Local resident Edward Mueller, 99, had planned to celebrate his 100th birthday in Paris, where his daughter and grandson live.
But after surviving COVID-19 — and a two-week hospital stay — Mueller said he’s perfectly content to mark the milestone at home next month.
“I’m a little disappointed, but there’s nothing magic about a certain date,” said Mueller, a retired colonel and frequent face at the Edmonds Senior Center dances. “We’ll reschedule.”
With more than 700 COVID-related deaths in Washington state — a number that’s highly concentrated among the oldest adults — Mueller’s experience is a story of hope, recovery, determination and gratitude amid a devastating pandemic.
Listening to intuition
Margarita Andrijic, 99, said she knew something serious was wrong with her companion of 10 years in early March, well before people started social distancing and businesses closed. She had fixed his favorite dinner, but he wouldn’t touch it.
“He’d sell his soul for a hamburger and French fries,” she said, laughing. “I knew something was wrong.”
That plus a cough and fatigue prompted her to call his doctor and then the paramedics, who evaluated him at the kitchen table. They left without taking him to the hospital, saying his vitals were fine.
“I still wasn’t happy,” Andrijic said. “A law professor once told me to follow your gut reaction, and I’ve always done that. So, the same day, I called the doctor’s office again.”
They scheduled an appointment for that afternoon. Once the clinician listened to Mueller’s lungs, he directed him to Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. There, Mueller would test positive for COVID-19 and stay for nearly two weeks.
Meanwhile, Andrijic reached out to everyone who had been exposed, including the paramedics and all of their senior dancing friends. She got tested herself and the results came back negative, a surprise since the couple often stays together at her Lake Forest Park home.
Taking things as they come
As Mueller’s hospital stay stretched on, Andrijic stayed calm: “You keep telling yourself: If it’s the worst, I’ll just make the best of it. What else can you do? You can’t sit around and feel sorry for yourself.”
Mueller, who received supplemental oxygen during his stay, eventually pulled through. He said the staff did the best they could in the throes of a burgeoning pandemic: “I take my hat off to them.”
The stay itself was a stress, and unpleasant, but the illness didn’t scare him, he said. As a career Air Force colonel who served in W.W.II and during Vietnam, he had learned to take things as they come.
“You’re assigned a job, you make the most of it, and you do it,” he said. “I endured, that’s all. Finally, they certified that I was free and let me go.”
Rest, healthy meals and walks
Mueller isn’t sure how he contracted the coronavirus, but he does have some thoughts on why he was able to recover.
“I’d like to say good living, good nutrition, good exercise, and plenty of rest,” he said.
Now that he’s recovered, Mueller is venturing outside again.
“We walk every day, just a little bit,” Andrijic said. “Just a few steps more, that’s all I care about, a few steps forward.”
The couple, who met at a senior dance mixer in Bothell, had bonded over an enthusiasm for exercise and good health.
After three decades of military service, Mueller was no stranger to staying fit. A native of South Dakota, he had settled in the Pacific Northwest after retirement, drawn to its plentiful outdoor opportunities. He finally gave up skiing in his 90s.
Senior dance community
Over the past decade, Andrijic helped him fine tune his ballroom dancing. Mueller particularly enjoyed the events at the Edmonds Senior Center.
“The dancing is good, the conversation is good, and the little snacks are really good,” Mueller said.
The Edmonds dance community was aware of Mueller’s hospitalization, said Fran Vanderbeck, a senior center volunteer who makes sure those scrumptious snacks are out.
“It was always fun to visit with the two of them—they both are very upbeat and gracious,” she said. “It’s sad that we can’t get together now, although we all understand the importance of staying apart.”
Last year, Mueller celebrated his 99th birthday at the temporary senior center dance site at the Edmonds Church of God. This year, his dancing friends had planned to celebrate early with him before the Paris trip.
Instead, Mueller and Andrijic will likely stay home, perhaps enjoying one of her Croatian-influenced dishes made with lots of fish and vegetables, olive oil, garlic and onion — a style of cooking she attributes in part to their good health. Of course, there will be plenty of chocolate to follow.
“His all-time favorite is chocolate — chocolate candy, cake, syrup — you name it,” she said. “All I have to do is put chocolate on it.”
Although Mueller misses his social life and is eager to return to the senior dance circuit, he said a quiet celebration with Andrijic sounds perfectly fine.
“Just being around her is something I’m thankful for,” he said.
She couldn’t agree more: “We take the good with the bad and are thankful for every day we’re alive.”
— By Kellie Schmitt
This article is part of an ongoing series exploring the impact of coronavirus on the life, work and health of Edmonds residents. If you or someone you know has a story to tell, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For other stories in this series, click here.