COVID-19: The Death of Empathy and Humanity

It was at the beginning of January of this year that I started following the developing situation In Wuhan in regard to a new coronavirus. Like something out of a movie, citizens of that city were being forced into quarantine, at times against their will. The news outlets made some mention of the situation in China but I questioned its validity because news sources at times sensationalize their reporting to increase viewership. As the days passed I continued following the situation, realizing the seriousness of it, and that it was only a matter of time before the US would be impacted. Towards the end of January, the first case in the US was reported out of Washington State. I immediately advised members of my family to stock up on food and supplies and as a result, was criticized and accused of being paranoid. “That won’t happen here, you’re overreacting”, is one of the many remarks I received from family, friends, and co-workers in return for my advice, but I insisted that based on what was happening in Wuhan and currently developing in Europe, the increase in the number of those infected in the US would be exponential. Fast-forward to the end of February and the nightmare had only worsened with the CDC informing Americans to prepare for an outbreak. At that point, I was in good shape as far as having adequate supplies, including toilet paper, to ride this out. It was now the beginning of March and I developed some cold and flu symptoms. Luckily they were relatively mild compared to what was being reported from the media, and it probably wasn’t related to SARS-COV-2, but I took precautions anyway and stopping my use of public transportation and limiting my contact with others as much as possible. At that point, I decided that attending lectures at Citytech might be risky as it involved sitting in spaces with multiple people that traveled on the subway, were probably not well informed about what was going on, or at an extreme oblivious to the severity of what lay ahead. I missed several classes but kept up with my school work, and then shortly after, the school transitioned to distance learning. I felt relieved, thinking I would no longer have to expose myself. That was until my father-in-law, a cancer patient developed breathing issues.

We called my father-in-laws’ doctor one afternoon and were instructed to bring him in to be examined. When we arrived at the hospital to our surprise he was immediately rushed in. Everyone seemed nervous as he was hurriedly wheeled through the building to an intensive care unit. When he arrived at the ICU he was immediately placed in isolation with no human contact except through a glass panel and via his mobile phone. The hospital feared he had COVID-19 and wanted to mitigate the risk of spreading the disease if he was indeed infected. Shortly after we were asked to leave the facility and prohibited from returning. A couple of days later his results came back negative and he was discharged. Medications were prescribed to treat his symptoms and a biopsy was scheduled to determine the cause of his breathing issues. The biopsy was canceled the day before it was to be performed due to the hospital being in “wartime mode” and its desire to focus resources on treating COVID-19 patients. A few days later we were again forced to bring him to the hospital due to shortness of breath. He was again admitted, again spent a couple of days there, was again checked for COVID-19, and then upon testing negative, was again discharged with no resolution. His health continued to deteriorate so a couple of days later we brought him to the ER a third time, but this time things were different. We were instructed to drop him off at the ER and were not allowed to enter due to a newly implemented “no visitor policy.” We called to check up on him but attempts to communicate via cellphone and video calls were unsuccessful. We requested access to him multiple times over the next few days and were denied each and every time. It wasn’t until my wife threatened to storm into the hospital, with no regard for the consequences, that the hospital finally allowed us to see him, but only one person at a time. Upon entering his hospital room, we immediately noticed things were not as they should be. His personal belongings which included a shirt that at some point was saturated with his blood lay on the floor along with his underwear, socks, and shoes. The room was noticeably dirty with blood spots and other stains on the furniture and the floor. Syringe wrappers were on his bed and we discovered he was laying on a plastic syringe cover for what appeared to be an extended period of time due to a deep indentation and bruising on his back. He lay there motionless, uncovered, and hooked up to a breathing machine that beeped incessantly. He complained of feeling hungry and not having eaten for days. As a result of his weakened state he was unable to feed himself and the hospital staff did nothing to ensure he received adequate nutrition. After we all visited with him, my mother-in-law was allowed to spend the night. During that time she fed him, cleaned him, and made sure he was comfortable, leading to an improvement in his physical and mental state. The next evening though, she was forced to leave by a head nurse that threatened to call security if she refused. Again he was alone, and he remained that way for an entire day, while we negotiated with the hospital for my mother-in-law to be allowed to re-enter the facility. The following day various members of the hospital communicated to us via video-conference that there was nothing more they could do for him and that no exceptions to their visitor policy would be made unless we agreed to transfer him out of the hospital and into hospice care. We immediately disagreed, which led to a social worker explaining to us that they could and would transfer him, even if we didn’t agree. They explained that if we did agree they would place him at an end of life unit in the hospital, where he would be allowed one visitor while he awaited transfer to the hospice care facility, but would not be resuscitated if he went into cardiac arrest. I reminded them that he had rights as a patient, catching them off-guard, but we ultimately ended up agreeing to their terms so that my mother-in-law could return to his bedside as soon as possible and he would not pass alone. Several hours later my father-in-law was transferred to the end of life unit and my mother-in-law was allowed to enter the facility. A couple of days later on the 30th of March, my father-in-law passed away in the hospital, bringing an end to his suffering.

As we drove home from the hospital my mother-in-law asked me to make the funeral arrangements. Finding a funeral home was not an easy task. I called several funeral homes but could not get straight answers about how they were handling viewings, due to regulations that had been implemented by the government prohibiting gatherings, and also due to the sheer quantity of deaths occurring in the city on a daily basis. I was fortunate to find a funeral home just outside of the city that could handle the viewing within a week, but not without restrictions on the length of the viewing, and the maximum number of people that could attend at any given time. My father-in-law’s body was ultimately cremated but viewing the cremation was not allowed due to regulations put in place by the Department of Health.

Up to this point in time, I have been spared from becoming infected with COVID-19. I have had to buy extra supplies, I have missed lectures, and I constantly worry about my health and the health of my family. I have had to deal with the nightmare that was my father-in-law’s compassionless and negligent treatment by the hospital, which I feel led to his untimely death. I feel fortunate that neither I nor any of my family members have been infected with COVID-19, but we have been impacted by it as a result of the loss of empathy and humanity that it has caused.

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