Tag Archive: COVID


A Year of COVID

I don’t regularly listen to National Public Radio. In fact, in the past year, I can count the number of times spent listening to anything on NPR on one hand. Last week was either my fourth or fifth. While reaching down to grab something from my chair, I brushed the radio’s ‘on’ button. The NPR station began with the story, March 11th, 2020: The Day Everything Changed

“A year into the coronavirus pandemic, the enormous changes in our lives have become unremarkable: The collection of fabric masks. Visits with friends or family only in small outdoor gatherings. Working or learning from home. Downtowns deserted at noon on a weekday.

While some changes happened gradually, there was one day [March 11th, 2020] that marked the beginning of the new normal.”

For a few minutes, I sat fixated as NPR host Marco Werman took the listeners through what changed. By all accounts, the World Health Organization formally declared COVID-19 a pandemic around March 11th, 2020. Since then, the magnitude of loss has been stunning. Today, nearly 120 million global COVID-19 cases and 2.6 million deaths later, I kept thinking of all that had changed. Sure, one could focus upon key political facts: Chinese officials actively blamed Americans for starting the virus while the Trump administration blamed China. Still, my focus narrowed. The question I asked myself was, “How has my life changed during the year of COVID?”

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Vaccine Purgatory

Pima County, Arizona issued a new system and phone number for COVID-19 vaccination registration. According to the county health department, staff would be available over the weekend and on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, January 18, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. My 83 year-old mother dialed the registration line. “Your call is important to us and will be answered in 9 days, 8 hours, 36 minutes. Press ‘1’ if you like to continue. If you continue, we’ll play really crappy music and hope you’ll eventually beat the crap out of your phone. Press ‘2’ to be disconnected right away. Or do nothing and be disconnected regardless.”

My mother asked of the likelihood of receiving the vaccination prior to the 2024 Presidential Election. “Almost 90%,” I calmly stated. Following up, “However, you are more likely to get hit by a meteorite than receiving the vaccine within the next 60 days.” The Christian Science Monitor reported just that, that some unlucky dude got whacked by a meteor in 2016. To be clear though, a professor at Tulane University calculated the odds of getting killed by a meteorite at about 1 in 250,000. That’s better than death by airplane crash (1 in 30,000) or tornado (1 in 60,000). Sorry, I digress.

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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.

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It’s Free

In the past week, our President proclaimed that as COVID cases in Europe and Canada rise, “It’s going to disappear [in America], it is disappearing.” Additionally, since COVID was a blessing from God, he wants the American people to get the same treatment he did — for free. Think about that, free? It’s free America. COVID is free. As in nada. Just walk to the nearest hospital and order your free COVID treatment.
President Trump’s COVID medication cocktail contained a mix of proven drugs, over-the-counter drugs, supplements, and experimental antibodies only available to those participating in clinical trials. To the average person (without insurance), those medications would cost between $4,300 and $5,145. There is a minor caveat.

Monoclonal antibodies, including one made by Eli Lilly and Co., of Indianapolis, remain under development and are not yet approved for use in the US. The President received it under a “compassionate use” exemption, which the company said it has granted to fewer than ten people. In layman’s terms, ‘compassionate use’ means you are not getting it.

The monoclonal antibodies drug maker Regeneron evaluated the number of multiple dosages required for potential treatment. If I read the information correctly, the maximum dosages they can produce is estimated between 70,000 to 300,000. Maximum prevention doses round out between 420,000 to 1,300,000. Therein lay the math problem. America has approximately 330 million citizens, which of the 1.3 million Americans receives Regeneron? Even if you are lucky enough to receive Regeneron, is there a hospital available with available resources to treat you?

The massive shortfall in US inpatient hospital and ICU bed capacity raises important policy implications for current efforts to address COVID-19. There are not enough hospital beds. To meet the needs ahead, hospitals need to develop contingency plans to expand hospital capacity. Postponing elective inpatient surgical admissions is one straightforward strategy. Still, all hospitals in the US should establish clear protocols to aid decision making on which types of procedures and clinical diagnoses could be safely postponed. Second, the shortage of mechanical ventilators and ICU beds will require hospitals to transition inpatient operating rooms, ambulatory surgical sites, and post-anesthesia care units into flexible ICUs. After years of neglect, the American health system is outgunned.

The miracle vaccine some are desperate to acquire will pose a nightmare for others. What works in one country will fail in another. And Trump’s easy choice this week may not make sense next week. Failing to look at how closing schools’ and our economy to stop an outbreak is likely to surge into years of economic harm. Making choices in the era of Covid-19 isn’t just about fighting a virus; our moral code, ethics, and humanity are also at stake.

But fear not. COVID’s disappearing. Right? Right.

The doctor was quick and to the point. “After all our tests, we believe an experimental drug, consisting of cells manufactured and implanted in the eye to stimulate optic nerve growth and activity, might be the best method of fighting your symptoms. We would require approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) via a compassionate use request that allows experimental drugs to patients outside clinical trials. But getting access to not-yet-approved pharmaceuticals via a compassionate use request is both arduous and challenging.”

What the doctor implied but did not say was, “You will go blind in your left eye because you are not a VIP and associated costs are bigger than the ‘Big Mac Combo Meal 1’ range. Also, you are likely to expire before receiving therapy approval. and, since most experimental treatments rarely work on dying patients, ‘compassionate use’ requests from patients like you become ‘compassionate not.’ In the end, you can still get to heaven with one eye. Ensure you look left and right before merging and change lanes accordingly.”

While paying the $40 copay, I saw Trump’s photo op in front of Walter Reed Medical Center. America’s chief dude made what media sources claim was a ‘photo-up’ by leaving his hospital suite to make a “surprise” drive-by to supporters while undergoing COVID-19 treatment. Trump’s drive-by triggered both safety concerns, outrage, and giving the middle finger to the more than 208,000 Americans who perished. The joyride only occurred because our chief asshole received medical treatments the poor working slob on Mainstreet, U.S.A., will never obtain.

Before the president left the White House for Walter Reed Medical Center, he received a single dose of Regeneron’s polyclonal antibody cocktail. This experimental drug has shown promise in initial trials in improving symptoms and reducing virus levels in the body but has not received Food and Drug Administration approval. Trump was also treated with Remdesivir, an intravenous antiviral medication shown to help treat COVID-19. Remdesivir’s benefits are modest: reducing hospital stays from 11 to 15 days.

For those with insurance, Remdesivir will top $3,000. How much-uninsured patients would pay remains unclear. Regeneron’s cost has not been publicly shared, but suffice to say it will not be in the ‘Big Mac Combo Meal 1’ range.

Trump’s a ‘Very Important Person (VIP),’ I am not. VIP treatment is a feature of American medicine. Major hospitals throughout the country provide private spaces for celebrities, the super-rich, and the influential. These are the patients who get shielded from the public. VIP’s include foreign nationals from places including Saudi Arabia, China, Canada, and Mexico.

The real coronavirus war cannot be flouted in a presidential joyride victory lap. Memorable scenes of community hospitals fighting on the front lines from California to Maine depicted medical centers nearly overwhelmed by desperately sick people. They are pictures of doctors and nurses working around-the-clock with insufficient equipment. And as of now, there are at least 208,000 COVID victims who cannot take a celebratory joyride. These 208,000 are alumni of the Big Mac Combo Meal 1.

I hope Tuesday, November 3rd, the remaining Big Mac Combo Meal 1 alumni will remember this joyride. I also hope the alumni remember this probably started during Trump’s introduction of  Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett — the same judge who will likely assist in overturning the Affordable Care Act. That means for Big Mac Combo Meal 1 alumni members. Get it now?

November 3rd.

I spent 9 hours back at war–meaning I spent hours assisting medical clinicians in calibrating equipment that will keep hospital patients alive. I captured and edited the photo that shows the grooves from my N95 Mask.  The grooves etched into my cheeks up to my ears will remain for several hours.

For months clinicians have braved face mask scars while working long hours to treat coronavirus patients. They are the heroes, not me. I just crunch numbers and keep machines alive, that in turn will keep patients alive. Real heroes are the men and women who work the front lines, spending hours triaging, processing, recording, and treating patients. It has been a privilege working side-by-side with them, every day, day-in, day-out.

I returned from Arizona a few days prior to Trump’s Phoenix rally. Phoenix’s mayor says mask requirements won’t be enforced at the Trump rally. Why not?

Well, The Dream City Church, the megachurch that hosted Trump’s re-election campaign rally announces a dreamy COVID-19 cure-all.  Their megachurch installed a new air-purification system. Not just any ol’ air-purification system, but one that will kill 99.9 percent of the Covid-19 coronavirus in the church. I am positive Jesus approved that announcement.

“. . .  when you come into our auditorium, 99 percent of COVID is gone, killed, if it was there in the first place. You can know when you come here, you’ll be safe and protected. Thank God for great technology and thank God for being proactive.”

Praise Jesus. Thank you, God.

The true vision of Christ does not come from an orange-toned figure proselytizing his own righteousness backed by Church idiots. You want to really see the face of God? Go to any emergency room exit and watch clinicians coming out for a breather or leaving. View the face mask scars. See their pain and walk five minutes in the life of a patient dying from a lack of breath.

When the president mocks mask wearers for appearing weak and sees face coverings as a political statement against him, it’s no surprise that some Americans are loudly declining to wear them.

My friends will claim that me trying to shame people into healthier behavior generally will not work. So, is that what this blog post is about? Shaming? No.

We depend on the trust and kindness of others to protect our wellbeing. That is part of being an American, that is why we must wear a face mask. We wear seatbelts, don’t we? Most wear helmets while riding motorcycles, skiing, and skateboarding? Yes? We wear safety harnesses on rollercoasters. Right?

Masks will not deprive anyone of oxygen. They do fog glasses; make the skin itch; produces sweat; appear ‘uncool.’ You have to remember them when walking out the front door (or risk getting nearly all the work and returning home to retrieve it … like me). And, masks constantly remind Americans of what they want to forget: that in spite of everything, the pandemic hasn’t ceded.

For me, it’s about the scars on my face. It’s about love; it’s about genuinely wanting to keep our community safe; about recognizing that face masks will reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission. If you cannot understand that message, then I will see you soon . . . probably during my shift.

In theory, every day is a gift. Actor Richard Evans said, “It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” And true to Evans’ words, I have witnessed tremendous kindness and generosity. 

A Buddhist would say our Coronavirus times should remind us of what is essential: Grandparents, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and family. More importantly, is there a call to review personal responsibility? While Presidents, CEO’s and our state leaders speak, cite statistics, and map out a post-COVID world, are we morally and ethically making the ‘right’ sacrifices? As we celebrate Memorial Day, would those (the “Greatest Generation”) agree that this generation is sacrificing anything?

I worry we’re not.

Tom Brokaw referred to the “Greatest Generation” as those men and women of the Great Depression, who had watched their parents lose their businesses, farms, jobs, and hopes and went directly into uniform into the military to fight tyranny. Brokaw noted that very stage of their lives, they were part of historical challenges and achievements of a magnitude the world had never before witnessed and credits them with much of the freedom and affluence we experience today.

It wasn’t all good. As many noted, during the early pre-war years against Germany, the government asked more of the public as the nation shifted to an all-out war footing. Like today, defiance of the government’s dictates was not uncommon across ideological boundaries. Just as early appeals to gather scrap metal for munitions production were ignored, today, we find it difficult to social distance and wear a face mask. And just as the Roosevelt administration’s plea for nonstop factory fostered strikes and work stoppages, I can only imagine how a person making more in unemployment than working will become motivated to sacrifice.

While American patriotism and wartime fervor played essential roles in successes, it was active leadership from the Roosevelt administration, especially its rhetoric and propaganda, which secured the buy-in. Today, we have an administration weaponizing division, promoting bogus health prevention (hydroxychloroquine) and refusing to explain what is needed and why.

We have failed to adopt clear, consistent, repeated messaging to encourage Americans in the battle required to slow coronavirus’ spread. I looked at the photos from Osage Beach, Missouri. Osage Beach is in the ‘Lake of The Ozarks.’ I am unsurprised by the crowded bars and disregard for social distancing. Yet, these people will beg medical clinicians to make every effort to save them, while simultaneously professing how innocent they are and how they did nothing wrong. 

The Atlantic summarized my thoughts well.

Some people who carried on with their nonessential weekend outings shared their rationale with reporters. One 40-year-old who went with a friend to their favorite bar on Sunday explained to the Los Angeles Times, “This could be the last bar we go to in a long time.” In Boston, a man in line at a bar with an hour-long wait reasoned to a Boston Globe reporter that, as a pharmacist, he was already going to have a high risk of exposure at work anyway, so “there’s only so much I can do” to avoid the virus. And one compassionate, though still risk-taking, D.C. diner told Washingtonian, “As long as businesses are open and the condition doesn’t worsen, I want to support those folks depending on patrons to make their living.

Writer Joe Pinsker noted, “These are extremely weak justifications for a choice that ultimately puts one’s short-term social enjoyment ahead of the health—and maybe even lives—of countless people who are more vulnerable to the disease. Beyond lacking clear and forceful guidance from President Trump and his administration, … people have failed to apprehend the gravity of the outbreak and the importance of staying in.

What happened to Memorial Day 2020? For first responders, clinicians, and rescue personnel across the country, sorrow will intertwine with pride of service and sacrifice. For those in Osage Beach and others with the same mentality, F••• it. It’s Miller Time.

Unfortunately, I see darker skies on the horizon.

There are a haunting feeling untold numbers of Americans who must decide whether to risk Coronavirus (COVID) infection while traveling to see a parent dying from natural causes. Such experiences are reminders of the unanticipated scope of the suffering caused by COVID. 

Sons and daughters are forced to make risky choices, either by love or distance. Should they be allowed to visit? And will they be the exception, the one who can travel across and not become infected?

Three days ago, the call I’d been expecting for several years came. After a long battle of successive mini-strokes, my father’s time is nearing an end. The latest stroke occurred Monday morning, and cost my father the use of his left side as well as other functions, but his humor remains. There aren’t any good options, damned if you do something, damned if you don’t.

It’s a natural part of life,” said the neurologist doctor.

I know. Losing a parent is inevitable, and it isn’t easy,” I replied. 

In the COVID world, it’s hard to describe how complicated such a decision is. If I travel, I could carry the virus to my mother, age 82. If I don’t go, I presume my name will be added to the immortal “primadonna list” for not being concerned enough to say a final farewell. There isn’t a safe choice, except for one: don’t travel.

The COVID pandemic has had a profound effect on grieving. Many who’ve lost loved ones have been unable to be at the bedside as their loved one passed. Death becomes remote. There’s no herd immunity for COVID. There’s no airplane, taxi, bus, boat, or other vehicles that can guarantee a barrier from the virus. Likewise, COVID cannot be segregated from my mother or others.

I looked up to God and muttered, “I probably will not be able to say goodbye.

Like my father, people have been dying alone for centuries. Some have no close friends or families. Distance separates others. In those cases, a volunteer may be able to sit with them during their last moments. My father has two people sitting with him, each taking a twelve-hour shift, holding his hand, and asking them what they loved most. It’s a service I will be forever grateful.

My father always said no one dies alone. After his near-death experience twenty years ago, my father said there were two sets of angels: ‘Helpers’ and ‘Takers.’ Helpers are those that assist those in need during trying times. Takers are those that help those move into the hereafter.

My Lord, can you be with him?” I prayed

I am with all who suffer. I am with your father.

Not a second later, “I will go and stay with him,” Ms. K. said.

I’m convinced my father has a volunteer, God, and a Helper. I presume he’ll have a Taker soon enough. That alone provides enormous comfort. I hope we’re all just as lucky.

Upon waking, I marvel at how my back feels, how natural the rhythm of the first few hours are, and how naively I think I could do it forever. Such feelings last an hour, maybe two. After that, I quickly relearn the cumulative effects from an early February tumor removal and Parkinson’s diagnosis. 

In the cool of the pre-sunrise morning, when I’ve had a good night’s sleep, all seems well. As the day wears on, weariness smolders the day, and that beautiful early morning feeling evaporates. Life becomes weightier, and every step begins to take its toll. My neck and back hurt, I fiddle with chairs aiming for a stable fit, and comfortable position. Yet no matter how much I tinker, I remain uncomfortable for the day.

Most cancer follow-up appointments remain canceled. As the W.H.O. noted, many patients with cancer are struggling to receive treatment due to hospitals canceling or delaying surgeries and other procedures. This includes those patients who are otherwise healthy and have curable diseases that require the timely implementation of surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Contracting COVID while undergoing treatment is too high a risk as opposed to cancer slowly eating away your life, one day at a time.

I have the utmost respect for my medical team. When I’ve texted (usually about medication), they’ve responded and provided care. However, it seems strange to be standing in the cancer wing of the hospital, updating their applications, with full knowledge that I cannot gain access to very services that can verify my prognosis. No matter how much I understand Coronavirus’s impact, I feel caught in a Rod Sterling “Twilight Zone” episode.

Walking the hallways, working from home, or looking out to the lakefront, I notice how the world has stopped. Driving through the subdivisions, I note, “… even in this place where time stands still; it seems like everything is moving. Including me (Heinrich Harrer).”

The ‘new normal’ is strange: things once marking the days—commuting to work, meetings, projects, and having a drink with coworkers, vanished. Time appears flat, seamless, without structure.

Before COVID, I needed to believe each day would get better. I needed to feel my doctors knew my tumor would abate, and that if I gave everything to treatment, I would be delivered more life opportunities, something I fully don’t deserve. Such needs are gone. I am too comfortable with the sharp edges of my reality. I accept my tumor, my back, and Parkinson’s will have its inevitable conclusion. 

On these days, when it all stands still, I no longer feel the need for bravado. I give up my self-delusion. I hesitantly embrace the knowledge that no matter how many stairs I climb or ellipses I travel, no matter how hard I push my heart or how much weight I lift, neither heart nor head will be healthy enough to pump meaning into COVID.

And in these ‘still’ moments, I reclaimed missed opportunities. I love strangers with an intensity I never knew. On this day in mid-May, as the night begins, I walk and find silent streets: no restaurant lines, no children riding bicycles, no couples strolling in the park. It had taken the combined will of thousands to love one another so much that time stopped. Millions ultimately accepted the immense challenge and silenced life, their life. 

I feel so grateful for the sacrifice. And for this moment, I am so profoundly proud of everyone that nothing more critical exists for me … neither cancer nor a lousy back.

In his book The Heart Aroused, David Whyte wrote of a time he found himself working with a roomful of thoughtful managers. The group was looking at the way humans find it necessary to sacrifice their sacred desires and personal visions on the altar of work and success. Whyte instructed the class to summarize their life in one sentence.

In the back of the classroom, a woman read slowly, unaware that the silence struck the room. 

“Ten years ago . . .

I turned my face for a moment, and it became my life.”

Whyte was demonstrating how we have the patience for almost everything, but that which is most important. We look at the life of our own most central imaginings and see it beckon. For the most part, we neither dare to follow it nor leave it. We turn our face for a moment and tell ourselves we will be sure to get back to it.

I read Whyte’s book in 2002. Every once in a while, the urge to write my one-line life summary resurfaces. In a darkened stairwell my left hand shook uncontrollably from Parkinson’s. “Just one of those days,” I muttered. In utter exhaustion, I quickly penned, “Days became decades.

“Days became decades.”

Almost everyone I know understands this sentence. Work hard for your goals, sacrifice, commit to the ideas of others and forget your own, receive promotions, and get rewarded for success. Through the years, your hard drive gets full, life fills, investments pay off. Yet you stop to look around, and nothing seems familiar. 

Weariness is the fulcrum for introspection. At 59, doctors claimed I had approximately two good years. At 60, eleven months remain. I descend into a cadence of thought of just how I got here. I have a ton of shit, but little else. My inner soul longed for a truer sanctuary, a hunger for something money can’t buy. 

St. Gregory once said, “Grace is given not to them that speak their faith, but to those who live it.” I’ll have to admit, I haven’t lived in faith until about eight years ago. I mean, I had faith, but I hadn’t lived in faith. Right now, amid a pandemic, amid all my suffering, I am just plain weary. Exhausted. Exhausted of words, ideas, thought-provoking mission statements such as “First things first” or “Turn the ship around.” When people die every few minutes, such things seem rather small.

Moving to the bathroom, I splashed water unto my face. Looking upward to the mirror, I asked the man on the other side, “Where does this end?” I didn’t know.

The Response

Lovers of words and computers are prone to endless study. Yesterday, my boss asked if I had performed any research. With accouterment of medical support alarms, laughter was my only reply. 

We’ve become so involved in all things that we forget to live. We are propelled to make the best use of time, study the world, and absorb everything. Interactions become “deep,” “philosophical” or “analytical.” And when we’re done, there’s no joy.

The real proving ground of living a faith-based life does not reside in our ability to study it. It’s about how we treat one another, and whether we’re fully present in each moment of service. Can we find pure gratitude, a joy in the heart, a desire to serve? 

Faithful living is not an intellectual assent. Service to those in need is a path, it’s faithful living. The real proving ground of our faith isn’t how articulate, or how deep it may sound, it’s how we live. Thus, when I looked in the mirror, the man looking back responded: 

“… if there is no room for humanity, pain, sweat, doubt, and discouragement if your life, then you need to change who you are.”

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