Like everyone else I am having trouble thinking about anything other than the coronavirus pandemic and the shockwaves it has sent, and will continue to send, through the system. As it began to unfold I found myself thinking, talking, and posting about it fairly constantly. In an effort to try to keep it confined to a given time and place, both physically and psychologically, I am keeping a diary of it all.
May 10: There is a story in today’s Los Angeles Times about a nurse named Celia Marcos. She oversaw a ward at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center which took the many COVID-19 patients who overflowed from the primary COVID-19 ward.
On April 3, a patient stopped breathing. Marcos’ face was covered only with a thin surgical mask, but she nonetheless began procedures to resuscitate him. On April 17 Celia Marcos was dead.
The story that many want to tell of Marcos’ death — the story told by people who, like President Trump, want to cast heath care workers and COVID-19 patients as “warriors,” which implies the inevitability of their deaths — is one of a selfless caregiver who chose her patient’s life over her own. But the reality is tragic:
As charge nurse, Marcos was required to respond to patients who stopped breathing, but she wasn’t provided an N95 mask at the beginning of her shift, her co-workers say. The masks are scarce and staff who do get them are often asked to reuse them over multiple days, they said.
“The hospital wasn’t giving us appropriate PPE — the N95s were locked,” said one nurse, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity after expressing fear of retaliation from hospital administrators. “It’s just too painful for everybody, what happened to her.”
There is some administrative ambiguity here, as the hospital, relying on CDC guidelines, concluded that Marcos did not have “unprotected exposure to COVID-19.” That may, technically, be true. That’s because early in the pandemic, the CDC recommended N95 masks for treating all suspected COVID-19 patients, but it recently switched to recommending masks only for high-risk procedures. Marcos, the hospital ruled, was not assigned to the COVID-19 ward and her act of resuscitating the patient was not specifically identified as one of those high-risk procedures so she was not technically “unprotected.”
The CDC did not lower the bar for compliance because it was determined that that lower bar was just as safe, of course. They did so because there was and remains a severe shortage of N95 masks. They, as so often happens in a regulatory culture that is not serious about regulation, dialed down safety requirements which magically transform unsafe behavior into acceptable behavior. This usually happens because businesses — and in this country, perversely, hospitals are businesses — agitate for lower standards which allow them to save money and which gives them greater protection from legal liability. One wonders if, in this particular case, the standard was lowered because of pressure from the White House to make our country’s utter failure to produce sufficient protective equipment look less negligent than it truly is.
Either way, it’s all a fiction. A fiction designed to excuse our national shortage of personal protective equipment. A fiction designed to excuse our failure as a nation to prepare for this pandemic and our failure as a nation to respond to it. Multiply this fiction by dozens, scores, or maybe hundreds of other little fictions our leaders have authored over the past few months. By the corners cut. By the big lies told to our people and the little lies they’ve told to themselves to help them sleep at night.
Celia Marcos is dead because our country was unwilling to do what was necessary to keep her safe. Celia Marcos is dead because of those lies.
Those lies also tend to involve our highest government officials telling us that there is nothing to fear and that it is safe enough to reopen the country now. Yet:
- Vice President Pence has entered self-isolation because people on his staff have COVID-19. It’s safe enough to walk around the Mayo Clinic without a mask and it’s safe enough to order meat packing plant workers to go back to work without safety gear, but not enough to walk around the Old Executive Office Building;
- The Governor of Iowa is considering self-isolation because she was around Pence and his staff. It’s safe enough to reopen Iowa completely, but it’s not safe enough for the chief executive of Iowa to walk around in public; and
- The U.S. Army has determined that a history of COVID-19 is “permanently disqualifying” for potential recruits going forward. Our Commander-in-Chief has attempted to convince a nation that the virus is no more dangerous than the flu, but the army he commands considers it a totally different animal altogether. One that renders one permanently unfit for military service.
As always, watch what those in power do. Do not listen to what they say.
It’s Mother’s Day.
My mother and I have never done the Mother’s Day brunch thing a lot of people do. She’s not a going out kind of person. Most years I’ll get her a card and some flowers and maybe a sweet treat and sit and talk and have coffee with her for a while when I bring them over.
I got her a card the other day and some flowers and a sweet treat this morning and dropped them off on her porch. No chat and no coffee, but I suppose it’s the closest-to-their-normal most people will get on Mother’s Day. If you are the take-your-mom-out-to-brunch type, or the mom-who-gets-taken-out-to-brunch type this day had to truly suck. As it was, the vast majority of us were the can’t-even-see-your-mother types and, actually, that sucked as well.
There was a lot of talk when the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders began about how to make the best use of one’s time. Articles and memes spread about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear while sheltering-in-place during England’s annual plague outbreaks between 1603 and 1606. About how Issac Newton fled Cambridge and holed up at a farm during the Plague of 1665, during which he invented calculus, created an entire new understanding of physics, figured out gravity, and more. The idea, usually stated directly, was “DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE WITH YOUR QUARANTINE OR ELSE YOU HAVE FAILED!”
Even if you want to give Shakespeare and Newton their quarantine props — which you probably shouldn’t, because (a) no one really knows when Shakespeare wrote King Lear and Newton did a ton of work on his theories pre-and-post-plague — that’s kind of a bullshit standard, right? “Hey, if two of the greatest minds in the history of the planet did something great while stuck at home, you should too!” The combined efforts of millions rarely if ever accomplish over their entire lives what those two did in a few years in the 17th century.
But it’s still bullshit even if you don’t aim as high as those two.
“Write that novel!” “Learn a second language!” “Master Béarnaise sauce!” That kind of stuff is great if you want to. If you can. If you have the time and are in a head space where you feel like you can even take on such things, but these are stressful damn times. A lot of people have lost their jobs and don’t know what they’re going to do. A lot of other people are being worked harder, under more stressful circumstances than before. Some people are sick or have loved ones who are. Some people are simply having a hard time adjusting to this strange new normal of being home alone or being around their whole families 24/7, each of which might be unusual and jarring for a given person.
The notion that you’re some sort of failure if you don’t do something that high-achieving people in a capitalist society deem productive — almost always something that is either financially remunerative or Mother Teresa-level selfless — is already bullshit. The idea that you’re some sort of failure if you don’t do that during this of all times is not just bullshit, it’s bullshit squared.
Just survive, man. Do whatever you can do to maintain your health and your sanity and everything else is gravy.
And hey, if you happen to be a teenager who works at a pizza place who (a) makes a good amount of money when pizza places are one of the only things open; (b) you have nothing to spend it on at all and have no living expenses of your own; and (c) talk about one day starting a band with your snack rack-creating friends, you can use this time to save up your money to buy yourself a synthesizer and attempt to teach yourself how to play it:
I’m not sure how it’s coming because he won’t let me listen to him as he experiments with it, but even if he doesn’t compose the synth-pop version of King Lear by the time school starts again this August, I won’t disown him as a failure.
I mean, I’ll settle for the synth-pop version of Troilus and Cressida.
(Featured Image: British Red Cross, via Wikimedia Commons)