I stood in the waiting room of the intensive care unit, anxiously waiting for an update from the medical team. While I waited, I asked the couple sitting across from me if they had been vaccinated. They said they had not. The couple was weary from disinformation surrounding COVID-19 vaccines.
I followed up more directly than I would have done earlier in the pandemic. I shared that I cared about them. I acknowledged their concern that the medical community is inconclusive about how long today’s COVID-19 vaccines will last and whether we will someday need boosters. I also emphasized that the medical community strongly supports benefiting from the protection available from today’s vaccines.
While being in the ICU waiting room meant that their family also was fighting a battle of their own, I didn’t want them also to suffer from the hospitalization of a loved one because of COVID-19. I asked if they would consider speaking with their doctor about their concerns. With relief, the couple shared they would consider vaccination.
As I turned my attention back to the ICU and my family waiting with me, I did my best to tuck away my fear and grief so I could be strong for my mom. In a room a few yards from where I stood lay a man as tough as nails; a man who mentored a 5-year-old “city slicker” into a dirt-playing, ATV-riding and grounded young man. In this room lay a Korean War veteran, public servant, friend and counselor to his community — a hero whose body had been ravaged by COVID-19.
A kind nurse shared that my grandfather was dying, and that he would be gone before the day was over. She said that hearing was the last sense to go. His hearing aid batteries were replaced, and a series of final calls graced his ears. Familiar voices offered comfort as my grandpa, Mr. Adolph Pedri, of Mullens, graduated from this world. He was 88.
As we collected my grandfather’s belongings, I carried the basket I had prepared for him leading up to Easter. Inside was a card, an AM/FM radio (as overflow rooms were without TVs), a selection of Bible verses and some Easter sweets. The small, stuffed bunny remained dutifully at his side. In the days that followed, we celebrated his life. It’s often the dying process we fear more than death itself, the pastor said, and COVID-19 is among one of the harshest diseases we face.
I pray that you and your family are spared from losing a loved one to COVID-19. We have clear instructions from medical experts on how to prevent this disease: Wear a mask when recommended by medical experts, when mandated by the law or when required by private businesses. Get vaccinated, if you’re medically eligible. Socially distance and wash your hands.
For all the other grandpas out there, the vulnerable, the medical warriors who put their patients before themselves and for yourself, do what you can to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19. Your commitment to health measures can prevent you or a loved one from suffering from COVID-19. Your actions might even save lives. Conversely, if you spend time in your community having ignored the guidance of medical experts, then you actively risk the lives of those around you.
The fabric of our democratic society is built on our interconnectedness. When we all make decisions mindful of our community, then we might all enjoy the benefit of a safer society. Sometimes, this responsibility requires us to take up arms in service of our country, as my grandfather did decades ago. Today, we’re called merely to submit our arms for a vaccine, mask up and end this pandemic.