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THOMPSON: Death toll from COVID-19 is much more than a number

May 04, 2020 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


The numbers reported most often about the coronavirus pandemic focus on how many contracted the disease…and how many died from it. But another number - a much bigger one - is far more difficult to calculate. And it is the number that will forever change us.

You see, when officials report a COVID-19 death…that person is a solitary figure only in terms of a specific headcount. The chyron on our television screens each night that totes the latest number of deaths represents real people. And when you don’t know them…when you can’t put a face or name with a number…maybe it doesn’t seem quite as real.

Perhaps when you’re closer to the end of your life than the beginning - like me - you see things differently. That huge number on my television screen that grows each passing day, it’s more than a number. I see not only a human being, but those family and friends who lost them. My heart aches for each one.

Regardless of age…85 or 35…every death affects so many people. Everyone who dies is somebody’s husband or wife…somebody’s son or daughter…somebody’s nana or papa…somebody’s aunt or uncle…somebody’s friend. Each death takes someone from this world…and dozens - no, more likely hundreds or thousands - lose them…forever.

So, on a personal - human - level, that’s how the coronavirus pandemic really affects us. Of course, they will be counting the economic impact for years…and it will be many trillions of dollars.

Numbers taken as mere numbers - rather than people we know - are a fair gage of the pandemic’s spread…its virulence. That’s understandable. Who hasn’t said or thought…watching those nightly numbers…“I hope my family and friends don’t get it and die.”

But I wonder, do you look at those numbers differently when you know your family member…your friend…is one of them? I have to think so. I’ve noted - as we likely all have - the passing of celebrities in recent weeks…but none of my family or friends.

So, we do what is natural…perfectly human…we make jokes about social distancing and shortages in grocery stores…and staying at home. It’s a little like whistling as you walk through the alley…maybe something bad won’t happen if we act normal.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of dying from COVID-19 is family isn’t with that person. Many hospitals now have video conferencing capabilities…FaceTime and Zoom…so at least family and friends can maybe see their loved ones. But near the end…there’s no real conversation.

But no one dies alone in a hospital from COVID-19. A different family is there…caring for them medically as best they can and more importantly giving them the dignity and love another dying human deserves. Doctors, nurses, physician assistants, aides…healthcare professionals with countless titles…are there at the end…showing compassion…holding hands.

We shouldn’t underestimate the toll that this takes on another human. Think about it…working maybe 12 hours a day…under the pressure that healthcare professionals always face…with the added anxiety of knowing it’s a killer disease. And despite the best efforts to stay clean and healthy…healthcare workers are catching COVID-19 and dying, too.

A nurse recently interviewed on television…tears welling in her eyes…admitted that with every dying patient…she saw her family and friends…and herself. I feel for these folks…because I know several months or - God, help us - more than a year of this might have tragic consequences on their physical and mental health.

You see, the numbers we witness every night on television are like icebergs…there’s so much more beneath the surface.

Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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