By Dennis Anderson
When President Donald Trump suspended most travel from Europe and the NBA suspended its season, it signified for me that we were in it for the long haul in our fight against COVID-19. That was March 11. The weekend prior, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, was sounding the alarm for stricter measures to isolate and control the disease.
Montrose’s first coronavirus fatality would come on April 3, a 61-year-old woman who had been receiving care for underlying health conditions. I was sitting in the Montrose newsroom when our editorial team was notified. As our team worked their sources to produce the story, I could feel the intensity in their work. At the same time, I received a text. “Montrose Memorial Hospital was overwhelmed with patients,” the text read. Now I was feeling overwhelmed. It felt as if the enemy was coming over the hill. I was later able to confirm that the hospital was not overwhelmed. They had very few COVID-19-related patients.
Later that evening when the story was posted to our webpage and Facebook, I was disheartened by how easily this was dismissed because the victim was in a nursing home and receiving long-term care for other health issues. “Underlying conditions” were the comments, as if to dismiss the relevance of her passing.
As I was putting together my thoughts about the day, I wondered about her family, having been through a similar situation of losing my father in the same nursing home due to cancer. I played it out in my head. Was the woman isolated from her family? Did they get the same opportunity to hold her hand and comfort her as she passed? Probably not, I thought.
Meanwhile my coworker who lives in Alaska had returned home to Germany in early March. Her father, in his 80s, was to have surgery, and she was there for him. Unfortunately he passed away during surgery. She extended her time in Germany to bury her father. The travel ban had been in effect, and I wondered when we would see her again.
At the funeral with her extended family by her side, they memorialized him. One member of the family was ill but came to pay respects. Days after the service other family members became ill. She would lose three more family members. It was later confirmed they all tested positive for the coronavirus.
She relayed the story to us on our weekly video chat when she returned home. Even though we were all in separate locations, the room became very heavy. We all wanted was to hug her, but, of course, we couldn’t. We muddled through the rest of the call saddened for our friend.
Then there is singer/songwriter John Prine. Harlan Howard coined the phrase “Three chords and the truth” when describing what it takes to write a country song. No one captured that better than John Prine.
Prine passed away from COVID-19 on April 7. According to his family, he was hospitalized on March 26, intubated on the 29th.
His wife Fiona posted the following on Instagram when expressing gratitude toward his fans and the medical staff at Vanderbilt University.
“My dearest wish is that people of all ages take this virus seriously and follow guidelines set by the CDC. We send our condolences and love to the thousands of other American families who are grieving the loss of loved ones at this time — and to so many other families across the world.”
Yes, he had underlying medical issues. It doesn’t soften the blow of his loss.
It had been some time since I had listened to Prine’s music, but his anthem to the elderly, “Hello in There,” is one I’ve listened to over and over again. He wrote the song in 1971 when he was 24. Lukas Nelson’s cover of the song on YouTube is haunting.
While we slow roll back to some kind of normalcy, let’s be careful. I hope prosperity comes soon to all of you who have suffered during the economic crisis that this disease has posed.
In the meantime let’s be mindful that each life is precious.
You know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder every day
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello”
So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don’t just pass ‘em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”
— John Prine
Dennis Anderson is group publisher for Wick Communications, Alaska and Colorado. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.