Love from a distance

Rita Berning greets her husband, Louie Berning, who had been at MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center for a week while he received treatment for pneumonia. She was unable to visit due to COVID-19 restrictions and would stand outside his window waving, blowing kisses and holding signs to let him know he was loved.

Each day at about noon, Louie Berning would peer out of his third-floor window that overlooked a patch of trees and an empty parking lot.

He spent his days isolated at MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center, occasional nurse visits his only company. So his window offered an escape from the cold walls around him.

But, one day, while looking out at the sky, he turned his eyes downward, where he saw a few familiar faces peering up at him.


Those faces belonged to his wife, Rita Berning, and daughters JoAnn Roussel, Sharon Kaiser and Barb Temperly. They held a bold-letter sign declaring “We Love You” as they waved with their free hands.

Shocked, a grin slowly crept across Louie’s face as he lifted his hand to return the friendly gesture.

Louie, 85, was admitted to the hospital April 6 to receive treatment for pneumonia. He had been diagnosed with leukemia about one month prior, and the doctors worried about his low white blood cell count.

They thought he was a high-risk patient amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and his low white blood cell count made him even more susceptible, he said.

“They gave me a lot of drugs to raise my (white blood cell) level,” Louie said. “Every day, I was watching the numbers. I had to be at a certain spot or else they wouldn’t let me out.”

During his week-long stay at the hospital, Louie wasn’t allowed to have any visitors due to regulations set to protect patients and staff from the potentially deadly strain of coronavirus.

When he was alone in his room, he would stand and look outside his window. He described what he saw to his daughter JoAnn, who quickly figured out where his room was and brought Rita to see him.

“He got moved to a different room, and said, ‘I can see trees outside,’” Rita said.

To let his family know exactly where his window was, Louie’s nurses taped pieces of paper to his window. On each sheet was printed a different letter of his name, Kaiser said.

“We loved that we could connect,” Kaiser said. “We couldn’t see in very well, but it was heartwarming for us. It was something I looked forward to every day.”

But Louie wasn’t the only one stuck in isolation. Rita celebrated her 82nd birthday on April 8 without her husband for the first time in 59 years.

The morning of her birthday, a parade of cars filled the parking lot of her apartment. Their repeated honks carried a tune to let her know she wasn’t alone.

But her half-hour visits to look up at Louie’s room were what she looked forward to most.

“We are married 59 and a half years, and we’ve never been apart much,” Rita said. “Maybe (just) a hunting trip or something like that. We’re always together. I wished he was 1分11选5平台 with me instead of over there by himself.”

While she stood outside his window, Rita would call her husband. She told him how much she missed him and that she loved him.

The sound of her voice and the sight of his wife and daughters meant everything to Louie.

“It felt wonderful,” Louie said. “I was so happy to stand and wave to them. It was unbelievable.”

Louie was released from the hospital Monday. Now that he’s back 1分11选5平台, Rita has someone to talk to, she laughed.

The daily ritual was also special for Kaiser and her sisters, she said. They were able to witness the love their parents shared, even from afar.

“It was awesome to see mom and dad who have been married for almost 60 years and what an example of love it is for us kids,” Kaiser said. “It was very heartwarming.”