I am sad, and I am mad.
I began this Sunday morning by reading Audrey Dutton’s excellent story in the Idaho Statesman about the plight of the hundreds of people dying alone in nursing homes during this pandemic. She detailed how information mismanagement by politicians, public health officials, and facility managers often leaves family members in the dark, who cannot visit their loved ones under pandemic restrictions.
She told how it is often a front-line worker, a nurse or caregiver, who calls a family member to alert them that their loved one is about to die. She recounted the experience of a woman who got a call from her husband’s nurse while eating dinner with their granddaughter. The husband who battled Alzheimer’s disease for five years had contracted COVID-19 in the nursing home. The nurse called to say he was unlikely to come back from this.
“Any chance you can put the phone up to his ear?” the wife asked. They both said their goodbyes: “I love you. Your family is OK,” the wife said. He mouthed the words, “I love you.”
Reading that account, I was in tears. I recalled the last days with my mother, who was receiving comfort care in hospice. I called mom’s grand-kids so that each of them could say their goodbyes. While I could not hear what they were saying, I recall that one of them, the comedian in the family, said something that registered her last smile.
By the end of Audrey Dutton’s story, I was a mess, alternately sobbing and seething: sobbing from accounts of the compassion shown by the heroic efforts of under-appreciated front-line workers and seething because of the failures of the politicians, public-health bureaucrats and facilities managers to provide the information and resources necessary to support those workers and to fight this coronavirus.
Dutton’s careful reporting showed the emotional toll this disease is exacting and exposed the failures to disclose adequate data and to provide adequate testing and treatment resources that have made Idaho and the US some of the worst places on the planet to be exposed to this virus.
I was an emotional wreck; so, I decided to go for a long walk in the 734-acre open-space reserve next door. The Fort Boise Military Reserve has been my godsend during this pandemic. Throughout the spring, documenting in photos the blooming of each species of the reserve’s wildflowers as it emerged helped me maintain my equanimity.
This morning’s walk started well. The trail was wide, and I was able to distance myself from others. But I realized that in my emotional fog, I had forgotten the N95 mask I usually have around my neck in case I can’t adequately distance from others on the trails. So, I fashioned one of my handkerchiefs into a “bandit” mask as I approached the narrower trails. I knew it would not offer much protection for me, but it would protect others from me and comply with the city and county mask mandates where six-foot distancing is not possible.
It was not long before I was seething again. On my hour-and-a-half walk, I was passed by several dozen bikers, hikers, and runners as I hiked up the Central Ridge, down the Ridge Crest, and up the Eagle Ridge trails. Among the many cyclists, for whom when possible I stepped off the trail, only one was wearing a surgical mask. Not a single runner had a mask of any sort on or available to pull up. Among dozens, I counted 10 hikers, with masks, and thanked each of them.
After about a half hour, as I stepped off the trail so they could pass at a six-foot distance, I began to ask people where were their masks. Most said that since they were outside, they didn’t need masks; they could social-distance. This was the common refrain from those hikers, bikers, and runners who responded. Several times, I noted that I, who had moved off the trail, was the only one distancing—and I was “masked”! A few walkers with young children even argued with me that face-covering is not required outside.
I returned home even more disheartened than before I left. So many thoughts continue to crowd my mind about the failures of our elected leaders and our fellow citizens—local, state, and national—to care for us and each other:
Among the deniers, there is the casual, callous disregard for those compromised by age or frailty who are forced to die alone. “They were gonna die soon anyway.”
“To wear or not to wear” face-covering has become the question…raised not only by flag-waving Trumpsters, Ammonites, and antivaxers. It also baffles well-meaning Boiseans out for a Sunday stroll with family and friends.
How much individual liberty should we sacrifice to protect the most compromised and underprivileged among us? Tracing people’s contacts is a government plot to take away our liberties.
Pandemics tests the credulity of the people. We are told that a dread disease is lurking. We don’t know for sure what it is. “Experts“ say it’s caused by a virus, an invisible thing that isn’t even alive. So we have to take the word of the “experts.”
Individual rights versus group welfare: No longer are we all in this together to face a common threat.