LIMA — A wife widowed before her 60th wedding anniversary. An 80th birthday spent alone in the hospital. A daughter saying goodbye to her mother via walkie-talkie. And a daughter waiting by the phone each day for updates on her father, who could spend Thanksgiving alone in the hospital as the coronavirus rips through families in Lima.
Victoria Gonzalez learned those lessons when her father, Ernesto Gonzalez, was admitted to Mercy Health-St. Rita’s in October.
She and her family had been planning a socially distant surprise party for Ernesto Gonzalez’s 80th birthday, but they had not anticipated that Gonzalez would spend the day alone in an intensive care unit, where he was now intubated and receiving plasma treatments because of his COVID-19 complications.
Nurses hung “Happy Birthday” signs in Gonzalez’s room, and the rest of the Gonzalez family delivered pizza and dessert to the hospital staff as a thank-you gift.
It was the only thing Victoria Gonzalez could think of to do, and “you want to feel like you’re doing something,” she recalled in an interview with The Lima News.
But the elder Gonzalez’s illness has been trying for the rest of the family, who have suffered five weeks of uncertainty, panic attacks and sleepless nights, his grandchildren calling out for their “papí.”
“People can say whatever they want. It’s not living in fear,” Victoria Gonzalez said. “The reality is that this disease can be scary. … We knew that if my dad contracted it, it could go very bad very quickly.”
The dismissive comments from people who say the coronavirus pandemic is a hoax are offensive to Martha Hill, whose father, Jesus Cortez, 78, died of complications from COVID-19 in September.
Cortez, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico to offer his family a better life, spent the last two weeks of his life in intensive care unit at Lima Memorial Health System, as his illness progressed into pneumonia. Nurses intubated Cortez in a final effort to save him, Hill recalls, but the tubing made it difficult to feed Cortez — an image that haunts Hill one month later.
“This man suffered in the last few days,” she said, “and we couldn’t be there.”
The past two months have been confusing for Hill, who was severely ill with COVID-19 for nearly two weeks herself while her husband barely showed symptoms at all, she recalled. But no case in Hill’s family was as severe as her father’s.
Cortez died on Sept. 21, three months before he was to celebrate his 60th wedding anniversary with his wife, Dolores.
“I wish there was something I could do to take away her pain,” Hill said. “It’s just one day at a time, I guess. It doesn’t even seem real. I still think I’m going to go there and he’s going to be sitting in that chair — and it’s just an empty chair.”
Dianna Boughan spent the last 12 days of her life in the hospital.
At 72, Boughan was alone as her kidneys failed and her lungs filled with fluid. Now her immune system was fighting itself in what is known as a cytokine storm, a severe reaction associated with some COVID-19 deaths. She talked to her daughter, Billie Boughan, one last time through a walkie-talkie provided by the hospital.
It was a tragic end the younger Boughan says she never would have expected from a virus.
Dianna Boughan died of complications from COVID-19 on Nov. 6, the 19th such death recorded in Auglaize County.
“You got people in society that aren’t wearing masks, they’re not taking it seriously at all,” Boughan said. “(They think) it won’t get me. Well, I would have never thought it would get here either. And my mom’s not here because of it.”
Melissa Dempsey had been careful, ordering her groceries online and limiting errands so she wouldn’t expose herself and her family to coronavirus. But Dempsey fell ill one day, developing extreme fatigue and a shortness of breath so painful it felt as though her chest was made of ice. She soon learned that she was positive for COVID-19.
Her husband was next. And several days later, Dempsey’s parents fell ill too.
“It could have been at the gas station. It could have been somebody walking by me without a mask,” Dempsey said, trying to figure out how she was exposed to the virus despite taking so many precautions to protect her parents. “There’s no way of knowing. … It’s very, very frustrating knowing I could have gave this to my dad.”
Dempsey was still recovering from COVID-19 last week when she got a call from her mother, Carolyn.
Dempsey’s father, John Smith, 78, had stopped eating and could hardly breathe. He was shaking uncontrollably but refused to go to the hospital.
Dempsey called an ambulance anyway, and Smith spent hours in the emergency department while he waited for a bed in the intensive care unit.
“Imagine your parent laying in the emergency room by themselves with an IV in their groin, trying to keep their blood from clotting and oxygen trying to make it able for them to breathe; laying there all alone for hours without any human contact, because the staff has to be careful too,” Dempsey said. “And the staff is being so overworked. They don’t have time to come in and sit with you, because they have to get to the next patient. Right now, that’s my dad. It couldn’t get much more real than that.”
“People just need to wake up and start thinking about other people instead of themselves for a change,” she said. “This country has lost sight of that, I think.”