Larry, 78, has lived his life doing all the right things. He served in the Navy during the Viet Nam era, earned a business degree and then became one of Missouri’s first computer programmers. …
Larry, 78, has lived his life doing all the right things. He served in the Navy during the Viet Nam era, earned a business degree and then became one of Missouri’s first computer programmers.
He and his wife, Caunita, bought a home in Florrisant in 1965 and raised their two daughters, Laura and Amy there. He was a wonderful provider, making sure his daughters got a good education. He was still active in the same church where he had taken the girls.
After his wife’s death, he lived alone with Sherlock, the dog he rescued from the pound.
He did everything right, but somehow the system in which he so strongly believed is failing him when he needs it the most.
Until last April, Larry continued living in and maintaining the family home, including cutting his own grass. He volunteered as a fishing instructor for youth and ran a program for veterans to learn to tie fishing flies.
But in April, things began to deteriorate. He fell twice and began becoming disoriented. A hospital stay revealed he had a urinary tract infection (UTI). He spent the next two months in Laura and her husband’s home recuperating. After another fall, he went to a senior living facility. He got sick again and went to a local hospital.
It was eventually discovered that he had a fistula (a hole) in his bladder, allowing urine to leak into his system. Doctors there also discovered a fractured pelvis and an infection in the bone. They began working to clear the infection, but the fistula would require surgery. He was sent back to rehab at the independent living facility, but by this time he couldn’t walk or get out of bed.
This computer programmer could also no longer remember how to use his phone to stay in contact with his family when no visitors were allowed. Laura recalls her father showing her how to set up online banking, so it wasn’t that he was just another senior struggling with technology.
The surgery he needed was deemed non-essential. With COVID-19 precautions in place, hospitals can delay surgeries or shut down surgery centers completely, according to Laura. She was also told that hospital beds were limited due to overcrowding from COVID-19 patients from outlying regions.
“COVID-19 is killing my father and he doesn’t even have it,” Laura thought to herself. Just wait.
In mid-October, he was still waiting for surgery. As they were setting him up for a pre-surgery consultation he lost consciousness and was again taken to the hospital by ambulance. He was no longer talking, sepsis had set in, and his kidneys were failing. Dialysis was begun.
He was not able to attend the consultation at another hospital and a video meeting was not available.
He was no longer considered a good candidate for surgery to fix the condition that started all his health problems.
Medicare decided to quit paying for rehab after determining he was not progressing quickly enough.
Laura, who works full time as a scientist, began spending time between visits with her dad and working to fill out forms to have him transferred elsewhere. She reports spending over 24 hours on one form and still not completing it.
Larry has a feeding tube in his stomach, still doesn’t speak and rarely recognizes his daughters. Laura says it will take a miracle to bring her father back now.
“How long are we going to keep doing this?” a doctor asked Laura. With barely controlled anger, Laura explained that her father would never, ever quit fighting for her or Amy and they would not quit fighting for him.
In the middle of all this mess, one medical company lost a contract with the hospital which was treating Larry. This has created a situation where no urologist at his hospital is allowed to treat him.
The system seems to have failed him at almost every turn.
Last Friday, Laura was informed the hospital wants to release her father. He still can’t talk or swallow. He has slight pneumonia in one lung.
The day before, he had tested positive for COVID-19.
All his life Larry paid his bills, contributed to social security and was secure in the knowledge that if needed he would get the help he required.
Larry was wrong. His daughters are bitter-—about many things. Due to the spread of COVID-19, visiting hours are limited making it almost impossible to see their father while keeping their jobs. In-person visits are also limited at the time when he needs them the most. There is no way for him to get the surgery he needs as long as COVID-19 patients stretch hospital resources. And they are truly bitter at their loss of faith in the healthcare system, the government and those who refuse to take the pandemic seriously. They watch helplessly as their father dies as a result.
They have already made their father’s funeral arrangements, knowing the end is inevitable.
When asked by people how they can help, Laura always replies, “You want to help? Wear a damned mask.” She is mostly preaching to the choir, since her friends are also part of the scientific community who faithfully wear a mask.
It seems such a simple request, yet so many fight against it.
Wearing a mask has proven to slow the spread of the virus. When we slow the spread we help slow the amount of people admitted to the hospital with the virus. When that happens it allows other to use hospital services to maybe keep them alive.
The system may have failed Larry, but so has society. And we are left to grieve another loss.