I watched the maps that showed COVID-19 spread from Asia to Europe and then to the U.S. My husband, a retired surgeon, said, “They need to lock down everyone and everything for two weeks right now. It’ll be hard, but that’s the quickest way to stop this before it gets out of control.”
That “outlandish” idea has since been touted by leading scientists and medical authorities, but my response was reality. “That’ll never happen in the United States. They can do that in places like China because the culture is hierarchical. Citizens there do what they are told to do.”
In Eastern cultures, individual rights are sacrificed for the good of the whole. In Western cultures, we go out of our way to preserve an individual’s rights above the good of society. It can become so twisted that some self-absorbed people think, “I have a right to do whatever the hell I please.” It’s that kind of thinking which leads people to ignore stay-at-home orders, potentially harming the lives of others.
Oldsters versus Youngsters
Perhaps we were led astray by initial reports that claimed the majority wouldn’t have very bad symptoms. Instead, the virus would hit the elderly the hardest. Pile on American’s top health issues—heart disease, diabetes and cancer—and from the perspective of a virus, these folks are like shooting fish in a barrel. Easy pickings.
Seemed people who were under 60 had little reason to be concerned. They weren’t going to feel the brunt of this new virus that has no cure or vaccine. But that story hasn’t exactly panned out. In my state alone, 64% of people with COVID-19 are between 20 and 59. As of beginning of April, the state’s death rate is 2.7%.
These invincible youngsters were eating at restaurants, going to large-scale events (hello, Mardi Gras), crowding the beaches, and even attending coronavirus parties. Lo and behold, these oblivious, perhaps asymptomatic, people have become the “super spreaders,” carrying the virus into their homes and creating hotspots along the way.
Circling the Wagons
Over a month ago, the assisted living residence where my dad lives started emailing the residents and family members with CDC guidelines on avoiding the virus and minimizing interactions with the outside world. It was a proactive effort to keep the residents as safe as possible.
Residents were asked to stay inside. Visitors were asked to not expose the residents to large gatherings of people. Then, within a week, visitors were not allowed into the building.
All these efforts to keep residents safe and healthy didn’t stop some family members. During the leveling up of “lock down,” one family decided to defy the recommendations and take a resident off-premises to a crowded restaurant for a celebratory meal.
Three days later, that resident with symptoms of COVID-19 became “Patient Zero.” To minimize the spread of the highly contagious virus, all residents were immediately put into quarantine, required to stay in their rooms all day, every day. Within the week, three more residents had the virus, including my dad.
Angels Among Us
There weren’t enough test kits, so the county halted testing of residents at the residence. With the same symptoms, my dad was considered presumptive positive for COVID-19. Before entering his unit, staff members put on personal protective equipment (PPE): gown, gloves, mask, face shield.
Because my dad has other health issues, namely cancer, the COVID-19 virus put him over the edge. Within two weeks, he lost over 12 pounds. A soul-crushing fatigue descended upon him. He slept most of the day. He stopped eating and drinking. I called hospice.
You might argue that he lived a long life and with a cancer diagnosis, he was bound to die anyway. That’s not the point. The point is that none of us—his family and closest friends—could be there with him. Even his pastor administered last rites via FaceTime.
Throughout this pandemic, my family has had to rely on the staff to care for him and show him love and mercy in his last days. Before my eyes, the staff has transformed from nurses and aides to angels on earth. They are the lifeline to my dad. They are a lifeline for all the residents, chasing off loneliness and providing daily kindness.
Your Actions Have Consequences
I am so angry that one family decided their event and their own wishes were above the good of the community—a most vulnerable community. Perhaps the family did not have any symptoms of the virus. In the U.S., 25% of people who test positive have no symptoms. Perhaps someone blew their nose, didn’t wash their hands, and then touched Patient Zero, who touched their face. It doesn’t matter.
A selfish action resulted in consequences. It put residents and staff at one assisted living facility at risk of getting sick with this virus. And because some did get sick, I can’t be at my dad’s bedside. Instead I have to say goodbye via FaceTime.
I wouldn’t wish this scenario on anybody. There are some who think this virus is no big deal, even though it’s 10 times more deadly than the seasonal flu. Guaranteed, the COVID-19 virus will catch up to you, someone you know or someone you love…and then maybe you will experience the consequences of your own selfish actions.
Today, my dad died.
Nicky Lee lives in Denver. This story first appeared in Medium.