Lisa Steadman could not wait to go home to her husband.
The nail technician had spent more than a week in a Central Florida hospital recovering from a serious case of the coronavirus while Ronald Steadman, who had also contracted covid-19, battled a milder case from home.
During many of their check-in phone calls, she relayed to him how scared she was of dying alone in the hospital. Her health was improving and so was his, he reassured her. Soon, they'd be back together at the Winter Haven, Fla., home they were in the middle of renovating.
But Ronald, 55, did not appear to be home when Lisa returned on Aug. 11.
"Ron? Ron?" Lisa, 58, yelled while searching for him throughout the house.
Eventually, the barking of their three dogs led her to their bedroom.
When Lisa cracked open the door, she found Ron unresponsive on his side of the bed and their three dogs in distress. By then, his body had already began decomposing, she told The Washington Post. The dogs looked as if they had not been fed or given water for at least two days, she said.
"I just went hysterical," Lisa said. "It was like walking into a horror movie. That's what I see now when I think of him."
Neither Ron, who died of COVID-19 complications, nor Lisa had been vaccinated, Lisa said. Both had agreed they would wait longer to schedule their shots. Lisa rarely got sick and only left her house for work, and Ron, who was in charge of running the couple's errands during the pandemic, always wore his mask and stayed away from large crowds, Lisa said.
"Both of us thought that [the vaccine] came out so fast. How could they have done so much testing on it? I was just cautious about it," she said. "It's not that I was against vaccines."
The couple, who met through a Christian dating website after losing their previous partners, was part of the tens of millions of Americans who have not yet received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, which are available free to anyone 12 and older. Like the Steadmans, many people remain reluctant about the shots. Others have put off getting inoculated.
Nearly 52% of Floridians are fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by The Post. In the past week, new daily reported cases and deaths in the state rose nearly 10% and 66% percent, respectively, The Post's coronavirus tracker data shows.
Health officials continue to stress that the vaccines significantly lower one's chance of becoming severely ill or dying of the virus as the highly transmissible delta variant spreads across the country.
Ron, a mechanical and electrical engineer, was the first one to test positive on Aug. 1, Lisa said. Doctors at the urgent care site he visited sent him home with medications and asked him to return if his condition worsened. Two days later, Lisa, who had gone to the emergency room because she started exhibiting symptoms, also tested positive. She was sent home, only to return days later after her oxygen levels dropped to 80 percent and she lost consciousness at home.
The couple kept in touch throughout much of her hospital stay, Lisa said. How are the dogs doing? How do you feel today? Have you called your family? the couple would ask each other, Lisa said. After nearly a week in the hospital, Lisa reported feeling better. Ron was also improving, she said.
Days before she was expected to be discharged, Ron told her that his phone was not working properly. At one point when Lisa could not reach him, she called the Winter Haven Police Department to go check on him, she said.
Police called her back to report that her husband was doing fine, which the department confirmed to The Post. So when her phone call went straight to his voicemail on Aug. 10, Lisa didn't think much of it. After all, Ron had said his phone wasn't working and was known for being a deep sleeper. Police had already reassured her that he was doing okay. She told herself they would be reunited the next day when she was discharged.
"I thought he was just going to be fine and that his phone wasn't working," she said.
Local authorities later told her that he was likely already dead.
Lisa, who would have celebrated the couple's fourth wedding anniversary on Oct. 28, said she expects to get the vaccine in September - a decision she had already made before leaving the hospital.
She has been hurt by comments on social media criticizing her decision not to get the vaccine earlier.
"I did what I thought was best for me," Lisa told The Post. "Even if you don't agree with me that I didn't get the shot earlier, you don't say, 'I bet you wish you would have gotten the vaccine so your husband wouldn't be dead.'"
She added: "We wanted to make sure [the vaccine] was safe."
She plans to finish the home the couple was remodeling in honor of her husband. That's what he would have wanted her to do, she said.
"That was Ron's dream," Lisa told The Post.