Fifty-One Days

My Mother Finally Got Out of Rehab After Catching COVID-19

Credit: Steve Sack, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, MN

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It happened fast. On Monday, March 30, my mom tested positive for COVID-19. April 2, she went to Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital emergency room. Two days later she was admitted to the intensive care unit. Friday, April 3, she went on a ventilator. And on Saturday April 4, my father’s birthday, her heart stopped. She had to be resuscitated and then spent the next three weeks in a medically induced coma. As I write this, she is still in the rehabilitation facility, literally learning how to walk again.

When COVID-19 started gaining traction in the states back in early March, we pleaded with my mom to get a waiver from Costco to stop working. Costco did offer 4-12 weeks unpaid leave for anyone who had medical reasons, which, to be fair, was commendable. They stepped up by paying her normal wages while she was in the hospital, and her managers checked in with my family weekly. But her last day of work was March 19. She became symptomatic on March 27 when she realized she couldn’t taste her Tommy’s chili burger; something was just off. She believed her work was essential for the community, but she also knew that her pre-existing health conditions made the situation much more dire.

The okay to take time away from work was too late.

Every single day in April, I’ve watched friends across the country lose their jobs. Numb is the only word that could describe the utter powerlessness of this situation. I was numb knowing that I couldn’t travel back to the 805 to check in on my dad with social isolation in full effect. My brothers and their kids were all stuck at home, and I couldn’t stay with them either. They had been exposed to my mom, and with my wife being four months pregnant at the time, I couldn’t risk it. There was literally nothing I could do. Nothing any of us could do to minimize the stress that this pandemic has incited in all of us.

Everyone is frustrated. Everyone is scared. Everyone is worried.

As she lay there in the hospital, each day seemed longer and more drawn out. Friends with zero medical or scientific degrees were sending me articles on a daily basis about things they’d “researched,” videos of miracle drugs from YouTube physicians. Thoughts and prayers came in on a daily basis. Close friends were pressing me on questions I should be asking the doctors at Cottage, as if they also had MDs.

I knew that all these suggestions came from a place of love, but at a certain point, I had to ask them all to stop. My mother has lupus, and those handy miracle drugs Trumpito touted we’re already in my mother’s routine. Yet, she was still in a coma. Every time someone sent me an article about the viability of HCQ [hydroxychloroquine], my blood boiled. The notion that this drug was being nationally televised as some sort of miracle suppressant of COVID was utter BS, and every day I had to tell someone that my mother had already been taking that drug, and that yes, she was still on life support.

Conversely, my friends in the medical field kept my family’s spirits going. Friends who were nurses, doctors, and emergency medical services workers helped temper the doubt that we were all feeling about my mom’s recuperation. They explained how medicine and science were working. What the medical equipment was actually doing, and why it was important for mom’s progression. They went to school for this. They didn’t sell me any bullshit Facebook articles.

As my family dealt with the reality that my mother might not make it, I saw more and more people in my social circles disregard the science behind this current crisis. I watched more and more, predominantly white, friends begin to

speak about “their freedoms” being trounced and how they needed to “take back” the country and “wake up” to the realities of government seizure of our personal liberties and freedoms.

As a person of color, I can only say, welcome to the America that we’ve been living in for decades. The FBI surveilled Malcolm X, Dr. King, and Cesar Chavez as though they were enemies of the state. In 2014, documents showed Black Lives Matter leaders were being surveilled by the FBI. Most of my Chicano friends who grew up in Santa Barbara have been shaken down by the Santa Barbara Police Department for no reason. I’ve been pulled over for no reason plenty of times, just to show the police officer that my brake lights do actually work. To be completely frank, this police state has been on our asses since the civil rights era. So, yes, this country can be oppressive. America has been violating the civil rights of brown people long before this pandemic.

Seeing the MAGA hats and automatic rifles slung from shoulders in places like Sacramento, Lansing, and Columbus drove me up the wall. Native American activists were hit with water cannons during the Standing Rock protests back in 2016, but during a pandemic, we let fully armed white Americans inside state buildings. Any questions about their freedoms should have been answered right then and there. I couldn’t imagine walking my brown ass into the state capital with an AR on my shoulder.

Shelter-in-place orders, mandatory usage of facial coverings in public, and social distancing are all choices that we have to make in this free society. Not making the right choice can get you some glares; it might even land you in the hospital. At the end of the day, it is your choice to make. However, if you do decide to toe the MAGA line about re-opening this economy, know your risks. Read the science. Understand that mistaking simple requests from state governments or businesses to social distance and wear masks in order to conduct business with them is within their rights, just as it is in yours not to wear PPE.

That being said, do you really want to be the one who spreads COVID-19 to your mom? Mine got out of Santa Barbara’s rehab facility on May 21. I assure you that these last 51 days have been the most trying of my life, watching my mother on the brink of death because of this pandemic. We can stop these experiences through small, inconvenient actions.

Wear your mask. Wash your hands. Social distance.

Your freedoms aren’t being trounced right now. Trust that this government does have a capacity to take them away. We must be vigilant to keep the freedoms that we have, but wearing a mask inside Costco can save lives. I really wish someone was wearing one on March 19.

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