On the first Tuesday in December, I was in the car talking to a close friend in a moment of panic, wondering what we should do about my Dad’s sudden decline in his battle with COVID-19.
From my moving car on Beach Boulevard, the distant view of the ocean was already dark, and Michael was due home from his six-hour drive from Sacramento at any moment, when my brother Mike called to report that my Dad’s breathing had taken a turn for the worse.
Turns out that both my parents—despite their hyper-vigilance with mask-wearing and social distancing—had gotten Covid during Thanksgiving week. By the time Jim drove up to Sacramento with a U-Haul to move Michael back to Huntington Beach to begin his new job, my brother, who met them at Michael’s apartment to help load his heavier belongings, already had Covid too, but didn’t know it.
The following day, after their brief U-Haul meeting, Jim and Michael got a call from Uncle Mike telling them he had tested positive for Covid, so they both promptly went and got tested themselves.
Welcome to life during a global pandemic.
Thankfully, both Michael and Jim tested negative.
But several days into his own Covid experience- my Dad—age 79, with a pacemaker and with a compromised respiratory system—was in a precarious condition and we found ourselves experiencing the frightening reality of this highly contagious virus.
Even after consulting with his physician, the answers left us struggling.
I remember Michael sitting at the kitchen table after his long drive, looking tired and unshaven, his car still loaded with boxes from his relocation, offering to turn right around and help us drive the 394 miles back to Sacramento, if Papa was admitted to the hospital. Jim had just walked in from work and I was on the kitchen stool, all of us fresh off a conference call with my brother. Under the bright lights of our kitchen, and six hours away from my siblings, we were facing a dilemma that every family affected by Covid could face.
At what tipping point do we take my Dad to the hospital, where he gets the benefit of professional care but faces complete isolation from all family, and risks constant exposure in a hospital setting already overwhelmed with the current spike in Covid-patients?
Do we—Jim, Michael and I--make the six- hour drive knowing we wouldn't be able to see my Dad or any of my Covid-positive family?
Talking earlier with Tracy had helped me process the situation and get my emotions back in check.
And like a lot of other family members across the country right now, we took a vote, put the emphasis on my Dad’s gut reaction (he did not want to go to the hospital)--and we decided to keep him home where he was watched and cared for primarily by my Covid-positive brother and mother.
I guess we were the fortunate ones. My brother who was already positive for Covid—opted to spend nights at my parent’s home where he could monitor Dad's medication and oximeter readings. My mother, who tested positive too, was sleeping a lot. But it was my brother who had my Dad—with his vulnerable lungs--get up and move around regularly, and kept him from sleeping on his back too long. Meanwhile Jim and I were reading the latest trends for Covid treatment, and sharing the info in quick calls.
But we all learned the hard truth
when my Dad was most vulnerable and here it is: there is no clear medical protocol for anyone at home with Covid.
There is no hovering physician who will swoop in and admit a Covid patient at the mere hint of worsening symptoms and blast their weakening bodies with Remdesivir or dexamethasone in those scary early days--- when my Dad described his breathing as a 1 or 2 on a scale of ten.
No, my Dad's struggle to breath was a crisis moment that could easily have turned worse, requiring an urgent drive to the hospital. Because until then, you're basically on your own.
Although if you do get admitted to a hospital at this point---you should be informed that your chances of getting the same experimental Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody cocktail drug that was given to President Trump, Housing Secretary Ben Carson, Former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani during his recent stay---are slim to none.
That’s because the drug Regeneron is still not readily available to ordinary citizens yet. These are the kind of facts you don’t learn until someone you love gets Covid.
In a recent interview on WABC, Rudy Giuliani is quoted explaining it this way, “If it wasn’t me, I wouldn’t have been put in a hospital frankly. Sometimes when you’re a celebrity, they’re worried if something happens to you, so they’re going to examine it more carefully, and do everything right.”
Fortunately at the time of this writing, our non-celebrity family is beginning to slowly exhale. And it looks like my Dad will survive this virus—although not before teaching us firsthand-- of the scary unpredictability about this condition. In this next week he’ll see his doctor to rule out the possibility of pneumonia.
In the meantime, my neighbor got out of her car on Thursday after an exhausting day at the hospital, still dressed in her hospital garb and appeared on the verge of tears. She described the ambulances now forced to wait outside with potential patients because of the spike in Covid cases. And she sounded stressed and upset about the continual protests in our local Orange County. Before she went inside her home she warned, if you need to go to the hospital, don’t go to ours.
Some time later on social media, another neighbor only a few houses down who keeps a Trump sign up in her yard, posted photos of her beautifully decorated Hanukkah party, filled with sweet children and their mothers smiling in their special Christmas dresses, with not a mask in sight. And with a message underneath that said: “Fuck Newsom.” A reference to California's governor.
Sigh. Welcome to life during a global pandemic.
What have you been learning about yourself as you live through these unprecedented months of a global pandemic?
The interesting thing about writing blog posts is that you can look back and see what you didn’t know.
In April I wrote about my belief that COVID-19 might unify us as a country because we would all be experiencing the same vulnerability and fears and sadness, as we moved through our individual situations.
I even asked:
Can you think of another time when we will be able to look into the eyes of strangers and recognize our Selves?
Things I didn't realize
Was I naïve? I don’t know. But 'unify' is about as far away from the truth as you can get.
At the time, I don’t think any of us imagined the eventual impact Covid would have on our daily lives, the way mask-wearing would become politicized and contribute to the spread of Covid. The repeated closure of businesses. And the perilous impact on whole industries of workers who are losing their jobs and paychecks.
And here’s a big one. I didn’t fully understand the extent to which it’s now possible in the year 2020, to live inside an information bubble where certain facts and relevant information never penetrates, and where conspiracy theories and hoaxes are lurking everywhere.
I didn’t realize how much easier it is---when something difficult happens in your life—to look out at the world for someone or something to blame for what you’re having to endure. Because god knows, there will always be someone we can shift our blame to, in order to avoid the deeper feelings inside us. The real feelings of being afraid. And sad. And the uncomfortable truth that no one ever wants to hear: maybe there is no quick and easy fix-it for our distressing predicament. Maybe we might have to just sit with our feelings...and feel them.
And finally, I never realized how easy it is when you’re walking around feeling outraged, to find other big groups of angry people to unite with online--and how fast fear can spread like wildfire, remaining mostly invisible to the very people who are inside its powerful grip.
Apparently I don’t know very much.
It is possible that the altered state I've been living in following our traumatic loss of Patrick, has made me more accepting of this wet cloud of uncertainty that’s settled over us in 2020. And that the staggering pain from losing a child has opened me up to the suffering of other people in a way that's dulled my ability to care about loud protests over our individual “rights,” especially when the trade-off might mean the death of the most vulnerable people.
Maybe my perspective has changed in ways I don't even know.
But once you’ve lost the most important person in your life in a split-second, there is nothing worse. And when the possibility of losing my Dad became a close reality, I realized I was already nested inside that incredulous universe where bad things happen suddenly to good people--and no amount of rebelling and blaming others and carrying signs of protest will be able to expunge one horror-stricken second from my life. And yet, I will never be a 'victim' because I will choose love over anger every time.
I think that’s it, in a nutshell.
But I have my moments like anyone else. When I’m worn and tired of this post-Covid scale of measuring risks with social distancing, when I'll simply throw up my hands and say, what the fuck.
I remember one moment recently.
I had pulled over and parked my car so I could reach the man who stands at Warner and Magnolia with a sign every day. His name is Mike and he told me he got laid off from his job months ago and lives out of his van and I told him about Patrick as I handed him the kindness card with money. Suddenly. Before I could react, this sweet, homeless man yanked down the blue bandana that was covering his toothless smile, told me how sorry he was and reached across the sidewalk and hugged me.
Before I knew what happened it was over. I could feel the people sitting in traffic next to the sidewalk watching us, and I didn’t react.
I just smiled and finished our conversation.
Afterwards, in one of those exasperated, head-shaking moments, I remember doing a quick mental review of my risk, and thinking, ‘Jesus Christ-if-I-get-Covid-from-that-situation, so be it.”
I mean. How much of our humanity are we supposed to give-up to be safe?
Sometimes all we can do is take a deep breath and let go.
Sending love and light your way,
Sending love and light your way,