you for all the phone calls, text messages…PRAYERS from every religion and over and above all the LOVE and SUPPORT we are getting. We are SO BLESSED to have you with us.”
And on April 25, “One month...672 hours...40,320 minutes...” said Joe, there was Facetime contact. Darryl couldn’t talk, because of the trach, but he managed to communicate “Where are you?” Joe told him he was at Diego’s, and Darryl cried.
He didn’t yet understand why Joe couldn’t visit, or exactly what had happened in the previous month, but things continued to improve, despite ongoing pneumonia, infections, and blood clots.
Joe wrote “After 34 days in ICU, Darryl was finally moved to a Step-Down room. I can never thank the ICU TEAM ENOUGH for saving my Darryl's life so many times. All of you who sent messages, Your Prayers, Thoughts, Positive vibes all EMBRACED and supported both of us. YOU are...a HUGE part of our survival...BLESS YOU....“
Finally, Joe could visit Darryl on iPad Facetime, and plans came together to transfer the patient to Bayhealth for rehab. On day 40 of this COVID nightmare, as he left for rehab, Joe reported that Darryl was learning to speak with the trach, learning to swallow and eat food again, and anxious to do the work needed to come home. “The best news!” Joe heralded, “His brain is working!!!”
And that day’s good news was viewed by 637 people reacting with available emojis and another 357 people adding joyous comments. The daily Facebook check-ins were heading toward 1,000.
And in a marvelous, moving outpouring of well wishes and support, just before Memorial Day, when Darryl came home, neighbors organized a drive-by auto parade of honking, cheering, and applause for the couple who stood outside their home watching and waving.
The drive-by video was posted on Facebook. I pushed play and burst into tears—happiness for my friends Joe and Darryl, and a flood of emotion for our community.
In this pandemic, so many have been alone, but together, in love and support for those needing help—supporting our restaurants with carry-out, honoring our first responders, donating to feed and support medical staffs, doing Zoom support groups, and communicating online or by phone. Clearly, we cannot keep our community from gathering, socially distanced and masked or online, and supporting one another.
And we now have a big, happy story to help explain to outsiders our pride for Rehoboth, Lewes, and its ‘burbs. We are who we are, and it’s pretty great.##
Fay Jacobs is an author of five published memoirs. Her newest is Fried & Convicted: Rehoboth Beach Uncorked. As a humorist, she’s touring with her show Aging Gracelessly: 50 Shades of Fay. See www.fayjacobs.com