Tag Archive: COVID


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.”

Man downhill observing mountain landscape at sunset

Forgiveness is a tough exercise. It’s necessary for peace in life. It’s natural to hold onto the wrongs of life and vowing to get even at some future day. Unfortunately, it rarely works out.

I passed by a COVID patient wishing for some old-time jazz music. I am not talking about the 1970’s jazz scene. I’m referring to classical legends such as Glen Miller. The gentleman tried humming PEnnsylvania 6-5000, but couldn’t remember the lyrics. PEnnsylvania 6-500 was a Glenn Miller hit lasting twelve weeks. Miller wrote the song in an era when most local telephone calls in large cities were dialed directly and required an operator.

PEnnsylvania 6-5000 was recorded by many stars, including the Andrew Sisters. Unfortunately for the Andrew Sisters, Maxene and Patty Andrews had a falling out. Some claim the issue was due to a family estate, others claim it was from show royalties, and according to a documentary, Maxene Andrews lived two parallel lives: the professional and personal. For years Maxene Andrews had a relationship with her manager, Lynda Wells.

For thirteen weeks, the Andrew Sisters sang together but never spoke to one another. LaVerne passed in 1967, Maxene in 1995, and Patty in 2013. Maxene and Patty never reconciled.

I hoped the patient I passed was not in a similar situation. I pulled out a cell phone, opened YouTube, and placed the phone by the man’s ear. The Andrew Sisters filled the room with angelic harmony. The softly smiled and comfortably rested his hands on his chest.

There’s always a hearing. It comes to us in dreams, or maybe a song, after a reminder of some long lost love or slighted friend. Perhaps we’ll hear that voice at a gravesite, hospital, or in the wake of a simmering feud. However, it comes, it is the voice of God calling, beckoning to remind us of the power and love in forgiveness.

Some of us will wrestle with its authentication. Was it divine? Maybe it was the wine? Yes? No? But if we’re willing to risk abandoning that which matters so little, perhaps we can discern its lesson and experience the power of love – the ability to forgive. The power of God’s love propels us to understand that we can’t live in the now while holding onto yesterday.

Our journey will define our lives. The best route is one that lived in physical, spiritual, geographical, and emotional balance. Yeah, we’ll all walk the valley of doubt, difficulty, anger, and sometimes hatred. Through all of it, we’ll learn to navigate, meet God in the doorway of eternal love, and finally reconcile all that we were, all we are, and all we’ll ever become. It should be the warmth of intimacy, not the allure of fault.

A few minutes later, I left my jazz aficionado asleep, caught in the memories of an earlier life. I could catch snippets and slight moments of a dream. Was that dream from early life? The Andrew Sisters? Glen Miller? Or was the dream of some long feud remaining unresolved? Hard to say. Whatever dream occupied him, I hoped it indeed was peaceful. I hope it was love.

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