I wasn’t going to put the little tale of my hospital adventure before the public because I don’t care to share my health problems with strangers. But things have changed. Idaho, along with several other of the backward states, is in trouble. And the worst of it is, all the wrong people are bearing the brunt. Possibly, just maybe, by telling this story, I can give those besieged folks a little relief. If not, at least I can let them know how grateful I am for what they did for me — for all of us — and how much in awe I stand of their commitment, compassion and professionalism. I’m speaking of our health workers, here in Idaho and I have to suppose the world over.
At a little past 2 on the night of Jan. 21, I woke up having trouble drawing a breath. I am normally a little breathless, having smoked myself into a case of COPD that will be with me to the end of my days, but this was different. I had never before had trouble breathing while I slept. For some time, I kept trying to get back to sleep, thinking the problem would go away if I could only drift off to dreamland. It didn’t work. It kept getting worse.
By 2:30, I had given up on dreamland and crawled out of bed as stealthily as possible to avoiding waking my wife. She would not take well the news that I was having trouble breathing. I’ll repeat the date — Jan. 21, this year — in the middle of the most deadly surge for Idaho in the whole pandemic. Most deadly until now, at any rate.
I hit my lungs with the drug options I had at my disposal, with no relief. There were other, non-pharmaceutical, things I might have tried, but I didn’t think to try them. Reflecting on the entire incident later, I came to accept my brain was probably not operating at peak performance throughout that night, owing to a distressing shortage of oxygen. The dumbest thing I did was think that if I could just wait it out until 8, I could go to my family doc and let her sort it out. The second dumbest thing was trying to keep the situation from my wife.
By 6:30, I was gasping so strenuously to get air into my lungs that every muscle in my torso — back, front, bottom top — felt like I’d been put through a taffy twister. By then, I was convinced I had COVID. What else could it be? It was exactly what was being described as the worst symptomatic manifestation of the disease: a struggle to breathe, followed by an induced coma, an air hose down my throat, weeks if not months on a ventilator, resulting in … okay, you can guess where my imagination was taking me down this black hole. (This was before vaccines were widely available, and it would be almost another month before I got my first shot.)
Rebeca got up at about 6:45. I waited until she was going through her morning routine in the kitchen before I came up from the basement. She started asking about why I was already up and dressed and I shushed her. I simply didn’t have the air to answer a bunch of questions. When I huffed out my problem, her reaction was exactly what I had been dreading. She didn’t need four hours to decide I had COVID. She made the diagnosis before I finished the sentence, “I can’t breath.”
There was more frantic discussion, and more resistance on my part to doing anything radical (like going to the emergency room) but suffice it to say, within a half hour — and after an urgent phone consultation with a doctor friend of ours — we were on our way to the emergency room. She drove. I was more than a little afraid I might pass out on our way there. I don’t remember telling the staff at the ER entrance I couldn’t breathe, nor do I remember Rebeca telling them. They just seemed to know. It is possible that my coloration — Rebeca described it as somewhere between royal blue and battleship grey — gave them a clue. I was being gently but forcibly pulled backwards into a wheelchair before either of us had time to say much of anything. As they wheeled me away, I so vividly remember looking at her, and her at me, both of us aware there was a distinct possibility we were seeing each other for the last time. There was only time for was a quick squeeze of each other’s hand.
They didn’t just roll me through the door into the ER innards. They ran me. Raced me. Flew me. Down what seemed like a rather long corridor, at the end of which was a platoon of figures already in full pandemic battle gear. I won’t tell you which emergency room we went to. Yes, the first word in the name is “Saint,” but I suspect the intensity of their reaction would have been the same no matter which hospital we had driven to, anywhere in all of America. They swarmed me, those anonymous figures in all that protective gear. Masks, face plates, doubled gloves, full tunic of stiff plastic over blue scrubs. Their heads covered in matching snood-like elastic caps. I don’t know what to call all the stuff they had on. I just know that they absolutely didn’t want their skin touching mine. I know that I was their nightmare become manifest, that they were terrified of me. I know they were as convinced as I was that I had COVID.
Still, they swarmed me. Like warrior ants on an invading predator. In a blur of vague impressions, it felt like there were three people on each arm, taking blood, setting up an IV, wrapping a finger in an oxygen monitoring device. Others were swabbing out my nostrils, digging for the little devil that we all thought had set up shop in my body. Behind me, a respiration therapist or two were setting me up with a ventilator and mask and nebulized this stuff and that stuff and an oxygen tank and god knows what else. It was clear that, as afraid of my touch as they were, they were even more determined to do everything within their power to stop me from suffocating.
I didn’t. Turns out I didn’t even have what I was so certain I had. As was my wife, and as were the flying, anonymous figures in all the protective gear. Two tests later, I was declared COVID-free, and layers of PPE peeled off. I could finally see the faces of those people who had fought like berserkers to keep me alive. I left the hospital 36 hours later, thinking how damn lucky we are to have these kind of people amongst us, waiting and ready to meet whatever challenge we might bring them.
And now, here we are, eight months later. Those same people, whether they work at this hospital or that hospital, or the other one over in Nampa, or the hospitals up in Coeur d’Alene or over in Pocatello or wherever the hell they work, are fighting harder than ever for whoever shows up at their emergency rooms. So hard are they fighting, those committed, compassionate health care professionals — and so often are they losing the fight — that it’s predicted many, if not most, will live until the end of their days with a persistent Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, peculiar to the nightmare they were — and are — going through. And most distressing is the reality that the people they are now damaging their own souls and psyches to save did so damn little to save themselves. Out of a wretched stew of the most mind-numbing ignorance, the most jaw-dropping stupidity, the most insidious of lies and the most evil of motives has arisen an entire demographic of vicious cretins so stunted with rage and fear, misinformation and spite, that they have turned, increasingly with violence, upon the very people struggling so desperately to keep their rabid asses alive.
Of course, it’s not care workers alone these cretins attack. It is also school board members and administrators who don’t want to see COVID spread like headlice through their student bodies. It’s business owners who don’t want their customers or employees put in peril because of the ludicrous intransigence of this infantile minority. It’s any political leader bold enough to say aloud that we mustn’t allow the cretinous rabble to overwhelm the better sense of those intelligent enough to understand the true gravity of a pandemic.
But it’s health workers who are grappling with the disease face-to-face, hand-to-hand, and being pilloried for their efforts. The Associated Press reports that in communities around Idaho — Kootenai County was singled out — doctors and nurses fear going into public dressed in their scrubs because belligerent locals are accusing them of exaggerating the seriousness of what that moron mob still considers “fake news.” Some have been actually accused of killing patients so as to inflate the danger of COVID-19. And closer to home, two out of the three Ada County commissioners voted to install on the Central Health District a despicable scum worm who passes himself off as a medical professional, yet downplays the disease and discourages the use of vaccinations. All while the weekly death toll for the state climbs well into three digits, and we import mobile morgues to store the casualties.
We know by now we can’t depend on our state leadership for any relief from this onslaught of savage stupidity. Those in-state political demagogues who aren’t actively involved in fomenting the crisis — e.g., legislators Janet McGeachin and Steve Vick, county commissioner Rod Beck, flagrant asshole Ammon Bundy, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, et al — have proven themselves far too cowardly and impotent to be of any real use to us or anyone else. (Yes, Gov. Little, I’m thinking of you.)
Since, at this point in the carnage, it is largely the anti-mask, anti-vax stoopidos who are sickening and dying, I am tempted to shrug with feigned concern and exclaim (trying to keep the smug out of my expression), “Well, we told ‘em so, didn’t we? Not much more we could o’ done.”
But then, there is the matter of the children, who are succumbing to the disease at an increasing rate, through no fault of their own other than being born of dimwitted baboons for parents. And there are the health workers, who don’t ask the person being raced into an Intensive Care Unit if they had the sense to wear a mask or get vaccinated. They don’t ask, while intubating a terrified Truther, if he got his medical advice from a trained professional, or from a YouTube video. They don’t ask the patient if he believes he’s suffocating from a real thing, or a politically-motivated hoax. They just go about trying their best to keep him alive, and then, suffering from the shock and stress of failing that goal, having to tell the frantic kinfolk out in the waiting room their loved one didn’t make it.
It’s too late, and far too futile, to waste any more breath trying to change the minds of those who have proven their minds are too unfunctional to accept reality, even when it is destroying their bodies. Yet for those monstrous liars, fools and frauds who led their own followers into this abyss, it’s not too late to start thinking about accountability. If the criminal system can do nothing, perhaps the civil system can bring some justice. After all, if a swine like Alex Jones can be sued — successfully —for spreading atrocious lies about a grade school gun slaughter, or if a voting machine supplier (Dominion) can sue the criminals who have lied America into a crisis over an election result, or if the drug dealers (Purdue Pharma) who are killing thousands with their lies about the poison they sell (OxyContin), then surely, the despicable scum worms who have lied, and continue to lie, about this disease and its remedies can be sued for the negligent deaths of some significant portion of the 700,000-plus American’s who have succumbed to it.
Lawyers, start your engines … .