This is the third in a three-part blog series about COVID-19. If you haven’t already, you may go back and read Part 1 and Part 2.
My previous two posts described patients and medical staff grappling with the arduous and unrelenting pandemic.
Those posts were sobering, and now I want to share some news about positive actions people have taken in their communities to support and thank overworked staffs providing medical care.
My classmate, Rachel, owns Salon 7. She noticed many of her healthcare clients were worn out – some dozing off while she was doing their hair.
Rachel started asking what she could do to help. One request was for snacks, since healthcare workers are now so overstretched that they rarely get to take their lunch breaks.
Rachel went to work and sent out requests over social media for “fruit snacks, protein bars, granola bars, things that they can slide into their pocket…” She also asked people to write thank-you cards. Here is one home-made card from one of her clients’ kids:
Rachel’s invitation resonated with clients, friends, and members of the community and she was able to collect two trucks’ worth of snacks and beverages to distribute.
Rachel’s efforts have provided healthcare workers in her community with hope and a gentle reminder that the community supports them. She has also provided a clear, easy, and tangible way for members of the community to do something to help and give thanks.
In a world of negativity I was kind of bummed out and this really made me feel better honestly because there is no divide here; it’s helping people that are saving our families.
Another classmate of mine was inspired by Rachel’s donation drive.
Rachel and my classmate, Melissa, decided to replicate the effort in our hometown. She invited people to donate snacks, beverages, and write cards of appreciation to send to the nurses and medical staff of the local hospital. And the donations started coming in:
Melissa wrote me just this morning: “I have to deliver because it’s filling up my house!”
There is no shortage of bad news: locally, nationally, and abroad. It is easy to get depressed and scared.
The story is often retold of Fred Rogers’ mother counseling him when he was a boy in times of fear and distress to “look for the helpers.”
My friends, Rachel and Melissa, have heard the call, and raised it to “be one of the helpers.”
Even small gestures can have a big impact on both the receiver and the giver. Please consider becoming a helper, even if just for one person.
One can be easily numbed and unmoved by the steady drumbeat of bad news and misleading statistics produced by the news media. Sometimes personal stories can deliver more of an impact.
I had a lengthy chat with a friend who is an RN in an ICU in Portland. He provided a lot of information many outside health-care industry may not know.
Below are excerpts of my ICU RN friend’s comments interspersed with a few annotations of mine as well as comments from other friends and acquaintances who work in health care.
Update: I continue to receive messages from friends who provide medical care. I will update this post and its comments with their submissions.
I. The early phase of the COVID-19 Pandemic before vaccines were available.
Well, it’s definitely been a crazy 18 months through the pandemic. It has been strange how our perspectives as nurses have changed. There was so much uncertainty at the beginning … we were not sure what we were dealing with and how to manage it. But now it seems to have become almost routine in a sense … “yep another COVID patient.”
At the start [before vaccines were available] all of the patients were ones that just happened to catch the virus and were unlucky enough to be hospitalized in the ICU.
We felt so bad for these patients…. There were so many that the made a cut off on who could be intubated and put on a ventilator. You basically had to be 65 or less and have very few co-morbidities … then you would get a chance on the ventilator and hopefully your lungs would heal.
II. The ECMO Machine
Some were so sick that they were put on lung bypass or ECMO machine.
An ECMO machine (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine) is a heart-lung machine that can be used when a patient’s heart and/or lungs are too damaged to sufficiently supply the body with oxygen. It can be used in full heart-lung mode, or just lung mode.
These machines are rare. My friend estimates there may be two dozen ECMO machines in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and maybe 16 in the greater Portland area.
[ECMO machines were used for] the sickest of the sick when even a ventilator couldn’t help them. [An ECMO is] like heart by-pass in the OR, but this machine is for use at the bedside. We can set the machine up to just support the lungs. We were able to save a few but often the lungs were too damaged to even help with ecmo … it is a very very limited resource and takes 2 nurses at bedside.
III. Change of Heart
“My most recent patient was an older lady and did not get the vaccine because she was afraid of the side effects … she was now dying of COVID and wasn’t a candidate for a breathing tube.
IV. Frustration with the unvaccinated
I think a lot of us nurses are just exasperated at people who can get the vaccine and choose not to get it and then end-up in the ICU seriously ill … we have been dealing with COVID daily for the last 18 months …
I think like most things people don’t care until it personally impacts them in a negative way, sometimes even that doesn’t help …
Nursing is so much about care and compassion and you really have to dig deep when caring for patients that refuse to get vaccinated.
… for me in the ICU it is harder to get a whole lot of personal reflection with these type of patients because they are literally crashing when they arrive.
… a lot of the time we are just holding our tongue … as we prep them for intubation…. you just want to say “See, don’t you wish got your vaccine? You get this breathing tube instead .…”
Another RN friend wrote about being confounded by those who resisted the vaccines, but unquestioningly and readily accept hospitalization and drugs when they get very sick:
The comments [in your blog post] from people echo a lot of what I have seen in the last month. There have been some who, on their deathbed, say “I wish I would have gotten the vaccine” and conversely those who are adamant that even though they were on massive amounts of support and oxygen, leave the hospital and have no regrets about not opting for the vaccine. The curious thing is that a number of those with vaccine hesitancy related to concerns of what is in the vaccine and who end up in the hospital ask no questions — zero — regarding the medications we use to treat them.. namely remdesivir, dexamethasone, nebulizer breathing treatments, etc.
A college classmate who is an MD and professor of medicine at an Ivy League university wrote me:
I often wish it were a requirement for those who oppose vaccination (or masking) to spend one hour in an ICU watching a healthy 16 year old boy struggle to breathe and lose his battle. Or a woman in her third trimester never able to meet her child, and die alone as no visitors are allowed. Only then would I consider theirs a truly informed decision.
She wrote much more which I’ve copied in its entirety in the comments below.
Nationwide, hospitals are offering hefty signing bonuses as well as large bonuses for overtime and extra shifts. From Portland to Philadelphia to Texas, hospitals are pulling out the stops to try to lure nurses to meet the burgeoning nursing demands due to COVID surges and nursing burnout.
I have heard anecdotally that these financial enticements are not enough to get shifts and positions filled. Many are simply unwilling to take on more hours and shifts after 18 months of facing this morbid Sisyphean task.
One of my RN friends is taking a break from the work. She’s been traveling and getting out in nature. She writes:
I really can’t handle thinking about it all the time, so when I’m in the woods, I try to give myself a true break – privileged as that is. The hospital is just too much.
Back to my ICU RN friend:
Yah it’s been crazy … work is so short-staffed and everyone is burned out. The ED gets the brunt of it but the ICUs are full too. There was 1 week in June that the ICU didn’t have a COVID a new COVID patient and we were all floored.
VI. The Dangers Health Providers Face
One friend whose daughter is an RN wrote me the following:
My RN daughter was fully vaccinated. She got COVID and was hospitalized 3 times. One time with a serious GI bleed which could have met death. It is a dangerous virus. There is one report of one man who was fully vaccinated who died of COVID but prior to him – zero.
As I wrote previously, full vaccination does not confer immunity, but for most people it can be enough protection to prevent the need for hospitalization. However, those in the front lines providing medical care are potentially much more heavily exposed to those who are infected with COVID-19.
VII. Grim Statistics
In the ICU death is a part of work – so in a sense experiencing dealing with it is part of the job.
Before the pandemic, the number of patients who died during his shifts was 2-4 in a year.
[In the past 18 months] I think personally maybe 30 or less [patients he treated died]
… I’d say of the patients I have cared for and passed, probably 99% [were COVID-related], there were a few traumas and heart attacks in there but I can say a majority have been COVID-related.
… Sometimes we’ll say, “Wow it’s been a while since a patient passed on me.” We don’t say that anymore….
VIII. The Rare Rewards
Despite the grim and challenging ongoing situation, my ICU RN friend is still keeping his chin up.
I actually do really well leaving work. I know I have a great team taking over my assignments and I have a superb ability to leave work at work. …. having great co-workers lends me that luxury.
Definitely seeing a patient recover and get better makes everything worth it.
Even though I feel fairly knowledgeable about the pandemic and the dire situation facing our hospitals and caregivers, hearing firsthand accounts from personal friends providing care to patients carried a visceral punch from which I am still a bit stunned.
If you haven’t already, please read my prior post with stories about people who were hesitant or resisted the vaccine, then had a change of heart – sometimes too late.
Please wear your mask, practice physical distancing, wash your hands frequently, and most of all, get vaccinated and encourage everyone you know to do so!
This is the first in a three-part blog series about COVID-19. Please also read Part 2 and Part 3.
Infection and death rates due to COVID-19 are rising nationwide at an alarming rate, even in states with higher vaccination rates.
In the early months of the pandemic, it was the elderly and those with underlying health conditions who were most at risk. Now we are seeing younger and healthier people getting infected, and sometimes dying.
And vaccination matters. The vast, vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 are of those who have not been vaccinated.
Before: Wikoff co-founded Aloha Freedom Coalition in October 2020 to protest vaccine mandates. The coalition argued mandates and government shutdowns were ruining businesses and infringing on individual liberties.
“They were talking about vaccine passports and vaccine mandates and it seemed like it was over-the top totalitarianism and control” – Chris Wikoff
What Happened: In early September, Wikoff and his wife both tested positive for COVID-19. He was hospitalized, and had to be moved to a second hospital due to lack of bed space.
“I was in a bed. I can’t move, I can’t breathe. I was afraid I was going to die.”
He was treated with Remdesivir, but still has difficulty breathing.
After: He asked that his name be removed from the Aloha Freedom Coalition. “I no longer want to participate.”
“I think we should be more concerned about safety than about protesting. I think people should not be getting together in large groups for the purpose of protesting.” – Chris Wikoff
“Before I thought [Hawaii Governor] Josh Green was exaggerating the situation and after my experience he sounds very rational to me” – Chris Wikoff
“I feel terrible for this gentleman that he got sick … He was obviously getting bad advice and I feel terrible that a lot of innocent people held off on getting vaccinated because they were listening to these fear tactics.” – Hawaii Governor Josh Green
Before: Pastor Reeves tweeted anti-mask messages and compared COVID-19 with the common flu.
“You know, I’m very disciplined in my health. I lift weights. I do cardio. And so I had this opinion that, you know, if I did get COVID, it wouldn’t really affect me that much, and so I assumed I would just get well.” – Pastor Reeves
Reeves claimed he was not anti-vax, but ignored CDC and health experts and did not get vaccinated.
What Happened: 10 days after getting diagnosed with COVID-19, Reeves was rushed to the hospital. He tweeted he was in the ER with COVID-19 pneumonia. The following day he tweeted that his chest X-ray looked bad. The day after that, he tweeted, “Last night was the hardest night of my life. Had to fight to breathe and live …”
Things continued to get worse. He tweeted, “Just took a turn for worse. Oxygen levels in blood depleting. Put me on high-flow oxygen and headed to ICU. Literally forcing air into my lungs by force. Please pray.” His body turned septic.
After: “… I’ve been through a lot of things, but where we are now is I still deal with some slight tachycardia, which just simply means my heart races when I get up and move. But my lungs are processing oxygen well. I have not worn oxygen but just a few hours since I got home, you know, over two weeks ago.”
“I just was overconfident. I was falsely and erroneously overconfident…. And because I was healthy – I think I’m like a lot of people – They just think that it’s not going to touch them, and that was unfortunately the attitude that I had – that if I did get it, I thought it would just be, you know, a nothing issue. And in that, I was deeply, deeply wrong.”
“I’ll tell you and your listeners today I will get vaccinated. My body’s filled with antibodies, but, you know, he was very clear. You know, after 90 days, I should really go get the vaccine, and I will. And I’ve encouraged my own family to do that. You know, I’m encouraging my church congregation to do that. And so, you know, I’m just hopeful, you know, that people will listen and respond.”
Before: State Senator Jacque supported a bill earlier this year that would prevent state health services from requiring vaccinations or requiring someone to show proof of vaccination.
“Really what I think it gets down to is it’s a private medical decision” – State Sen. Jacque
“These two measures help ensure that government officials cannot use Covid-19 as an excuse to grab power at the expense of our liberties. A successful virus response requires time, communication, and trust, not heavy-handed big government mandates.” – State Sen. Jacque
What Happened: Wisconsin State Sen. Jacque testified in two hearings while unmasked and unvaccinated. Days later, on Friday, August 13, he admitted he had tested positive for COVID-19.
He was hospitalized Aug. 16 with Covid induced pneumonia. He was intubated a week later. He remains in the hospital breathing with the aid of a ventilator.
After: Several other state lawmakers who were in the hearings with Jacque were surprised and angered to learn of his positive status only by reading about it in the newspaper. One of this was State Rep. Jodi Emerson, who wrote:
“As someone who is immunocompromised, I am at especially high risk from COVID. On behalf of myself and others who are at higher risk, I implore all Wisconsinites to wear masks in public and get vaccinated.”
Jacque’s brother, Pierre Jacque, posted to a profanity-laden post to FB. Here is an excerpt:
“Go get the vaccine. Or at least be honest and let your flock know that the ‘choice’ they are making is between effective scientifically backed preventative medicine, or choking on a vent while their friends and colleagues hide their condition…”
“While vaccination is a personal choice, I ask that those individuals who are eligible and able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine please consider placing their trust in the medical professionals who recommend it.” – Renée Jacque, the representative’s wife
Before: He was a fitness coach and “could bench press 300 lbs. or run a mile straight up a hill.”
Phillips caught the virus in January, 2020. Since he tested positive for the antibodies, he decided not to get vaccinated.
What Happened: In June, 2021, Phillips got what he thought was a sinus infection. He got so sick he went to the ER.
He was intubated for 47 days and didn’t wake up for 18 days. After two months hospitalization, he may finally be leaving the hospital. He has lost 70 lbs.
“If we had waited even an hour longer. Bill might have just taken a nap and not woken up.” – Maria Phillips, his wife.
After: “Bill was so strong and independent and worked out and did all these things. Now he’s in a wheel chair. He can’t walk. He can’t exercise. He’s on oxygen.” – Maria Phillips
“It didn’t help that I could bench press 300 pounds or run a mile straight up a hill. I’ve been in a lot of pain and I have lost a lot, but I have gained a new outlook on life that is for sure.” – Bill Phillips
“That mistake [not getting vaccinated] came that close to costing me my life.” – Bill Phillips
Phillips plans to get the COVID-19 vaccine on his birthday in September.
Before: “Lydia has never really believed in vaccines … She believed that she could handle everything on her own, that you didn’t really need medicine.” – Dottie Jones, Lydia’s cousin
Lydia and her husband, Lawrence, shared anti-vaccine beliefs. Three of their four children are eligible, but have not been vaccinated.
What Happened: Lydia and her kids returned from a church camp in early July. They all tested positive, even her husband, who did not attend the camp.
When she experienced shortness of breath, Lawrence took her to the ICU. He was admitted into the hospital as well. A couple days later, Lawrence, too, was rushed to the ICU. They both fought the virus in beds just feet apart.
Lawrence died on Aug. 2, and Lydia died on Aug. 16. She would have turned 43 today.
After: Lawrence requested the vaccine shortly before he was put on a ventilator, but it was too late.
“Please make sure my kids get vaccinated” – Lydia on her last phone call to her sister.
The family has created a fundraiser to help the four orphaned children.
Before: This young couple didn’t think the virus posed any risk to them.
“People like us, our friends and family members that share kind of the same structure that our household is built on (their thought) is ‘we are young, we don’t have underlying health conditions we’re not going to die. ‘It’s going to be like a cold’ that’s what you hear right? ‘It’s just cold and flu symptoms you will be fine.’ Well, it’s only like that for people that are vaccinated at this point.” – Jeffery Tatum
What Happened: Alyssa Tatum noticed a sore throat and self-quarantined. She developed a fever, tested positive, then was rushed to the hospital when her lips turned blue.
She was airlifted to Portland to be put on an ECMO machine (rare and sophisticated heart/lung machine – read more about it in my second blog post). She is still on a ventilator.
After: Just before she was intubated, Alyssa told him to ask everybody to get vaccinated.
“The night of day eight she was really just wanting to express that everyone needs to be vaccinated because there is no worse side effect that we could possibly ever imagine besides dying and she was really scared that it was coming to that.” – Jeffrey Tatum
“There are pregnant and vaccinated mothers in the ICU begging to get the vaccine before they are getting put on a ventilator.” – Jeffrey Tatum
Before: “I train athletes. I stay pretty active. I hardly ever get sick. I don’t get the flu or colds. I don’t even have allergies.” – Antonio Rodriguez
What Happened: He finally decided to get vaccinated, but tested positive for COVID-19 a few days before his appointment. He was rushed to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital.
After: “Right now, me standing up taking two or three steps feels like I just ran a 400-meter sprint.”
“If you’re still thinking about it, go ahead and get it done. It’s not worth it. I’m a great example of that. I was thinking I’m invincible. This thing almost killed me. Just go ahead and get the vaccination”
He is still in the hospital, and may be released in a week or two. He hopes to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Before: “We did not get the vaccine. I read all kinds of things about the vaccine and it scared me. So I made the decision and prayed about it and got the impression that we would be ok.”
What Happened: Her husband, 42, and the father to their four children, is now hovering between life and death, tentacles of tubes spilling from his body. He’s been in the ICU for over a month. The patient in the room next to her husband recently died.
After: “I have such incredible guilt. I blame myself still. Every day.”
“I will always regret that I listened to the misinformation being put out there. They’re creating fear.”
“If I had the information I have today we would have gotten vaccinated.”
“Educate yourself with facts and then make the decision. Include the Lord in that process and he will help guide you. But you cannot make an educated decision on fear and lies.”
Before: The former bodybuilder, who had been climbing in the Welsh mountains before testing positive, had refused the COVID-19 vaccine as he believed he would only suffer a “mild illness” if he were to catch the respiratory virus.
His twin sister Jenny McCann described him as “fittest, healthiest person I know.”
“The only pre-existing health condition he had was the belief in his own immortality,” she shared in a Tweet. “He thought if he contracted COVID-19 he would be OK. He thought he would have a mild illness. He didn’t want to put a vaccine in his body.”
What Happened: 42-year-old John Eyers, a fit and healthy man, tested positive for coronavirus a month ago and passed away last week in hospital after succumbing to the virus.
His sister said he was pumped full of every drug in the hospital. They threw everything at him but he eventually died of COVID-19, infection, and organ failure.
After: McCann went on to share that her brother confessed to the doctor how “he wished he had been vaccinated.”
“Before he was ventilated he told his consultant that he wished he had been vaccinated. That he wished he had listened. His death is a tragedy. It shouldn’t have happened. He leaves a Mum & Dad, a sister (me), and a 19 yr old daughter.” – Jenny McCann
“I know I don’t need it [the vaccine] nor ever will.”
“Fauci, the power tripping lying freak named in the Trump lawsuit…Why take a vax promoted by people who lied 2 u all along about masks, where the virus came from, and the death toll?”
“why can’t lib morons get it thru their point head? Cleve Clinic sed”U need no vax once you survived getting covid!!” folo the sci [sic]
“remember only dim wit elected dummy craps violated covid restrictions, Not A single one got it.” [sic]
What Happened: Farrell died on August 4, 2021 from complications from COVID-19
After: “COVID took one of my best friends! RIP Dick Farrel. He is the reason I took the shot. He texted me and told me to ‘Get it!’ He told me this virus is no joke and he said, ‘I wish I had gotten it!’… I was one of one the people like him who didn’t trust the vaccine. I trusted my immune system. I just became more afraid of getting COVID-19 than I was of any possible side effects of the vaccine. I’m glad I got vaccinated.” – Farrel’s close friend, Amy Leigh Hair
“…He fought like a tiger. Please don’t put off getting attention for this illness. Yes, for some it has minimal effects, but others it is deadly. We will always love Dick Farrel, always appreciate his spirit, and miss him greatly. He was known as the other Rush Limbaugh. With a heavy heart, I can only say this was so unexpected. He will be missed.” – life partner, Kit Farley
Before: In May, Apley posted an invitation for a “mask burning” being held at a bar in Cincinnati, commenting, “I wish I lived in the area!”
He posted a news article about giveaways and incentives meant to encourage people to get vaccinated, writing, “Disgusting.”
He railed against so-called vaccine passports, which restrict high-risk activities, such as indoor dining, to the fully vaccinated.
He suggested that mask mandates in Germany were akin to Nazism.
“You are an absolute enemy of a free people.” – Apley’s response to Baltimore health commissioner Leana Wen, who celebrated the good news about Pfizer’s efficacy.
Claimed, falsely, that businesses requesting vaccination records “violated HIPPA” [sic].
“In 6 months, we’ve gone from the vax ending the pandemic—to you can still get covid even if vaxxed—to you can pass covid onto others even if vaxxed—to you can still die of covid even if vaxxed—to the unvaxxed are killing the vaxxed.” – Apley posted this on FB 5 days before he died
What Happened: Apley died August 4, 2021 after being admitted to the hospital on Sunday for “pneumonia-like symptoms.” He was hooked to a ventilator. His wife was also infected.
After: A GoFundMe campaign was set up to support his wife and 5-month infant son.
Before: Her family was overwhelmingly afraid of getting vaccinated.
What Happened: Britt McCall (Tiffany’s 35 y.o. fiancé), her mother, and grandmother all died of COVID-19 in just 5 days.
Other family members are still battling COVID-19, some in the ICU and on oxygen.
After: “I lost my grandmother on Saturday, lost my fiancé on Monday and lost my momma yesterday. I had to skip going to my memaw’s funeral… so I could get to the hospital to say goodbye to my momma.”
“I was told something that I should’ve listened to before: ‘Stop being selfish. Think of those around you and the ones you’d lay your life down for. I don’t want this to happen to any more people. It’s not fair. My brother was too young. And my poor parents shouldn’t have to worry about fighting this and bills and my brother. It all just isn’t fair. I’d give anything to get my brother back.” – Payton McCall
“I don’t have the words to describe the level of hurt…I don’t want this to happen to any more people.” – Payton McCall
“[Britt McCall] became sick around July 4th — he could not breathe and could not eat. He was fine the days before they put him on a ventilator. He didn’t know he was going to die and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to any of us.”
Before: “Kawasaki disease is the scariest! Seriously, this is what I talk about when I say I do risk assessment. I have a very low risk of A) getting COVID, and B) dying of it if I do. Why would I risk getting heart attack or paralysis by getting the vaccine?” – tweet from December, 2020
“Forced inoculation of an experimental vaccine. No consent, no FDA approval/long term data … and the J&J no less, which has now been federally halted.” – retweeted April 13, 2021
“If I get this COVID thing, do I have a chance of dying from it?” If so, he advised them to get vaccinated. He said he made the decision not to get vaccinated because he thought he probably wouldn’t die.
Phil Valentine also said that he was “taking vitamin D like crazy” and had found a doctor who agreed to prescribe ivermectin, a drug used to treat parasites in animals. The FDA warns against this treatment, which is not anti-viral and can be dangerous.
He also recorded a Beatles parody song, “Vaxman,” that mocked the vaccine.
What Happened: Valentine has been hospitalized from COVID-19 in a critical care unit on supplemental oxygen.
After: “First of all, he’s regretful that he wasn’t a more vocal advocate of the vaccination. For those listening, I know if he were able to tell you this, he would tell you, ‘Go get vaccinated. Quit worrying about the politics. Quit worrying about all the conspiracy theories.’” – his brother, Mark Valentine
Mark Valentine said he got vaccinated against COVID-19 after his brother became ill. Realizing that he has a family he is responsible for, he said not getting vaccinated “is just a selfish position to have, and, absent any concrete evidence to the contrary in terms of side effects and negative effects of the vaccine, I have a duty to do that.”
Before: Brad had a history of sharing anti-vaxxer sentiments on Facebook, calling the COVID vaccine “experimental” and claiming that he stopped getting the flu once he stopped taking the flu vaccine.
“We weren’t vaccinated. We wanted to wait and see how people reacted to it. But we waited too long.” – Mia Vinnard, Brad’s widow
His sister, Valerie Burdell, spent the last year urging her brother to get vaccinated as soon as he could. “I said, ‘Brad, I’m begging you.’ And it just got to where I had to stop. As a big sister, because I’m his oldest sister, it’s always, ‘nag, nag, nag,'” Burdell said. “I feel guilty sometimes for not pushing it harder.” She said she stopped texting him and talking with him about the COVID-19 vaccine because she felt it was driving a wedge between them.
What Happened: Brad tested positive for COVID-19 in late June and died after two weeks in an ICU.
After: “It all happened so fast. I wish we would have gotten vaccinated. I mean one simple shot could’ve prevented all of this.” – Mia Vinnard, his widow
“It’s nothing like the flu. When people say that … it was nothing like the flu.” – Mia Vinnard
“Not in a million years did I think I would lose my brother to something like this. So I am begging my friends and my family to take this seriously.” – Valerie Burdell, sister
“If I can save one life for Brad then, you know, it doesn’t have to be in vain. It’s not gonna go away until everybody’s vaccinated.” – Mia Vinnard
Before: He signed a resolution accusing “mainstream media” of sensationalizing the pandemic.
Went on a retreat in November, 2020, with other Republicans, who all went without masks, did not practice social distancing, many of whom got sick.
What Happened: Byrd was diagnosed the day before Thanksgiving, 2020. He was hospitalized on December 5, placed on a ventilator, and had to have a liver transplant. He fought for his life for eight difficult months with long-haul COVID-19.
He was too ill take the oath when the Legislature convened this year and missed the entire session while hospitalized. He said he feels better after finally getting out of the hospital in late July.
He remains in a wheelchair still too weak to walk very far.
After: Asked if he believes more people should take COVID-19 seriously, Byrd said, “Well, yeah, I think they do. I just think there’s so much out there that people just don’t know what to believe. But, yeah, it’s serious and people need to take it seriously.”
“Up until this point in my life, I’ve been pretty healthy and active. Foolishly, I believed this virus only seriously affected people who are at high risk.”
Byrd related that COVID took over his lungs with “lightning speed” and he developed pneumonia, getting sicker and more anxious, with every breath causing “agony” before he went to the hospital Dec. 5.
“I have never been against taking the COVID-19 vaccine, but I understand the concerns of those who are hesitant. To them, I would say COVID is real and it is very dangerous. It is a disease that wants to kill us. Please take it seriously. Please consider getting vaccinated. This is an issue that should not divide us.”
Before: “I was strongly against getting the vaccine,” Barker said through labored breathing. “Just because we’re a strong conservative family.”
What Happened: Barker, his wife, and eight other relatives got COVID-19. He got so sick his wife took him to the ER. He was sent home with oxygen, but got worse. They had to search a dozen hospitals because they were all at capacity. He was finally admitted to Lake Regional. He was placed on a ventilator and given a 20% chance of surviving.
After: “The doctor told me he was going to let my wife and kid in so I could say my goodbyes because he didn’t think I was going to pull through,” Barker said. In those conversations, he told his wife and 6-year-old son, Brody, that he loved them “and I wasn’t going to give up.”
Daryl and Billie Barker both plan to get vaccinated once he recovers. “I don’t ever want to have to do this again,” Billie said, “and if that means getting a vaccination to prevent something like this, that’s what I’ll do.”
Before: “Curt thought COVID was a hoax and did not take it seriously, until he could not breathe without the oxygen.”
Christy Carpenter wasn’t sure about the COVID-19 vaccine when it became available in Alabama earlier this year. She had some pre-existing health conditions and was concerned about possible side effects.
What Happened: Christy and her 28 y.o. son, Curt got sick with COVID-19. Both were hospitalized in March.
Curt Carpender died on May 2 after 51 days in the ICU.
After: “I know that if Curt had survived, he would have made sure everyone knew how serious this disease is, and how important the vaccine is. My daughter and I are now carrying out that mission in his memory.” – Christy Carpenter
“The same day he was put on the ventilator, he told us, ‘This is not a hoax, this is real.’” – Christy Carpenter
“How much more information do we need to say that we can do this in Alabama? We have vaccine that is readily available, it’s free, it’s safe, it can be given at any time. What else can we do? We’ve done everything we need to do, and these trends are not looking good. We could be in a really bad spot within a couple of weeks.” – Dr. Karen Landers, assistant state health officer for the Alabama Department of Public Health
Before: In April 2020, he organized a protest in front of the Blaine House asking Democratic Gov. Janet Mills to reopen the state’s economy, as well as downplaying the damage that the spread of COVID-19 would have on communities across the country.
He twice was cited for breaking mask-wearing rules at the Maine State House. He subsequently was removed from his committee position but continued to push back against State House rules.
He and his wife often posted on social media rejecting the ongoing pandemic and making fun of vaccines.
What Happened: Johansen and his wife both got COVID-19. The lawmaker has been mostly quiet beyond saying he’s “really, really sick.”
After: “Listen up, I’ve got COVID and I’m really, really sick and I just don’t have time to talk to you today.”
“Feeling like I’m going to pass out. Have passed out on garage floor, legs were like rubber.” – Cindy Johansen, his wife, who also has contracted COVID-19
Before: “We had made the decision that that vaccine was not for us, and now I feel like we’ve been given a second chance.” – Nadine Johnson
The whole family considered themselves anti-vaccine through the pandemic.
What Happened: Around July 4th, the family started feeling sick. “I lost my taste and smell, and that’s when we realized, we had COVID,” said Nadine Johnson. Although Nadine was able to go home, Patrick, 46, had to be hospitalized with double-lung COVID pneumonia, acute kidney injury, and a condition called ARDS, which is respiratory failure.
After: Patrick lost 25 lbs. He says he feels lucky he didn’t lose his life.
Nadine says her taste and smell is still gone, and Patrick says he’s still struggling with shortness of breath.
“It was a life-changing experience… I was totally against it [the vaccine] but if it gives me a second chance, it’s worth the shot.” – Patrick Johnson
They plan to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but they have to wait about three months post infection.
At the beginning of the pandemic around April, 2020, Rhiannon Menn says she was “feeling super helpless and watching people around me lose jobs and lose childcare and just struggle with what was going on.”
She decided rather than focusing on all the things that had been lost, “I tried to focus on what I did have which was time and groceries and I absolutely loved cooking and so does my daughter.”
She started making extra meals and delivering them to moms she found through posting on social media.
More and more people got involved, and she ended up creating Lasagna Love, a nationwide grassroots movement that connects neighbors with neighbors through homemade meals and delivery. There are over 20,000 volunteers in all fifty states and they deliver over 3500 meals every week. They also “seek to eliminate stigmas associated with asking for help—especially from moms— when it is needed most.”
What Lasagna Love does is match people requesting a meal with volunteers willing to cook and deliver that meal.
I love everything about this movement! I also love Rhiannon’s vision of “bringing…kindness back into the fabric of who we are and what we do as a community.”
Here’s a 30 minute interview with Rhiannon:
Recruiting a Friend
I reached out to a friend who is a chef and told her about Lasagna Love. She immediately and enthusiastically signed up. She chose to be matched every couple weeks. She sometimes takes a week off for vacation, and sometimes doesn’t get matched. She’s been averaging about one meal a month.
Typically, she’ll receive a message on Tuesday when she is matched with a family requesting a meal. You are expected to make contact with the requester within 24 hours and deliver the meal within a week. Every meal is a moving moment of service and gratitude, and I’ll bet the warmth and love recipients experience lasts long after the meal is consumed.
Want To Contribute?
Want to help out? There are many ways. Businesses can become corporate sponsors. Nonprofits can partner and collaborate with Lasagna Love to support their community. Individuals who don’t have time or are not confident about cooking can sponsor a Lasagna Chef. Those who love to cook and want to support families in their community can become lasagna chefs. Oh, and if lasagna isn’t your thing, you can cook other dishes.
Twenty-five years ago today I enjoyed a full day playing music with my father, something I always enjoyed whenever I came home. We played our favorites: Mozart Piano and Violin Sonatas and Fritz Kreisler.
He started me on the violin at 4 and piano at 6, and we performed together for years at weddings, parties, and dinner music at a local restaurant. This is us playing at my eldest brother’s wedding.
Twenty-three years ago today was the last time we played together. The following morning, just after I left to return to Portland, he was hit by a drunk driver. He never woke up and died the following day. He was only 67.
Cherish the time you have. Life is short, precious, and fragile. Tell people how you feel. And by all means, do not allow yourself or anyone around you to drive while under the influence.
Sadly, the news regularly reports stories of people wrongfully cuffed, threatened, and in some cases killed by police. The frequency should horrify us, but the regularity may numb too many to the news of yet another example of injustice.
Today I learned this happened to an acquaintance of mine last month. I have known John for over 30 years.
John Sims is an artist-in-residence at the 701 Center for Contemporary Art in Columbia, S.C. His work is political and provocative, often featuring Confederate flags and other white supremacist icons turned upside-down, with colors changed, burned, buried, strung from gallows, etc.
Sims’s current work, “AfroDixia: A Righteous Confiscation,” includes a piece with five flags from Confederate states hanging from a gallows. Beside the gallows are five urns, symbolizing the ashen remains of the confederate flags. Behind the gallows are the same flags, now displayed in red, green, and black, the colors of the Pan-African flag.
John Sims, Five Flags: A Group Hanging
Unsurprisingly, he and his works are often the object of threats and violence from people who wish to protect and/or proudly display these icons of the Confederacy and white supremacy.
Columbia police in South Carolina enter the apartment of artist John Sims with guns drawn. (Photo: WLTX)
Around 2 a.m. on May 17th, police entered Sims’s apartment, next door to the art gallery where his work is displayed. Guns drawn and yelling commands, they woke Sims up and ordered him to turn his back to them. He did not comply because he thought they were white supremacists posing as police officers wanting to vandalize and destroy his work.
He requested to photograph the officers but was denied. This was one of several rights denied Sims. He was handcuffed for at least 8 minutes before police finally determined he was, in fact, the artist-in-residence and had permission to be in the building.
How close did my friend get to being seriously injured or killed? Too close.
I have not mentioned Sims’s race. Do I need to?
Here are two news reports you may read. The first includes a video from his dangerous encounter with the police.
Continuing with the theme of activities now possible post-vaccination…
I got to hug and enjoy dinner with my mother. It’s been over a year, and to enjoy a meal and conversation, maskless, with my indefatigable mother was such a joy! Mom turns 88 in just a couple weeks!
As mentioned in my previous post, I scheduled myself to donate platelets. Although I trust the safety precautions of the Red Cross and did donate a couple times during the pandemic, I decided to hold off donating again until I was fully vaccinated. The last time I donated was 5 months ago.
This morning I went in early, got prepped, and spent a couple hours on the bed as my blood was drawn, platelets separated out, and the rest returned to me.
I relaxed, listened to podcasts, and thought about family members, friends, and strangers whose lives have depended on donations like mine.
I plan an ambitious schedule of donations going forward. I hope to donate every two weeks, maybe weekly (with platelets, one can donate every 7 days).
Not everyone is eligible to donate. If you can, please consider donating. People needing platelets include cancer and leukemia patients, those undergoing major surgeries, and accident victims.
If you are squeamish, I’ll gladly accompany you to the Portland Red Cross and assist you through the process. I used to be squeamish about needles, but have overcome that fear over the years through donations.
If you are hesitating on receiving a Covid-19 vaccine, I will say that they use the smallest needle I have ever seen. I felt almost nothing when I got my shot. The peace of mind for yourself and those you care about is absolutely worth it!
What has been most difficult for me has been the social isolation. Not seeing and hugging friends, singing together, playing chamber and orchestra music, meeting friends for a beverage or meal – I’ve felt the absence of these activities acutely.
Having received both my Covid-19 vaccines and diligently waited two weeks following the second dose, I now feel safer to venture out, reconnect with friends and family, and participate in activities I’ve missed for the past 18 months.
Last weekend was an embarrassment of riches for me. Any other year, it would have been a good weekend. This year, I constantly teetered on the precipice of being emotionally overcome with gratitude.
Online Karaoke Surprise
Friday night I hosted my bi-weekly online karaoke party (as I have done since May, 2020). It’s always a delight seeing the smiles of and hearing the laughter and music from friends near and far.
One thing we cannot do in online karaoke, though, is to sing together – unless people happen to be sheltering together in place. So no duets, no harmonizing.
The party started off as normal and people joined in and our screens filled up with a grid of squares of participants.
We were all taken aback to see two of our friends suddenly walk off-camera and appear in the frame of another. All having been fully vaccinated, they were safe to gather, and the three partied together, singing 2- and 3-part harmony at times.
The rest of us were delighted (and more than a little bit envious).
I have already started planning on making my online karaoke hosting setup mobile so I can join them in future parties!
Last time I played chamber music was last fall. We played on my driveway, masked, sitting 6 feet apart, challenged by bright sun and breezes threatening to carry away our sheet music. Fall wet weather and darkness brought an end to my driveway concerts.
On Saturday I hosted friends for a string quintet party. Although vaccinated, all arrived masked. By unanimous consent, we removed our masks and enjoyed a delightful afternoon of music. My heart soared with the music and I shared more hugs than I’d received or given in over a year.
A dear friend invited me to join her for a late-night showing of Monty Python’s “Meaning of Life” at the Tigard Joy Cinema. I hadn’t seen the film in a theater since college. I donned my mask and joined her and her daughter.
Tickets were a mere $2, and with popcorn and a drink, my total came to $10. I added a couple dollars to a tip jar, grateful this little theater had survived the pandemic.
Everyone wore masks and there was ample distance between theater-goers. I spent a couple hours laughing more than I have in many months.
Still moved and a little envious of my friends singing together a few evenings before, I visited the host of the prior get-together. We spent an evening singing duets and harmonizing together – and hugging frequently. How I love to sing and play in harmony!
There are so many more activities I feel more comfortable am looking forward to doing!
Although I have donated platelets a couple times during the pandemic, I decided to halt until I was fully vaccinated. I have now set my next donation appointment for this coming Friday. Please join me in donating if you can! There is always a need and the demand has increased significantly because of the pandemic.
I hope to start swimming again. My local pool has opened with a strict pre-scheduling program.
There are so many family members and friends I haven’t seen in person or hugged. I so look forward to that.
Not everyone likes to hug. If you see me approaching with my arms open wide and you prefer not to hug, just raise and point your elbow at me. I’ll understand and we can tap elbows.
On Thursday, June 3, 2021, the U.S. Postal Service will be issuing a new “Go For Broke” stamp honoring Nisei (first generation Japanese-Americans born in the U.S.) soldiers who served in World War II. These soldiers served in both the European and Pacific theaters.
On November 12, [Major General] Dahlquist ordered the 442nd to assemble for a recognition ceremony. Seeing the small number of men in formation, he allegedly reprimanded 442nd Lieutenant Colonel Virgil Miller, stating, “You disobeyed my orders. I told you to have the whole regiment.” The colonel looked him in the eye and reportedly said, “General, this is the regiment. The rest are either dead or in the hospital.” – Go For Broke National Education Center
Although the 442nd is well-known (and justifiably so), many are unaware of the role Japanese-Americans played in the Pacific theater. Thousands, including four of my uncles served, many in military intelligence, helping with translation, decoding messages, and interrogating prisoners.
Reporting on the situation in downtown Portland has been, in my opinion, skewed toward breathless, whipped up controversy over the past year and a half.
Ten months ago I posted about protests and the – in my opinion – unnecessary and heavy-handed tactics used by the Portland Police Bureau and federal officers against mostly peaceful protesters.
Today, as we watch vaccination rates rise and cautiously anticipate the loosening of restrictions and rebound to our local businesses, there still persists a negative view of downtown Portland. People bemoan the boarded up and graffitied businesses and the homelessness.
Are businesses boarded up? Is there a significant homeless population? Is traffic and business down in the city center? Yes to all of these.
But that hardly justifies the persistent narrative that Portland is “a war zone,” “burning,” “just like Beirut” (how many people making that last comparison have ever been to Beirut?).
Many in the public believe businesses are boarded up due to violent protests and/or increased rates of crime (in the vast majority of cases, those boards went up before the protests as businesses closed due to the pandemic).
Sadly, the news, including our local news, does little to dispel these imaginings with fact. A recent Oregonian front-page story reported a survey where a majority of Portland residents believe the city is in “deep distress.”
Rather than examine the veracity of these views against the facts, the piece mostly focuses on people’s opinions. Only if one reads carefully does one find, about three quarters of the way through the piece, that crime is down:
Crimes against people, though, were actually lower in downtown last year compared to 2019. Assaults were down 13% from 2019 and the rate of reported assaults has continued to decrease over the last four months.
I took my time to drive through downtown just this last weekend. Traffic was light and I saw nothing to make me wary of parking, walking, or doing business downtown.
My brother, David, wrote an opinion piece in response to the Oregonian article. Since it’s been a week without a response, he suspects they will not post it. I encourage you to read it, especially if believe the news you hear about “Portland burning,” etc. and fear to go downtown.
Loftus Opinion: Portland is NOT in “deep distress”