It’s the stuff of nightmares. You know the ones. You wake up sweating, panicked, maybe even shouting. It takes minutes to calm down, and maybe hours to get back to sleep, if it happens at all.
Only this is real. You can’t escape, even if you could reach a needle-filled arm from its resting place near the dripping IV bottle. There are no thoughts but panic.
I haven’t watched anyone die from COVID. But I know people that have. And I know what it feels like to not be able to breathe in. That momentary panic after taking a hit on the football field decades ago. For me, it happened probably once a season, either in a game or on the practice field. You hear the collision and all you can see is the sky above you as you desperately gasp for air. It’s one of the most frightening, helpless feelings you can experience, but it always lasted maybe five seconds.
Immediately, someone recognizes what has happened (because it has happened to them), they turn you over and tell you to breathe. Within seconds, the world is back in its place – except for that bruise you just picked up that you’ll feel for days. But that’s nothing. You’re alive and getting air.
Later in life, I’ve begun to suffer the onset of asthma. Minor symptoms, fairly few and far between, but it’s enough for me to carry an asthma inhaler.
For years, I watched my late mother suffer from the effects of asthma, but had no real handle on what it was like – the intense fear that goes along with not being able to inhale oxygen, even for a few seconds. The speed with which your body begins to shut down, beginning with balance, awareness, and ability to support yourself.
But the attacks are short-lived. The more I experience, the better I handle them and the less panic I feel. But it’s still “less” panic. Not none.
I feel the nagging concern that my 30-year smoking habit, finally conquered 3-and-a-half years ago, may have already sealed my fate at some point in the future. If that’s the case, then yes, I’ll experience those dreaded hours gasping for life-sustaining oxygen while staring unseeingly at a hospital ceiling. And it’ll be my own fault, I’ve come to understand that. I’ll ask myself over and over again why I picked up that first cigarette.
But imagine finding yourself in that position only because you, with no medical training or real knowledge, decided you didn’t “trust” a vaccine? Imagine entering a cold, sterile hospital desperately gasping for air, in complete panic and misery, only to discover that you’ve passed the point that any of your loved ones can see you, hear you, touch you. It has happened before you know it. You’ve been wheeled to an elevator and they’re not coming with you.
You’ll see nurses and doctors in full hazmat gear, and that’s it. When you do, briefly, have a moment you feel capable of saying a few words, you’ll ask a nurse through tears, “why, why didn’t I get the vaccine?” He or she will look down at you with what you swear has to be a 50-50 mix of empathy and contempt. You know that’s what you’ll see.
Look, with the Delta Variant filling Springfield hospitals to overflowing, with Missouri and Arkansas becoming the nation’s COVID flashpoint, and with Cass County actually vaccinated at a lower percentage than Springfield’s Greene County, we’re past worrying about what people we admire tell us to do.
Though I may, as I said, eventually suffer respiratory consequences for my behavior in life, one thing that’s not going to happen is literal suffocation due to my failure to get a simple, free vaccine that people are literally waiting to give me at the Cass County Health Department and practically every pharmacy in the county.
If it’s that big a deal, don’t tell anyone you got the vaccine. Let those who would have you ignore the experts in order to prove a political point think you’re with them, I don’t care.
I just don’t want to imagine the desperation anyone else that I know might feel as they mercifully lose consciousness for the final time – away from loved ones and in the company of only those troopers that have watched this happen over and over and over again, to the point where they’re already suffering the pain of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and will for the rest of their own lives.
The numbers are simply terrifying. But nothing is nearly as terrifying as imagining the consequences of this fateful decision . . . please take a moment, exhale, but don’t inhale. Stay that way for as long as you can. Then when you suck in that life-giving breath, feel the joy that comes with being able to do it. Imagine if you couldn’t.
• • •
And while I’m appreciating life, I’m thankful I was able – for the first time in more than a year – call up my friend Richard Smith down the street and Rich and Rich’s, order a burger and fries, and run down there and pick it up to go.
He’s not going to open for dine-in for awhile, but man, was the carryout good!
And if you’re not lucky enough to have an office right down the street to take your meal, The Broken Hatchet Brewing Company is just steps away, and they’ll be happy to provide the drinks to go with your food while you grab a table at their place.