by Frances Edstrom, columnist
During this pandemic, while government and the media have scared the bejeesus out of half of us, and simply irritated the rest, we’ve been keeping meticulous track of the number of fatalities due to the virulent virus. The New York Times, in its continued effort to be a big player in the media rivalry and the coming elections, ran a front page with the names of the thousands of victims.
However, the “Gray Lady” missed some important names, of people whose deaths were caused by the pandemic as surely as those who died of COVID-19.
In the past several weeks, two of my friends lost sons, both of whom lived with mental illness. They were in their 40s when they died.
One son’s fight with addiction was in sustained remission. He was married and had a toddler daughter. He lost the struggle with his mental illness, and committed suicide. He loved his wife, a health care professional working many hours with coronavirus patients, a stressful job. Because of the lockdown, he had to quit his job to be home with their daughter, whom he adored, a beautiful little Nordic blonde with a bubbly personality and lots of energy. He was loved and admired.
But where do you go for help during a pandemic? Everything is shut down in favor of the virus, clinics and hospitals closed to anyone who isn’t a COVID-19 patient. The rest of us are supposed to put our illnesses on the shelf, to be dealt with some time in the future.
The other son, who also had a mental illness, fought not with addiction, but with the brutal effects of the drug that was supposed to keep his disease in abeyance. He was an intelligent man, with a master’s degree, and should have been living his bright future. Instead, he was at the mercy of his disease, and his cure.
His illness recurred in this stress-filled environment, and he needed to be hospitalized. But there is no longer an inpatient psychiatric unit in Winona, as it closed last fall, so he was taken to Rochester. Once there, after many hours of waiting, alone, because his family was not allowed to be with him due to the pandemic, he was told that there was no bed for him in Rochester, and they transferred him to St. Paul. There was a bed for him in the psychiatric unit there, but again, his family was denied access to him because of COVID-19.
He died of a pulmonary embolism, a phone call in the middle of the night announcing his passing.
Recently, a large group of doctors sent a letter to the president, calling the coronavirus lockdowns a “mass casualty incident” with “exponentially growing health consequences.”
The sons of my two friends are a tragic testimony to that.
Their families are even deprived of the usual funerals at which friends and extended family gather to mourn the loss. There are no hugs, no communal tears, no shared stories of their lives. Just death.
These are the other victims of the pandemic, whose names aren’t memorialized on front pages, but who are grieved just as deeply.