My mom died, alone, in a COVID ward, the day before New Year’s Eve.
She was intubated, sedated and surrounded by machines.
She should have died in her bed, surrounded by her four children, her 15 grandchildren and her 10 great-grandchildren. She deserved that. She deserved better.
Instead, she succumbed, finally, to the numbing endlessness of COVID, the cupidity of the pandemic’s deniers and her underlying health conditions. She fell in her home, went to the hospital with a fractured hip, had surgery (successful), got COVID (mild) — and two weeks later she slid back into the ICU and died.
Two years in, this pandemic is not over. And if it is less lethal to some, it remains cruelly lethal to others.
My mom was a willing patient. If you told her to take a medication, she would. If you asked her to take care when she walked down some stairs, she did. But she couldn’t stand up to those around her who didn’t take COVID warnings to heart.
We didn’t take good enough care of her.
It’s rather miraculous, I suppose, that my mother survived this long without getting the virus. She was surrounded in the nearly two years of this pandemic by raucous and loving family members who didn’t particularly avoid her before a vaccine was available — and many of whom declined to get the vaccine once it was released. The consensus seemed to be that family members like me just worried way too much. And that Big Pharma was somehow making big money off the vaccine and it was a big old bamboozle.
She had caretakers to support her, and for a long stretch some of them weren’t vaccinated either.
Crazy, you say. Yes, I say. Absolutely crazy. And crazy-making too.
The sequence of events and rapid trajectory of her decline show you just how vicious this pandemic can be, how dangerous to life and limb and how damaging to the tissue of family relations.
For months, we’d been preparing carefully for my mother and father to attend my daughter’s wedding in California in mid-Deember. It was to be the high point of the year.
My mom bought a new dress for the ceremony. She picked out one of her favorites that I’d bought her for the rehearsal dinner. We talked about it in nearly every conversation. During the tedium of the fall, the wedding of Alexandra shone out ahead like a beacon. December 19. Sunshine. Palm trees. Family. Celebration. All was prepared.
She was vaccinated. Unlike my father, my mother had gotten the vaccine as soon as it became available. My father, the alpha of the family, was more cavalier. He got the shots only after I harassed him to the point of rupturing our relationship. But he got them.
Then the week before the wedding, my father developed a cough. “I’m fine,” he insisted and ignored entreaties to go get tested despite the headlines screaming “Omicron!” Two days later and weakened badly, he collapsed while getting out of bed and was taken to the hospital. COVID.
My mom was still fine. We worried about my dad, who has a heart condition. He was on oxygen, in the ICU. Then two days after my father was diagnosed, my mother fell in her bathroom and fractured her hip. Off she went to the Cleveland Clinic for surgery to insert a rod — nothing very serious, the doctors assured us. But when she got there, within a day they discovered: COVID.
And so it was that for my daughter’s wedding in Palm Springs, both of her grandparents were in the ICU, both infected with COVID. Instead of swanning on the dance floor, they watched the ceremony via Zoom, hooked up to lots of clicking machines.
And while my father slowly got better, got off oxygen and after a week was released home, my mother appeared to improve and then somehow did not. Suddenly she needed oxygen. After a week out of the ICU and starting physical therapy, she started needing higher doses to breathe. After 12 days in hospital, they told us she was going back to the ICU, with maximum oxygen. Then, within hours, they told us to prepare for the worst. “This is what we usually see with older COVID patients,” the kind doctors at the Clinic said, answering all our questions after intubating our mother.
And then came the worst.
We all have to die, of course I know that. But it wasn’t her time. Not yet.
I’m sad and angry and have been dreading this outcome for months.
Her name was Marcia Joanne Paris Waxman. And she was 84.