Editor’s note: Marshall V. King lives in Goshen and was a longtime reporter, editor and columnist for the Elkhart Truth. He wrote this for the South Bend Tribune.
Marshall V. King
GOSHEN — On the last day of August, a few hours after testing positive for COVID-19, my father Jonas told my mother, “I’m not sure I’m going to make it through this.”
A few hours later, likely weakened by a lack of oxygen, he fell and was taken by ambulance to Goshen Hospital. He was admitted that Monday night to one of the two COVID units. His emergency department doctor described his lungs as “moderately ugly” from the effects of the virus.
Starting in March, when we were learning of the virus, I told my parents that they were at high risk. That if they got this, it may cause their deaths. They listened.
My mother, Esther, wore masks when she went to medical appointments. My father, with whom I’d battled over his medical issues, listened. They stayed home and I did their shopping.
When they started venturing out, they wore masks, or at least tried to. My father verbally accosted at least one person and probably more at a grocery store for not wearing a mask, but inevitably it was difficult for him to keep a mask over his nose.
And on the day I was getting him tested at Center For Healing & Hope, I asked if he’d worn a mask to church. He said, “No, and I regret that.”
It turns out that even those who wore masks to the church generally took them off to sing, and several at church that morning had tested positive soon after.
When I asked why he had not worn a mask, he said it was hard for him to breathe. And that makes sense, though it was news to me on that fateful Monday. My father had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, likely caused by years of masterfully connecting steel with beads of weld and then coating them in glossy, black paint. He wore a different kind of mask some of the time as he did that, but likely not enough.
Masks aren’t perfect, but they are some of our best protection from a virus that has killed more than 191,000 Americans. My father is now in that number.
When I arrived at the hospital three days after he was admitted, he was wearing a bipap oxygen mask over his nose and mouth. Even with 100% oxygen, he was breathing at about double the normal rate. Fluid was joining the virus in his lungs. He was bleeding internally.
I was there for an end-of-life visit, sporting full personal protective equipment and holding a mobile phone to my father’s ear so he could hear my mother and my wife over Zoom. My mother wasn’t allowed to visit her husband of 57 years because she still has COVID-19.
I still can’t hug my own mother, as she stays alone in her home, grieving my dad.
I said goodbye to my father. I said it was OK for him to go. I promised I’d take care of Mom. I struggled to understand what he was saying from underneath the heavy plastic mask. And I prayed with him.
The following morning, I signed the paperwork admitting him to hospice and was allowed to go in and see him again. They were increasing his medication to keep him comfortable. They removed the heavy mask and replaced it with a nasal version. I held his giant mitt of a hand and again said the things that needed to be said.
I’ve told people that I had time to say everything that needed to be said before he died peacefully and comfortably several hours later, but the reality is that I was robbed of time and the chance to say more because of this virus and the ways people have responded to it.
Because of the virus and people not taking it seriously, I’m being robbed of the usual mourning process. I’ve broken isolation to buy a casket, a burial plot, and to see his body at the funeral home. We can’t safely do a public viewing. My mother and I are trying to plan a private family burial once she is better and I’m out of isolation. Even that is complicated, much less a memorial service at a later date. It’s all hard.
Since my wife works in healthcare, she moved to a friend’s house so she could keep masking up and going to work with cancer patients. We have conversations outside our house, at least 6 feet apart. It’s all hard.
The last six months have been hard on us all. Our routines and expectations have been altered. And the end isn’t in sight.
Some get the virus and recover. Some get the virus and within a few short days leave their son without a father.
I tried to protect my father as he aged, the way he had protected me as a boy. I thought others would help more. I thought our society as a whole would be willing to do that more.
I hope that maybe we find a way to learn that again, that we’d sacrifice to benefit others, even if it didn’t grow out of this national crisis in time to benefit my family.