Ask Jane Weinhaus what she wants now, after 20 days in the hospital suffering with COVID-19, including nine days on a ventilator, and her answer is simple: “I want to return to work as soon as I can.”
Of course, her work as a preschool teacher at Temple Israel is not to be right now, since the school is closed. Whether it will reopen later this spring, or for camp this summer, or even in the fall, remains anyone’s guess. But Miss Jane, as she is known and adored at TI’s Deutsch Early Childhood Center, where she has taught for over 25 years, is looking forward to the day when she is back in her classroom doing what she does so well: helping to nurture and teach little children by showing them patience, kindness, empathy, creativity and love.
“I am 100 percent going back to my job,” Jane told me Monday as she continues to recover at her home in Chesterfield. “That’s where my heart is.”
The last month or so is still a little fuzzy for Jane, 63, who returned home from Missouri Baptist Medical Center on April 3. Her husband, Michael, 63, had also tested positive for the virus and spent 10 days at Mo Bap. The couple’s two sons, Jason, 37, and Ryan, 33, along with Ryan’s wife, Dr. Brittanie Weinhaus, 31, had tested positive as well, although the three didn’t require hospitalization but were quarantined at home.
The Weinhaus family knows that the St. Louis Jewish community was pulling for their recovery. They are convinced that everyone’s prayers and well wishes truly helped them.
“If there is a silver lining, it’s the love and support we feel from our family, friends and community, which made a huge difference,” said Michael, who works in the golf industry. “We are not used to receiving help. We are used to giving help.”
Jane, a self-described extrovert (and anyone who knows her would agree!), uses the word “depleted” to describe how she felt during her ordeal. She remembers waking up Sunday, March 8 and not being able to get out of bed.
“Not only couldn’t I chase after a 2-year-old, but I felt like I had a giant stack of books on top of me,” she said, adding that in more than two decades as a preschool teacher, she had never taken a sick day for actually being sick. She used some to attend funerals and for a vacation.
But she called in sick on Monday, March 9 and again every day the rest of that week. “I just felt so depleted,” said Jane, explaining that Mike took her to her doctor, where she tested positive for pneumonia. She was given antibiotics and medicine for a bad cough, but nothing seemed to help.
So on Saturday, March 14, her twin sister, Joan Lewen, took Jane to be tested for COVID-19 at Mercy Hospital. Michael ordinarily would have driven his wife, but he had been rushed to Mercy by ambulance earlier that day because of breathing issues. He tested positive the day before for pneumonia, along with the couple’s son, Jason.
Michael was released from Mercy on March 15, which was the same day Jane was admitted to Missouri Baptist. On March 20, Michael was taken by ambulance again, but this time to Mo Bap because his breathing was so labored, and he needed oxygen.
“I remember being wheeled by Jane’s room and seeing her on a ventilator. That was extremely scary,” said Michael, adding that by the time Jane’s test for COVID-19 came back positive, she was already on a ventilator.
“According to what I heard, because I really don’t remember, my lungs were overtaxed, and I needed a ventilator to help me breathe,” said Jane. “I wasn’t able to generate enough oxygen on my own.”
When Jane finally came off the ventilator — she was taken off after six days, but immediately put back on for another three — she and Michael were placed in the same hospital room. “The thinking was that having someone familiar near her would help her get over the sedation and agitation patients often feel (after the ventilator) a little quicker,” said Michael.
“The room they put us in was big enough for eight beds, but it was only the two of us,” added Jane.
Nevertheless, communication between them was something of a problem. Michael, who usually wears hearing aids, didn’t have them at the hospital. And Jane, whose trademark nasally voice has been known to overpower a room of screaming 2-year-olds, couldn’t muster more than a whisper.
“We had to have a nurse come in to interpret,” said Jane, laughing. “Now I walk around the house yelling ‘MIIIKKKE,’ but at first my voice was not fully there. I was depleted.”
Jane says the hardest part were the four days after Michael was released from Mo Bap and she remained there. She was told she would be moved to a rehabilitation facility to help her get stronger. But Miss Jane had other ideas.
“I was climbing the walls. I knew I needed to come home,” she said. “I felt like I was coming out of my skin, not because people at Mo Bap weren’t nice to me — they were wonderful. I give every doctor, nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist — anyone who walked into my room — an A-plus. I could not have gotten better care. They never made me feel like I had leprosy or like I was someone they didn’t want to get near.
“But I missed my family. I wanted to go home.”
Jane asked if she could get a physical therapist to evaluate her. She recalls: “Pam, the therapist, came to my room. I had never met her before. I said, ‘Will you do me a favor, Pam, and just test me like I’m going home tomorrow to see how I am doing?’ She literally spent a half hour watching me walk with a walker, get in and out of bed, go to the bathroom. She said, ‘I think you’re doing great.’
“I think everyone in my family wanted me to go to rehab because they thought I would receive the best care there. But I knew the best thing for me was [being] home and getting therapy there. I never felt as happy as I did seeing my driveway.”
Well, that isn’t exactly true. A week after Jane’s homecoming, parents and children at Temple Israel’s preschool, as well as former parents and children, held a car parade in Miss Jane’s honor. She stood in front of her house with a blanket over her shoulders cheering as each car drove by. The parade lasted for two hours.
“I was supposed to be in long-term rehab but there I was jumping up and down,” said Jane, adding that she believes being home, near the people she loves, is helping her to heal faster than expected.
“My greatest joy was seeing the 2-year-olds stick their heads out of sunroofs and car windows yelling, ‘We love you Miss Jane,’ ‘We miss you Miss Jane, hope you’re feeling better.’ Oh, my goodness. It was such a good feeling.”
On Monday, before we chatted, Jane and Michael had each received physical therapy at their home. Jane said she walked on her own around her neighborhood, walked up and down the stairs in her house, rode an exercise bicycle with no tension for 10 minutes and lifted light weights.
“The physical therapist has been here four times. She’s coming again Thursday but thinks it might be the last time she comes for a while,” said Jane. “She says, “You’re doing great, Jane. But your job is lifting 2-year-olds and this weight is 2 pounds not 20. So it will take a little while longer, but I know I will get there.”
As both she and Michael continue to get stronger, they are focusing their attention on giving back. A Go Fund Me campaign started by friends for the couple raised over $24,000. They are extremely appreciative of the outpouring, but it makes them a bit uncomfortable because they feel others need the money more than they do.
“I don’t know what the (medical) bills will be, and I am sure this money will be very helpful and for that we are thankful. But we also want to find a way to use it to help other people,” said Michael. “I am really proud of our family and how they have stepped up. Right now, our sons and daughter-in-law are in the process of donating blood so their antibodies can be studied and hopefully used to help treat others with the virus. We plan to do the same as soon as we can. We want to offer our support to people who might be sick and help in any way we can because we are very, very grateful.”
Michael has received notification from the St. Louis County Health Department that he no longer has the virus. Jane is hoping that she will be tested again soon and receive similar notification.
“I feel like everyone has such a place in my heart right now, my family, close friends, friends that I haven’t heard from in five or 10 years but have reached out. Even strangers who have reached out,” said Jane. “We are all going through this together as a community, as a country, as a world. We feel vulnerable. There are so many unanswered questions.
“But there are silver linings in this. There are times when you say, ‘Thank you God for what you didn’t put on my plate and what was on my plate and I overcame.’
“I am not a very materialistic person — big houses, fancy cars, lavish vacations aren’t important to me. I just need to go back to work when they tell me I can. And I need to be able to enjoy the life I had before this — playing with my grandchildren and spending time with my husband and children and my 90-year-old father and seeing family and friends and the kids and teachers at TI. Now I have no doubts that will happen.”