I’d researched him for days waiting for him to get my message and return my call. I knew he was an Air Force helicopter medic in Iraq. I knew everywhere he’d been to college. I expected a skilled diplomat, savvy in the handling of distressed family members at his hospital almost a year into this pandemic.
So I was caught completely off guard when he charged me on the sidewalk, veins bulging in his head. His physical stature identical to a vending machine, one fist clenched, the other finger pointed at my face spitting inside his KN95 about me being the one harassing his staff and taking photographs in his hospital.
Apparently it is perhaps not legal to take photographs of hospital employees inside a hospital not wearing a face covering, an action that sounds very unlike me although I can’t be certain I didn’t do it.
After so many fruitless calls, cordial requests, and insistent private online messages requesting a moment of accountability, what choice did I have? What choice would you have if it was your loved one with their back to the wall, certain to not survive should the virus saunter its way from an uncovered nose to their lungs? His dutiful assistant failed to provide the gentleman with the full context of our many interactions and instead provided the miserly synopsis that finally got him out of his chair to find me.
Despite his size and military training he was the one in danger. Motivation to protect one’s reputation stands no chance against the drive to protect one’s family. If he killed me he would need a surgeon to cut my hands from his throat.
Security, roused from their listless stupor, came to his aid, which he quickly dismissed. In between his threats of arrest and my presentation of evidence we grappled our way to a new understanding. Yes, it has been hard. Yes, fatigue sets in, and yes, every single god damn person should have their face covered in a hospital, and hold each other accountable to the highest standard of safety for the patients, if not each other.
As the temperature between us dropped he sighed, “I wish you had just called me first.” I clutched a bench to keep from spinning off the earth from the irony, my phone log a solid line of call attempts dating to last week. “Man” I deadpanned, “thanks for the suggestion. I’ll try that next time.” We exchanged cell numbers and agreed to keep the lines of communication open, as the saying goes.
A box of fresh masks appeared at the front desk, and shortly after he texted me. He thanked me for bringing the issues to their attention, acknowledged they needed perhaps a renewal of pandemic vows so to speak. Most importantly, he inquired as to my loved one’s condition, status, and care plan. He checked in again last night, just before I fell into a hard sleep.
It’s touch and go out there everyone. We have to dig in with our fingernails if we are going to make it through this together. The virus is truly the least of our worries.