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A virus of the mind: What COVID has done to us

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Often, when people are very sick, they retreat into themselves. Their thoughts slow down. They become passive and far away. Their clothes are removed, IVs are placed, the bright lights shine. They lie naked, without shame, in their solitude. But as they get better, their identities return. They want to be covered again, and sit up in their beds.

At first, he was fully indifferent. Then the respiratory therapist attached a light blue snorkel of high-flow oxygen to his nose. Before COVID-19, I’d never seen this device. Now it is everywhere.

He lay there panting like an animal, and we watched him in silence, in our masks and gowns. With a normal disease, we would have put him on the ventilator right then. But this is not a normal disease, and people do not do well on ventilators. The statistics are bleak. So we try to keep them breathing on their own.

Somehow, he’d driven himself to the hospital, and made it across the parking lot into the ER lobby. He’d stood in line there, swaying and gasping, until the triage nurse saw him.

Slowly, the oxygen began to do its work. He grew clearer, and drew up the sheet to cover himself. A few moments later he was speaking to us between breaths.

There are simply not that many drugs to give in COVID-19. It’s oxygen that counts, and fate.

“Were you vaccinated?” I asked, finally, when enough time had passed.

He shook his head, quickly, and decisively. It was a hard, sharp gesture, but one that might have meant anything — remorse or defiance, anger or fear, pride or bitterness, I couldn’t tell.

So I moved on. I asked him safer, unladen questions. He had diabetes and high blood pressure. He had a new truck that he was worried was parked incorrectly. He was in Albuquerque for work, but lived in Oklahoma, where he would return when the contract was done. He’d been sick for a few days. At first it hadn’t been that bad.

His gaze was direct, and assertive. His eyes were blue. He was polite, and he thanked us, as if determined to reveal no weakness.

I’ve been thinking about him. Why would a heavy white guy in his fifties, with diabetes and high-blood pressure, a decent job, a new truck, a family in Oklahoma, and a reasonable manner refuse a vaccine that would have saved his life? The news has been full of people exactly like him for more than a year now. Video after video, testimony after testimony — how could he fail to recognize himself in all those desperate faces, and not drive down to CVS for a pinprick?

Liberal, educated people in America have a word for men like that. They call them idiots. They think they are indifferent to the fate of anyone else. They see them as irrational, selfish children, unless they are a member of a minority group, in which case patronizing excuses are made.

These are views that I........

© NY Daily News

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