To those of you who still aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously in the United States, to those of you think it’s funny or cute or clever to politicize it with your hilarious references to “China Virus,” to those of you storming city streets with your tough-guy rifles, and, lastly, to the salon owners in Texas and Oregon and wherever else who just can’t seem to stay put …
Three weeks ago, my 23-year-old son was a Navy SEAL in training. He’d earned his contract and was training five days a week with his local spec ops coordinator and his group of aspiring Navy SEAL buddies. Swimming, running, lifting – 2-3 hours every morning, starting their workouts long before the sun even rose.
When he began this training last year, he was a 155-pound kid who had just graduated from college with honors and a former college baseball player. He quickly built himself into 172 pounds of lean, mean, wrecking machine.
This morning, he was able to eat again. First time in nearly 12 days.
He’s been in the COVID ward for four days now. I’ve been unable to visit because no visitors are allowed. Thankfully, we were able to have breakfast together via FaceTime – me sipping about my 1,000th cup of coffee over the past two weeks, him working on a cold piece of toast. He was down 17 pounds in 14 days of fighting this thing. There’s no telling where he’s at today because they haven’t been able to get him out of bed to use the bathroom, must less weigh him. He’s been pissing into a urine bottle in his bed.
He’s breathing better again, but still not on his own. His 103-degree fevers may have finally broken, but there’s no telling – they say the fevers could come and go for weeks yet. He’s no longer vomiting and shitting himself either.
Look, I don’t particularly care where you stand on your politics. Just stop making this about politics. We all love our country, and what better time to love our country than to love the battle in this 23-year-old Navy SEAL son of ours.
There’s no way I could summarize here the nightmare our family has been living. I will say this: it started as a dry cough and we were on top of it from Day One. He has been living with me while awaiting his boot camp date, and we have adhered to all the expertise and advice available. The medical community didn’t take him all that seriously because he is a strapping, 23-year-old kid. I cannot fault them for that. He went to Urgent Care first, was tested and sent home with meds.
48 hours later, he’d had bouts where he actually felt better, but then it came back like a freight train again. “It’s like somebody is sitting on my chest, Dad.” He was in the ER, more fluids and oxygen. More “he should feel better now, call us if he isn’t.”
This isn’t at all a criticism of any care he’s received. No, it didn’t make me happy to have to argue with them to get him oxygen in the ER. Nor was I pleased to have to hound the nurse for fluids. But again, he was/is 23, perfectly healthy.
Another 48 hours passed here – around-the-clock meds, massaging his back because he was so incredibly sore from coughing and laying in bed. He was doing better at 4 a.m. but then the freight train hit again at 9. He could barely breathe on his own. We rushed him back to the ER and it was a much different sense of ugency. He was poked, tested – CAT scans, bloodwork – it’s been a bevy of tests and examinations from a team of infectious disease experts and there’s a lot they still don’t know, but here’s what they do know: there’s a new strain of this that begins buried in your lungs. It sits and grows into a beast. And it’s another reason not one but TWO nasal swab tests came back negative. It’s not in the nose. And apparently this version is the worst of the strains they’ve identified thus far – far more painful, plus the vomiting, the diarrhea, and on comes the dehydration.
Parents, loved ones, whatever you are to your fellow humans: You don’t want to hear or experience this vomiting. The wretching, the moaning, the pain. The sunken eyes. The pale skin. And this is a young man who is 23 and in excellent shape, so please consider that.
This was Wednesday. He went into the Emergency Room in a wheelchair because he did not have the strength to walk. And that was the last I would be with him, pacing 7 hours in the parking lot, living off of updates via text and calls from his mother, who more or less dared anybody to tell them she couldn’t be with her son in the ER.
It’s now Sunday afternoon. Forget the burnt toast and crunchy scrambled eggs of Mother’s Day breakfasts. Griff’s mother spent this morning trying to organize a Zoom call with him in from his hospital bed. After storming the ER, and after his positive COVID diagnosis, she’s quarantined herself. So our other two boys will have to dial-in as well. I’m thankful for this technology. The texting, the FaceTime – thank God, so I can see him and talk with him. He’s getting better. It will be slow going, and he understands that. But he was actually hungry for some lunch when I hung up with him a few minutes ago. As soon as he can keep some food down and manage breathing on his own, they say he can go home. Right now, the estimates are 2-3 more days, but everybody is quick to remind us this thing is a 10-headed monster. A game of Whack-A-Mole even.
That will be roughly a week since he was admitted. And roughly four weeks since his first cough. I don’t say all this to alarm you. I say all this so perhaps if you’re still not on board, you’ll please get on board. Because I cared for him around the clock for nearly a week of this and I have zero symptoms. I’m a 53-year-old man and I’m in good shape, yes, but I’m not about to pretend I can fend off something like this. Luck of the Irish? Perhaps. Or I might be carrying it, I’m not sure. I’m on a 14-day quarantine myself. I’ll be tested tomorrow.
It’s extremely challenging to sit here by the phone, but I know how to take care of myself: I stay connected with friends and family. I drink a lot of water. I stretch. I even ate a bit more this afternoon.
So, one final comment about the salon owners in Texas and Oregon and wherever else and the pictures I saw of the Texas woman in court and everybody calling her a “Hero.”
I notice your hair was clean and styled. You were wearing makeup. You’d probably even showered – in fact, it looked like perhaps you were ready for the cameras to be rolling. You’re no hero.
Meanwhile, I had to remind myself to bathe last night. I did eat more today, but I stepped on the scale and noticed I’m down 10 pounds in 12 days.
But I did really need to bathe yesterday. It was a day of gutting my son’s room, just so very eager to have him back home. I had to stay busy, especially now: the notion he might be home in a couple of days sits in the mystic like one of those puffy white clouds on a beautiful spring day.
I don’t want even a speck of dust in there. I’ve wiped all the walls with bleach and water. I’ve washed all of his bedding in hot water and bleach. I threw away that towel of his in the bedding – the one he was soaking through, fighting off the shivers and chills of the constant sweating. I also took my time, stopping to look at some of his things – the books he brought home from college, the college degree still in the box –organizing sock drawers, folding his T-shirts. The travel baseball shirts and college baseball jerseys have been particularly difficult. I picked up the Navy hat he kept in the bed next to him (“It gave me a lot of inspiration.”) and hung it on his pull-up bar. I came across a book I’d given him for Christmas a couple years ago, Rainer Rilke’s “Letters on Life,” and a note I’d inscribed, ‘Griff, I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. Continued best wishes in your journey, son. Love, Dad.’
He did enjoy that book. He’d text me snippets from college. Just random Tuesday nights interrupted with a bling and a snippet. Along with his funny college-boy sayings, stuff like ‘Damn. This shit is straight, dawg.” J
I want my boy back.
I want my boy back from this pandemic. I want my boy back from the doubters whom I still see in the grocery, refusing to wear masks. Lady, all I said was ‘Please, my 23-year-old son is the COVID ward at the local hospital. Please wear a mask.’ But you and your agenda screamed back at me about your America this and freedom that. You followed me over to the dairy case even, after I’d walked away, telling me what was my business, what wasn’t. I don’t even know the rest, because I kept trying to walk away from you – but you still followed me, screaming about my ‘paranoia’ and what rights I did or didn’t have to ‘tell you what to do.’ I made sure you understood, in language only my redneck mother (RIP) would be proud of – even on Mother’s Day – my feelings on the matter. I left you yelling at me from down the aisle as a couple of employees stepped in, reassuring me and telling me they’ll have put the police on her if necessary.
I walked back home. This part of the waiting is the hardest. It’s that Christmas morning that’s coming and I feel like I’m 8 again. Only is Christmas going to be tomorrow? Tuesday? Wednesday?
But I left some of that cleaning and organizing for today because yesterday I just ran out of gas – and I knew I’d need another distraction tomorrow. I knew I needed to get some food last night, to bathe. I knew I needed a good walk this morning. The Carolina sky is so blue. The air so crisp. I breathed long, deep breaths – so thankful to inhale and exhale something we take for granted. Something my son couldn’t get into his lungs. I could still hear his gasping, his heaving. I know that memory won’t go away anytime soon. Neither will the memories of him, his darkened bedroom at 4 a.m., and our little dog nestled up next to him – the silhouette of her ears always perked up, looking over toward me. She loves my boys, and she senses when any of them are ill. Even yesterday, while I was cleaning and organizing his room, she perched herself onto his pillow and watched. An hour later, long after I’d left the room, she remained there. Waiting.
These are the little things of love and nurturing that I need right now. These are the little things of love and nurturing his mother needs. These are the little things of love and nurturing our family needs.
But here’s what I don’t need. I don’t need my hair done. Or my nails polished. A pedicure would certainly be soothing, nice – but no. You, Miss Salon Owner, didn’t appear to be starving in your photo. So maybe just set yourself down a minute and be the real hero our country needs right now.
The real heroes are putting aside their own needs, wants, and desires – their own fears even – to just follow the rules. I know it’s not easy. Or perhaps it’s that it’s just so simple, it confounds us – surely it can’t be this simple?
Just, please, sit down. Be patient. Trust.
Take it from somebody who watched ER doctors and specialists often just look at the other doctor for the answer. Then watched them excuse themselves to discuss things in the hallway. You don’t want any of that. Trust me. I’m not a man who is easily scared by anything in life. I came up through a working-class family: I know the struggles first hand. Just, please, be a real hero here.
These heroes who don’t wear capes — but they do wear masks.
Meanwhile, my son told me that he’s so excited to be breathing on his own again soon, he “can’t wait to get out and run and run and run.” And yesterday, while cleaning his room, I eventually got to all of his Navy SEAL training gear. These SEAL guys, they don’t need a whole lot.
His swimming fins.
His pull-up bar.
His swimming boots.
His Navy hat.
It’ll be a long haul, but he’ll be back. It’s his dream to fight for this country.