Ricochet COVID Symposium: The Grief of COVID

 

[Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of contributions from our members and friends about the hidden costs of the COVID crisis. You can read more about our symposium and how to contribute here.]

Right now, I am sitting on my sofa, a cup of tea, and my laptop in front of me. There is not much to do on a Saturday night in Milwaukee these days. Bars, restaurants, and movie theaters remain closed under Governor Tony Evers’ “Safer at Home” orders, which may or may not expire May 26. We’re waiting on a ruling from the Wisconsin Supreme Court challenging the authority of Wisconsin’s Department of Health and Human Services to implement and enforce the shelter-in-place orders that have ground the economy, and life as we knew it, to a halt.

I call this “Venezuela lite.” Grocery stores and places like Walmart are also limiting capacity. Shelves are emptier than I have ever seen them, including the meat counter, and we are herded in and out of one fenced-off entrance or exit like cattle. The little things we took for granted – being able to wander freely around a store – are now strongly discouraged, if not outright banned.

If that were not enough, and it is for a lot of people, I am also one of those frontline “heroes” we hear so much about. I hate the term “hero.” I am doing my job. Never in a million years did I think the early years of my career would see a pandemic. It is not something they prepare you for in school. But I can tell you, here, at my smaller community hospital (part of a larger healthcare system), we are not overwhelmed. We have some patients who are positive for COVID, and I have cared for them. Some end up in the ICU. Some have passed away. Yet we are not overrun.

Despite that, all elective procedures were canceled. My unit, and another entire floor, were emptied to increase bed capacity for the surge of cases that has not yet come, and probably never will. My hospital system is hemorrhaging cash. Staff – those frontline heroes – are being furloughed. Layoffs and pay cuts are a real possibility.

A year ago, I was laid off from my first full-time nursing job, when the small long-term acute care hospital I was at closed its doors. It too had been hemorrhaging cash and that was pre-COVID. The anxiety of losing another job, and its benefits, with three boys at home during the worst economy in nearly 100 years is ever-present. The anxiety gets worse when I see fellow medical professionals dancing on TikTok; it shows just how not busy some of us are despite news reports to the contrary, which means the public respect for nursing is going to erode. I know my respect for some of my colleagues has.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the emergency room because I was not feeling well. The wonderfully kind doctor at urgent care ran labs, thinking perhaps I had contracted COVID. She found instead elevated liver enzymes and I was sent to the hospital where I was diagnosed with mono, which had caused some hepatitis and will require another procedure in June to fix a dysfunctional bile duct. If the state allows it. We do not know yet.

So many “elective” procedures are delayed. And so many people think “elective” procedures are all akin to cosmetic surgery – something the patient wants but does not need. That is not true. Elective merely means not emergent, but it covers a slew of things – knee replacements, breast cancer biopsies, heart catheterizations. Even the procedure I need to have to prevent another bout of hepatitis in the future is “elective” but absolutely something I need.

But perhaps the worst of all of this is losing my dad. Today, May 9, marks one month since he passed away. He woke up one morning in late March with another cellulitis infection in his leg. He had had several over the years, so the procedure was almost routine to us: a few days in the hospital, IV antibiotics, and some inpatient rehab to build his strength back up. He was septic and so disoriented he was trying to call someone on his phone and did not realize the phone was not in his hand. We called 911.

The only reason I was able to accompany him to the emergency room is because of his disorientation. I had to wear a mask and was screened before I was allowed in. They started dad on fluids and IV antibiotics and admitted him to the hospital. I could not go with him to the floor, nor could we visit him. He was alone for a few days until I snuck up to see him before my weekend shift started.

Unfortunately, this infection was too much. The IV antibiotics and fluids given to combat the sepsis overloaded his system; he was given a diuretic to get the fluid off and his kidneys were irreparably damaged. Without being able to see dad, or his doctors, in person, we made decisions over the phone. Dad decided he did not want dialysis or what he called “heroic measures”, so we made him a DNR patient and began plans for home hospice. We were determined that, unlike so many people – both COVID and non – my father would not die in the hospital alone. On April 2, dad came home with hospice.

The hospice nurses were amazing, but they too were limited by the virus. When dad was discharged, his doctor said we had two or three weeks, and the hospice nurses said we had maybe a week. Under normal circumstances, they would see someone like my dad daily. They would provide support for the family as we walked through the dying process together. We, instead, had to settle for phone calls. His nurse came out twice in the week he was home. It was on me, and to a lesser extent, my mother and brother, to care for him around the clock. Give him meds, bathe him, make sure he was comfortable. He died on April 9. The hospice nurse who came to pronounce his time of death apologized she couldn’t hug us.

What followed was an absolute travesty that denied my family the opportunity to grieve properly and my father – a Vietnam-era Navy veteran – the funeral he deserved. My dad a social man. If there was a funeral, even for someone dad knew for a week 20 years prior, dad paid his respects. We were unable to return that favor. Dad was also a man of deep faith and wanted a church funeral. He could not have that, either. Even the military honors he had earned were truncated. We had a short visitation at the funeral home. In total, eight people including five immediate family members came to pay respects to a man who had touched so many lives. At the cemetery, his pastor said a few prayers at the graveside and we dispersed. As his pastor read from Scripture, I stood by the casket and sobbed, alone, because we all had to stay ten feet apart. There was no luncheon. There was no opportunity to laugh or cry with loved ones. There were not even any hugs. This was inhuman. We vowed to have a memorial service. Maybe on June 12, dad’s 74th birthday.

And now, yesterday, my governor sat in front of the cameras and told us this isolated hellscape is our new reality, that things going back to normal “is not going to happen,” and we need to suck it up and deal. In 20 seconds, his doom-and-gloom proclamation managed to shatter the last vestige of hope I had had for some semblance of normalcy in all of this: the memorial service for my father. It has shattered me emotionally and mentally, and I have done nothing but cry since I saw the video. This is not a tenable long-term. Like most people, I was willing to give it two weeks to prevent the hospitals from being overwhelmed. No one agreed to this lockdown being a way of life.

What we need, desperately, is hope and optimism. We look to our elected officials to provide it. What Governor Evers gave us was a mouthful of bitter hopelessness. He, like so many others, have shown absolutely zero consideration for the long term mental, emotional, social, and economic effects this continued lockdown poses to everyone. They have sown fear, discord, and suspicion while telling us “we’re all in this together.” The suffering of people like me and many others who have lost family to both COVID and non-COVID causes, as well as the millions who have lost work and income and businesses is wholly ignored. Or worse, our concerns and our opinions about maybe loosening restrictions are derided as selfish, politically motivated, or even downright murderous. It is painfully obvious we are not, in fact, all in this together.

Published in Healthcare
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There are 16 comments.

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  1. JennaStocker Member
    JennaStocker
    @JennaStocker

    Thank you for sharing your story. I’m very sorry for the loss of your father – he sounds like a great man who deserved more than was allowed him at the end of his life. “The suffering of people like me, and many others who have lost family to both COVID and non-COVID causes, as well as the millions who have lost work and income and businesses is wholly ignored. Or worse, our concerns and our opinions about maybe loosening restrictions are derided as selfish, politically motivated, or even downright murderous. It is painfully obvious we are not, in fact, all in this together.”

    This is poignant. Those who want indefinite shutdown do not want to see stories like yours. They want to think they have the moral upper-hand, and this takes it away.

    Your family is in my prayers.

    • #1
  2. KentForrester Coolidge
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Wonderful post.  Thank you. 

    • #2
  3. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Wonderful, if sad, post. Write it up and send it to the governor and to members of the so- called press. Your story needs to be told. 

    • #3
  4. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Condolences Amy. Hold a wake for your dad when you can. Share some tears, and some laughter when you can. May he rest in peace, and may you and your family find some peace in the days to come.

    • #4
  5. Henry Racette Member
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    My heartfelt sympathies, Amy. And I think more of us share your view, if not your loss, than the polls suggest. We will return to normal.

    • #5
  6. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Thank you for this post. 

    I am so sorry about your dad; it might be horrible to say, but JY and I have noted that we’re glad our parents didn’t live to see this. Our mothers especially were dependent in their last years. Both our fathers died of cancer and I can’t imagine that experience without a hug from their many wonderful hospice nurses.

    And I’m Irish, so I can’t imagine one of my parents not having what my mother called “a good send off”. 

    We are not meant to live like this, no matter what our “leaders” declare. My “circle” (JY and me, my daughter, her husband and two children , a gay married couple (one of which is a front line nurse) and a single friend of my daughter’s who can smell a Bar-B-que from 10 miles away. and son #2) went back to semi-normal living after about a week of quarantine. We rotate dinners  (except for the single guy who just shows up) and are together at least four or five nights per week. 

    We rationalize that if the economy gets any worse, we might well all end up living in the same house. (I’m pretty sure it’ll be mine as it’s the largest, but the gays will insist on redecorating). 

    • #6
  7. Blondie Thatcher
    Blondie
    @Blondie

    Wonderful post, Amy. Sorry for your family’s loss. As Doug said, hold the wake when you can. Your family will need that closure.  

    I am a nurse in NC and share the same work experiences as you. We’ve, thankfully, not been overwhelmed and the hospital has been 50-75% empty. I work in the surgical services area and just for the month of April we had not done 2000-2500 surgeries and procedures. That’s just April. Not half of March and now half of May. We are starting back up next week with lots of guidelines in place, but at least we will have something to do. Hopefully you guys will start up soon. Our HHS secretary has been calling the shots here. She’s telling the governor what to do. 

    • #7
  8. Rapporteur Coolidge
    Rapporteur
    @Rapporteur

    Amy, your post resonated with me because I’ve been there. My dad passed seven years ago at age 73 of long-ignored prostate cancer after a couple months in home hospice care.  We were able to have all the closure events you were denied – family in town, visitation, funeral service, graveside service, and lunch with friends – and I simply cannot imagine the compounding effect on our grief if we had been told by governors and scolds that those events would not – could not – happen. 

    Thanks for introducing us to a fine man and condolences on your loss. 

    • #8
  9. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Amy Curtis: As his pastor read from Scripture, I stood by the casket and sobbed, alone, because we all had to stay ten feet apart. There was no luncheon. There was no opportunity to laugh or cry with loved ones. There were not even any hugs. This was inhuman.

    People dying alone and their loved ones having to grieve alone is inhuman. A couple of members of our church have died in the last two months, each leaving a widow to grieve without the family and church support they need. Yet the powers who dictate to us refer to such abominations as “inconveniences.”

    • #9
  10. Nerina Bellinger Inactive
    Nerina Bellinger
    @NerinaBellinger

    This post broke my heart.  I join others in offering my deepest sympathy for your losses and you are suffering many.  Thank G-d your dad made it home to die in the company of his loved ones.  Thank G-d.

    • #10
  11. Eridemus Coolidge
    Eridemus
    @Eridemus

    I join in wishing you find comfort somehow. And it’s strange how well your deep reflections of wanting back what your father fought for counter the simplistic post I read this morning from a far-left “friend” on Facebook, as if she thought she had some insight for us all. What amazes me in this complicated debate is the fuzzy not-stated timeline we are never given, on which a discussion could ensue. If it’s not time yet, what are we to wait for? A time of no grief from one thing while we heap on grief inside other less easily counted columns of life?

    (Content: “Anyone arguing that only 1 to 2 percent of the population dying isn’t a big deal and is concerned about their “freedom” to get back to “normal” needs to identify one or two family members or close friends they are willing to offer up to “save the economy” or regain their “freedom.” Name them! Say them aloud with the same ease you offer up or dismiss someone else’s friend or family member.”)

    • #11
  12. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Our local hospitals feel comfortable now in inviting their non-covid-19 patients in to their premises for care. Interestingly, the public is not flooding the doctors’ offices and the medical community doesn’t know why.

    There are many reasons people are suddenly uninterested in getting healthcare in the way they have been, and the story in the original post is part of it. But in addition, hospitals are now a dreadful and fear-inducing place for senior citizens. People would rather die at home right now than call 9-1-1. They don’t trust the hospitals to be able to treat them successfully, to be free of disease, and to allow them to have friends or family visit. It is exactly the opposite of what sick people want for their care.

    It will take a year or two for the specialty practices to get back up to speed. Every message they have sent out the last few months has contained some variation of, “We’re too busy and overwhelmed to take good care of anyone, so don’t come here.”

    • #12
  13. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane
    @LoisLane

    It all made me cry.  I’m so sorry.  I don’t recognize my country right now at all.  I hope your father gets his memorial.  Such events are for the living, after all.  And do keep faith.  God is bigger than the government.  

    • #13
  14. DrewInWisconsin is done with t… Member
    DrewInWisconsin is done with t…
    @DrewInWisconsin

    I’m sorry, Amy. This sucks. My wife keeps wondering how Scott Walker would have handled this, and of course we don’t know, but I feel like he wouldn’t be pulling a one-size-fits-all solution when large portions of the state have few active cases. I am thankful we have a Republican legislature to counter him, but I’m not seeing much relief.

    Thankfully, I can continue working. I know many whose businesses are being destroyed and wonder if they’ll ever be able to reopen. These are tragedies, too. Everyone’s nerves are fraying. Our governor’s reopening plan is full of nearly impossible goalposts, which will allow him to keep us locked down indefinitely.

    • #14
  15. PHenry Member
    PHenry
    @PHenry

    Thank you for a wonderful insight to your perspectives.  I’m so sorry to hear about your father.  

     What your observations make me think is that we don’t know how to handle a pandemic. Even now, we just don’t know.  

    As your experiences show, there are enormous costs to any kind of central command and control.  It dehumanizes us all, as illustrated by your description of the cost to your family at the loss of your fathers services and the fellowship in grief they represent.  It is a snapshot of one family’s cost, but there are similar stores for millions worldwide.  

    Much of it doesn’t even seem to make much medical sense.  Cancelling all ‘elective’ surgery in anticipation of a severe lack of bed space  can be incredibly destructive.  Where do we get the stats on how many died due to the complications of delayed surgery, or the cost of  pain or physical disability that  was endured until the delay is lifted?  

    I live with my mother who hits 3 of the high mortality categories, (and is having difficulty walking due to the delayed ‘elective’ surgery on her back.)  and I’m really trying my layman’s best to keep her environment safe from outside infection.  I have self imposed much more stringent distancing / isolation practices than are required by my state.  I’m working from home, and only go out for food and prescriptions. I have probably left my small property 6 times in 7 weeks.  I’m taking this seriously.  I’m trying to follow all guidelines.    

    And yet,  I don’t really, in my heart, believe my efforts are going to make any difference.  My layman’s common sense tells me  that this virus is going to infect nearly everyone at some time, and kill those it is going to kill, and none of my efforts, or the society’s efforts and all that has been sacrificed, makes any real meaningful difference, in lives, in prevention?  

    Can we defeat any pandemic with these tactics ?

    If not, from your perspective,  what should we do next time a potential pandemic of unknown proportion is discovered?   

     

    • #15
  16. ShaunaHunt Coolidge
    ShaunaHunt
    @ShaunaHunt

    I am so deeply sorry for your loss. 

    • #16
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