If You Won’t Wear a Mask to Protect Others, Do it to Protect Your Own Mental Health

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I’ve had the card in my wallet since May 6, 2020. It’s a card for the M Health 4C Medical ICU on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota campus. It looks like a typical business card, but next to the card’s pre-printed portion, the number for security is written in what looks like a black marker. They gave me the card so I would have the number to call to inform security what funeral home would be collecting my Mom’s dead body.

She had passed away that morning. It was during a Minnesota stay at home order in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. She did not have COVID-19. She died from congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension, very possibly complicated by a recent diagnosis of Scleroderma. She was 74.

Due to the stay at home order, we were not able to visit her. We didn’t get the ok to come until she was actively dying. We live probably 15 minutes from the hospital. We jumped in the car as soon as we could. During the drive, I received two calls. The first was from a nurse asking us how long we’d be and if we wanted them to keep her there or “make her comfortable.” I said to make her comfortable. The next call was a short time later, telling me she had passed away. The kind doctor was coming through the speakers in our car due to the Bluetooth connection. My husband was driving. My daughter was in the back seat. It was all very surreal.

When we arrived at the hospital, we went through the COVID-19 screening procedures. As part of the process, we explained we were there because my Mom had just died. It’s such a strange thing to say out loud minutes after it had happened, particularly when telling strangers. I remember sitting in a chair waiting for a nurse escort and thinking about the vibrant woman whose body was now lying in a bed on the fourth floor.

When my daughter and I walked into her room and could see around the curtain, the first thing I noticed was that her mouth was wide open. I will never forget that. My smart, beautiful, feisty, hard-working, and hard-headed Mom was lying in an ICU bed, dead, and we didn’t get to say goodbye to her before she passed.

I should have closed her mouth.

I will never say she died alone. I know she was surrounded by caring and incredibly talented professionals who know what to do. I’m more grateful to that ICU team than I can ever express.

Still, her family was not there.

We haven’t held a memorial service yet. We will wait until it is safe to gather to celebrate her life.

My plea to those who do not take COVID-19 seriously is this: do not be the one responsible for putting your family, or any family, in a similar position.

Believe me, when I tell you, it was difficult enough without COVID-19 having caused her death. I think about it every day. I cannot even begin to imagine how it would feel if her death was due to her catching a virus from someone who didn’t take it seriously.

I heard Michael Osterholm on Minnesota Public Radio this morning. He told the story of a college student who infected both her grandparents with COVID-19, and they both died. She was asymptomatic. She never felt any physical effects from the virus but will have to carry the reality of how her grandparents became ill for the rest of her life. I think of that young woman, and my heart breaks. That is a heavy burden to bear. I hope she can find peace.

Follow the guidance. Wear a mask and practice social distancing. Protect yourself and those in your community — for both physical health and mental health.

Doctoral student working to kick writers block.

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