Most hospital parking lots are as complicated as this one. Would you like to be waiting in the parking lot while your loved one receives treatment?
University Hospital Crosshouse. Photo by Billy McCrorie, CC BY-SA 2.0,
The Cruelty of COVID-19
We know how cruel the coronavirus can be. One of the most heart-wrenching aspects of the social distancing restrictions required to mitigate the pandemic is the loneliness and despair of the COVID patients who cannot be in direct contact with their loved ones.
My family has discovered how this affects those of us with serious non-COVID conditions. My wife has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of kidney cancer that will require chemotherapy and surgery. She has had numerous surgeries, tests, and meetings with her urologist, surgeon, and her oncologist. She has now had three of four rounds of chemotherapy infusions. One of the drugs in her treatment is referred to unlovingly as the “Red Devil.”
Just like the families of COVID-19 patients, I have not been able to be with her for any of these meetings or the treatments. I sit in the car in parking garages, fast food parking lots, and the living room of our home waiting for the phone call from her and her doctors and the latest word on her condition and the treatments. We are one with the families of COVID patients and their families in this respect.
I drop her off at the hospital or the doctor’s office. Watch her disappear into the caverns of the medical facility. I can’t hold her hand while she’s waiting to be called for a diagnostic procedure or a report of findings. During these meetings that describe her condition and what treatment will be required, I don’t see the response on her face. All I can do is listen intently on the conference call to the sound of her voice and the measured, carefully calibrated comments of the doctors.
I know we are not alone with this situation. One of the times I was sitting in a parking lot waiting anxiously for her call I noticed that on both sides of me were people sitting alone probably waiting for a call just like me. This process is undoubtedly repeated thousands of times a day across the country with families all suffering from the distance from our loved ones in these most anxiety-and-fear-producing experiences imaginable.
The Value of Being There
This is especially poignant for me. In 2014, I was diagnosed with a Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma of my tongue. My treatment required chemotherapy and radiation combined with chemotherapy. The side effects of both treatment modalities were significant. The visits to the hospital for treatments were endless along with all the testing and peripheral care required.
Through all this Melody was at my side. When she was not, like when I was in the radiation chamber, I knew she was in the waiting room watching anxiously for my return. Knowing that she was there gave me solace. I recently wrote a memoir of my cancer experience, Grace with Meals: A Personal Experience of Cancer’s Discovery, Treatment, and Recovery. Here is the Dedication:
“This book is written for the millions of people who have an association with cancer. But the book is dedicated to my wife Melody who has been my steadfast caregiver on every step of our journey through the badlands of cancer. Without Melody’s constant emotional support and active loving assistance, I would not have survived. (Emphasis added.)
“Thank you, my darling girl. I love you forever.”
A Message to Medical Caregivers
My entreaty to the caregivers is to remember that we who are in desperate straits with our non-COVID-patient loved ones have no desire to disturb the life-saving intensive care of COVID-19 patients. We do hope that our caregivers will recognize the difficulty of these enforced solo flights into the world of threatening illness. Keeping us as well informed as you can on a timely basis is a tremendous help. We have no recourse other than the phone call, email, or text message for the next bit of information that will help us comfort our loved ones who are largely going it alone.
God bless all of us struggling with COVID-19 and other serious health issues and the health care professionals struggling with a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis. Those of us who stand and wait for the word on our loved ones who are suffering with one of the many life-threatening conditions that plague us depend on you to help us do our best for our loved ones in their solitary pandemic journey.
Fred Zuker, February 24, 2021 (Edited and subtitled by Valerie)