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“Wear a mask. Save a life.”

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By Judy Salz

Las Vegas, NV
United States

There are more than 122,000 deaths recorded in the United States, and the total grows daily. You didn’t know those people or their families, but please remember that each number represents the death of a real person with a life, family, dreams, and future cut off too soon. Most of the victims didn’t know how they contracted the disease. Most likely, it came from an asymptomatic carrier without a mask.

George and Marian’s Story

George didn’t want a fuss or expense for their 65th anniversary, but he knew Marian would be thrilled to wear a corsage and have everyone fly in from all over the country to be with them. So, he agreed. All three of their children, 14 grandchildren, and their latest arrivals, the fourth generation, both under a year old, arrived at the hotel ballroom on the appointed day. They were married on Valentine’s Day, and photos of their wedding were the centerpieces at each of the tables.

As George knew she would be, Marian was in her glory. Her fine wispy hair created a halo around her head and her long gown matched her blue eyes. She flitted from table to table, kissing and hugging everyone. She cradled each of her great-grandchildren and crooned to them. George watched her fondly, grateful for their long happy marriage. Marian was still so full of life and energy, and today she glowed.

“Grandpa! Grandma! Come sit in front, so the whole family can stand behind you for the photograph.” Their eldest granddaughter was always the one to organize things, so George and Marian obediently sat in front while the photographer managed to get a shot with everyone’s face visible and smiling. They danced the anniversary waltz gracefully and everyone applauded.

Later, with everyone gone, Marian cuddled with her husband on the sofa. “Aren’t we lucky, George? Look at us! Who would have ever thought our family would blossom like it did and we would still be here to welcome the fourth generation.” She sighed. “Today was one of the happiest days of my life. But now I’m tired. Let’s go to bed. Don’t forget to put up the coffee in the morning.” George chuckled. “When have I ever forgotten?”

Two weeks went by, and Marian woke up achy and hot. “Did you make the coffee yet, George? I could use a cup now.” He brought it into their bedroom and she frowned. “That’s funny. I can’t smell it.”

“Weird!” George pressed the back of his hand to his wife’s forehead. “You’re burning up!” She gathered her blanket around her and sank back onto her pillow. “Must be getting the flu.” Her temperature was 103, and pearls of sweat from her forehead began running down her face.

The cough started a few hours later, and at four o’clock, when her lips turned blue, George called 911. Two paramedics arrived wearing what George thought looked like spacesuits, so he asked what was going on. “Haven’t you heard about the coronavirus?” the taller one answered. “It’s very contagious. That’s why we’re wearing protective clothing. Sorry, sir, you can’t come along. You may already have the virus and could pass it to others.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” He kissed Marian’s cheek. “I love you.”

George didn’t know, that would be the last time he’d see his wife of sixty-five years. She died eight days later, alone in ICU. George was hospitalized for a week and recovered. Four of their family members who had attended the anniversary celebration also got sick, but they, too, survived.

Jillian and Dan’s Story

“One more big push, Jillian!” Her obstetrician’s winked, as he placed her yowling son on her chest. “Here you go, Mama! Congratulations. He’s a big beautiful boy.”

“I wish Dan could have been here,” Jillian sighed. Her husband, an EMT, was out bringing sick patients to their hospital’s ER. Self-isolating, he barely saw her the last month of her pregnancy, except when she brought his food to the den where he sequestered himself. Now he won’t even be able to hold and kiss his first child, she thought. Tears rolled down her cheeks, “Your daddy will be able to hold you soon.”

“You can FaceTime your husband as soon as your baby is cleaned up and swaddled.” The doctor shook his head and shrugged. “It’s hardly ideal, but it’s the best we can do, since Dan’s a first responder. He’ll have plenty of time with his son after all this is over.”

Outside their bedroom window, Dan’s nose was pushed flat, getting as close as possible, as Jillian held up the baby for him to see. This had become their nightly ritual ever since she got home. His coronavirus test was consistently negative, but given his daily contact with patients, there couldn’t be a 14-day window. The other problem, which they had not thought about, was his inability to help her with feedings and diaper changes. She was totally on her own with round-the-clock infant care, making their meals, and doing the laundry. Three weeks into this, she was exhausted and beginning to crack.

She leaned against the doorway to the den, mask on, and rubbed her eyes. “Don’t touch your face!” Dan screamed, leaping out of his chair, and she lost it. “Don’t you yell at me! I’m doing the best I can,” she said between sobs. “I don’t get more than a couple of hours’ sleep. I’m exhausted! I can’t even hire someone to help me with this stupid pandemic.”

“I can’t even hold my baby. I haven’t touched him since he was born.” Dan stopped suddenly, and held his arms out to her. “I wish I could hold you in my arms and comfort you, honey. I miss that, too. It’s hard for both of us, I know. We will get through this. I swear it.”

A week later, a call from her husband. “I’m sick. I have a headache and a fever of 102. The crew from my ambulance will pick me up and take me to the ER.”

Jillian’s pulse hammered in her ears. “God, Dan. I’m scared.”

“Me, too. But I’m young and healthy. Even if I’m positive, I’ll be okay.”

“You have to be. Call me as soon as you know.” Her voice faltered. “I love you,” she whispered. She paced, clutching the phone until it rang again.

“I’m positive.”

“No,” she wailed.

“Jillian, don’t freak out on me. I feel okay except for the headache. No cough. They want to send me home, but I’m not coming anywhere near you. I’ll go to a hotel to quarantine. It’ll be okay. We can FaceTime as often as we want. See you in 14 days, when I test negative. I’ll let you know what hotel and what room I’m in. Love you. Bye.” He hung up before she could respond.

Six days later, Dan’s nurse FaceTimed her, so Dan could talk before being intubated. “I love you.” His breath was labored so he spoke in short bursts. “Always have.” Breath. “Kiss the baby for me.” Breath. “Tell him his daddy loves him.”

“Oh, honey, I love you so much. We made a beautiful boy and he will always know about you, if...” She couldn’t bring herself to go any further.

“I’m going to make it,” he whispered. “Stay strong.”

The nurse got back on the line. “He’s too weak to talk any more, and his oxygen level is dropping. We need to put the tube in now. So very sorry.”

Dan died four days later.

So many of these tragedies could be prevented if everyone believed the scientists and followed directions. The only positive step you can take to protect another person is to cover your nose and mouth in public. It’s not a tremendous inconvenience in the scheme of things.

We aren’t wearing them to flatten the curve. It’s to save you and me from becoming infected. What if you or someone you love becomes a victim? An unknowingly COVID-19 positive person can save lives by wearing that mask every time they go out in public. If everyone wears one, everyone is protected. If just one person not wearing protective covering is a carrier, everyone around him is exposed to the virus. And those exposed can spread it to others.

It’s easy to say I feel fine. I’m not sick. But none of us knows for sure if that is true. You don’t really know unless you tested negative today, and tomorrow it could be positive. It’s only a guess. Even feeling entirely well, you could still be carrying the virus and be infectious. Don’t presume you are not, and play Russian roulette with everyone’s lives. Object if someone else is playing it with you. Wear a mask. Save a life. If everyone does it, the life saved could be yours. It’s that serious.

Judy Salz headshotJudy Salz is a retired physician and published author.

Editor’s note: The original story submission has been edited for length.

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