Working well into late Friday night, my boss messaged from California. “Why are you online this late on Friday?” I responded by texting that I was working on COVID research. “I thought so,” he said. “I remember you stating you slept 12 hours a day during Christmas break. You perform outstanding work for us, but I need for you to logoff. Get some rest. NOW.” He’s right, I should rest, but the battle is personal.

My boss doesn’t know my father died from COVID. My mother called on a Friday “…Dad was tested for COVID this past Tuesday. His results came back today indicating he had COVID. But there’s good news. The nurse indicates he only has a fever. So, he might be ok. Right?” I knew otherwise. I knew that an 89 year-old man, paralyzed on the left side from stroke, suffering dementia, and possible heart issues would probably not survive. I knew that the eleven days post-COVID infection would be critical. Sure enough, when I received my mother’s 3:15 AM text eight days later, “Call me,” I instinctively knew he passed.

Sometime between the 10:30 PM and the 1:30 AM bed check, my father decided he had enough, hailed heaven’s cab and left. In reality, he died alone. There was no last visitation. No chance to say goodbye. There were no final moments via FaceTime. It took weeks to receive his body, for the funeral home was slammed by COVID for weeks. Somewhere between the hospital and funeral lay my father’s body, frozen in cold storage. So, yeah. COVID made it personal.

COVID touched everyone, whether big or small. The effects of the virus, from how we go about our daily lives, to the ways those of us on the front lines fight infectious diseases. I presume the world may never be the same. Being part of my company’s COVID Tiger Team, I think more about the importance of using data to highlight the correct course management should take. The only way we can overcome problems like COVID-19 is to constantly enhance our knowledge and improve the way we think about delivering care. 

I once told a friend that COVID would kill me. I still presume it’s out there, waiting. Regardless, I am interested in doing something to contribute to the greater good. Even if my research cannot immediately help, I hope something proves essential in preventing and alleviating future crises. Each day is another opportunity to do something now, to enhance resilience, to reduce the severity and improve longevity. 

Like many hospitals nationwide, even for patients at the end of their lives, there is concern that visitors could help coronavirus spread throughout the hospital. It’s a tough decision that leaves our patients to suffer through their illnesses in a medical version of solitary confinement. Although my father passed alone, his death may not have been his last communication.

Jumping forward from that day, my mother relayed an update. Like a post-credit snippet from a movie, she laid in bed one night, looking at the empty space beside her. She pondered. “Why did you leave? Why did you leave without allowing me to say goodbye,” she said stroking his pillow.

“I didn’t mean to. It just happened,” whispered a voice.

I leave you with this. Nearly twenty years ago, after an NDE, my father wrote the following (his words, not mine).

“… the most amazing thing happened as I fell asleep. I found I was looking at the brightest white light that I had ever seen. As bright and powerful as the light was, it did not hurt the eyes. It made me feel like wanting to melt in it. As I started to go toward, my mother appeared. She told me that I had to stay here and could not go. We talked for a while and told me that I had something she never had, a blissful marriage, two great sons, and two great grandchildren. As we talked, she assured me I would awaken feeling no pain. I would be rested as if I had slept days. I said, “We’ve only been talking about ten or twenty minutes?” She said, “Our time is not your time.” She affirmed that I would indeed wake and find that I would be rested, have no pain, and have healed faster than anyone with a similar pulmonary embolism. 

My mother was right. I was discharged three days later, with no pain and no ill effect. Now, all these years later, I still sit on the patio, looking into the night above the Tucson, AZ sky, into the stars, and I wonder where she’s [his mother] at and when I may return.”

So, my COVID battle is personal. A little for me, but mainly for others, that they too can experience a blissful life.