Who Can You Bear To Lose?
What I’m asking you to do is easy. Get the vaccine. Wear a mask. Protect yourself and the people around you.
This morning I received an email from the hospital in New York City where my daughter got her liver transplant.
The hospital was notifying me that my daughter had become eligible for a third dose of the vaccine. She could get a booster shot because, as a solid organ transplant recipient, she was immunocompromised. I deleted the email without responding because my daughter doesn’t need the vaccine. Dead people don’t have to worry about global pandemics.
Still, the irony isn’t lost to me — she would’ve gotten the vaccine in a heartbeat, had she lived. She would be twenty years old now and the pandemic would’ve sidelined her more than most young people. The third vaccine would have offered her some hope for normalcy in our current age of infection, an age where Delta reigns supreme.
Had she lived…
For a moment, I am lost in the echo of this longed-for outcome, a faint shadow that exists in some alternate universe where my daughter did not die. In that other place — where the ending was so very different — she texts me, tells me she’s okay, sends me a heart emoji, and we both breathe a sigh of relief.
I would give anything to receive that text right now — “Mom, I got the third vaccine. I’m going to be okay.”
But she’s not going to be okay. She didn’t live to witness the pandemic or get the first vaccine, much less the second. She died four years ago because there were no magic cures or vaccines or treatments to save her.
I’m a good person (but this is a lie I’ve told before.)
I’m an angry, vindictive, and wrathful person. At least, sometimes. I’m astounded by the breathtaking hubris of people who refuse to protect the vulnerable — my children, your children, their own damn children.
I try not to think about what the Delta variant of COVID, a version of the virus that’s 2x more contagious than previous versions and causes more severe illness in unvaccinated people, would’ve meant for my immunocompromised daughter, had she lived.
What do you think it would mean for her or for the millions of children (and babies) under the age of 12 in the US who are not vaccinated? It’s not a hard question. A week ago, 1900 children under age 12 were hospitalized with COVID-19, a record high.
Meanwhile, in Sturgis, South Dakota, thousands of bikers returned home this week after a enjoying some good, maskless fun at their favorite superspreader event.
Among the 700,000 attendees of the annual Sturgis Motorcyle Rally was an unvaccinated school bus driver who claimed that her motorcycle posed more danger than COVID. Really?
What about the kids on her bus? Are they also at risk of dying when she rides her motorcycle? Does she pile them on the back of the bike or line them up neatly then head for them at top speed while revving her engine? Because that’s the only real equivalancy I can fathom.
I am a bad person for hating this woman who I don’t know. I hate her ignorance. I resent the cloud of dumb luck she currently enjoys and the randomness of a universe that would spare someone like this from the kind of heartache my family experienced.
Losing a child to a disease that’s not curable or preventable is a tragedy. Losing a child to a disease that can be mitigated with vaccines and masks — because adults refused to take these simple steps to prevent its spread — is a crime.
So yes, I hate this woman. I hate Sturgis. I hate the lucky people who play games with other people’s lives because, I’m assuming, they never had to watch a child struggle to breathe as her lungs collapsed from a relentless disease. Fuck every last one of them.
I want you to wear a mask.
I want you to get vaccinated. I want you to be safe? But this is another lie I’ve told before. I want other people to be safe, people like my daughter. If you are unmasked and unvaccinated, I want you to go straight to hell. This is the truth.
Stay out of the airport. Stay out of school buses and school hallways and school assemblies. Stay out of grocery stores and restaurants and churches and bowling alleys because children are unprotected.
Why is that so hard to understand? It’s not hard. You are selfish.
You know what’s hard? Driving past the funeral home where they brought my daughter’s body the night she died. You know what else is hard? Being an attending physician in an ICU full of COVID-19 patients, not knowing why some people get to go home and some are granted a last glimpse of their family on a shaky Zoom call right before they die.
Weary doctors are trying to put you in their shoes, tweeting long, heartbreaking threads of what it’s like to exist in the hellscape that is a COVID-19 ward during the nowpocalypse.
Dr. Mark Shapiro, a hospitalist in California, tweeted this during the first (or was it the second?) wave of the virus:
“That is what a person who can’t breathe looks like.
The pallor, the sweat, the agitation, the heaving chest.
The wide eyes.
He’s come to that place. We discussed it yesterday. His family is aware.
Intubation. A ventilator.
As the ICU team makes ready, there’s a key step we mustn’t forget.
At first he says “No” but we encourage him.
The nurse brings in the iPad.
With the last air in his shattered lungs, he says goodbye to his family.
Over an internet connection.”
What Dr. Shapiro and his colleagues must face each and every day, each and every shift is hard.
What I’m asking you to do is easy. Get the vaccine. Wear a mask. Protect the children who can’t get the vaccine. Protect the people, like my daughter, whose body simply cannot build up adequate immunity.
I mean, what is wrong with you?
Get the fucking shot. Face reality even though it sucks. I never said it didn’t suck, but you could save a child’s life if you do these things. You could save so many.
Big numbers are hard to grasp.
So are small ones. Each year, roughly 16,000 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer and 1,800 die. That sounds like a relatively small number until you find yourself picking out the dress your child will be cremated in.
You want hard? Hand the mortician your daughter’s favorite stuffed toy before kissing her cold forehead one last time.
COVID, like cancer, seems like someone else’s problem if we only quote statistics — a 1.7% mortality rate in the US, and 624,000 dead (so far). 1.7% means one must live one’s life, no?
No. Because as I write this, eight children are in the ICU of a Mississippi Children’s Hospital struggling to breathe. Five of them are under the age of 12. They needed everyone around them to get vaccinated because they couldn’t.
No. Because as of today, only 7 ICU beds were available in the entire state of Mississippi.
No. Because, in Texas, over 12,000 people are currently hospitalized with the virus, ICU beds are dwindling, and there is simply nowhere to put the influx of new patients. Also in Texas, the vaccinated governor tested positive for COVID-19, but remains maddeningly committed to banning mask mandates.
Florida, the current national COVID hotspot, is averaging about 16,000 hospitalized COVID cases per week, a number that may only scratch the surface of actual infections. One physician notes that as many as 30% of pediatric COVID tests in just a single Florida county are coming back positive.
The COVKID project, which monitors the virus in kids and teens up to age 19 in the US, reported that more than 1300 children aged 0–17 became sick enough from COVID-19 to be admitted to a pediatric ICU and over 120 children and teens have died. Don’t think those numbers are big enough to warrant getting a vaccine? Fuck you.
There are no do overs.
Death is forever. If you lose your person you will not get them back. “My person” is a term we use often in the forever-grieving community. It refers to losing someone so integral to our existence that life, as we once knew it, is over. I lost my person from cancer.
You could lose yours from hubris, selfishness, pride, and fear. You could kill someone’s child or sister or husband or mother simply because you refused to get a damn shot. You could lose your own life for the same maddening reasons.
Do you remember the last thing you said to your daughter, your husband, your son? Do you remember the last holiday dinner you sat down to eat with your family?
Do you remember what July’s full moon looked like? No? Please try. After all, it could be the last full moon you see.
My daughter’s last season was winter. She died two days before our tiny magnolia tree bloomed for the very first time, a tree she’d planted herself as a Mother’s Day gift to me. Each year it grows bigger. It blazes pink during that gray week in March when she died, and I am reminded again that she will never see it bloom.
What will remind you of the person you love after they die? Maybe it’s a song or a favorite food or the smell of rain in spring. What will it be like to cook and clean and do laundry for one less person next year? Try to imagine the empty spot at the table, their quiet phone, their abandoned desk.
Do you want the last person you touch to be a masked, gloved stranger holding an iPad up to your face so you can say goodbye to your family? Do you want that for your mother? Your daughter? Your best friend?
Why, when there are vaccines readily available, would you risk this terrible fate for someone you love (or for yourself)?
There is still time, right now, to save people — even children, even yourself. This doesn’t have to be their last summer. They don’t have to die alone.
Believe it or not, this pandemic will eventually be over. Some of us will go back to normal, but many of us won’t. Do you want your loved ones to be here to see normal again? I sure do. I can’t bear to lose anyone else. Get the vaccine. Wear a mask. Give someone the gift of another full moon.