‘We need help to make it’

The coronavirus’s toll on jobs, isolation and end-of-life choices
(Chloe Cushman for The Washington Post)

Read more collections of reader stories here and here — and submit yours.

Stephen Hood, 34, Chicago: I held my wife as she heaved panicked sobs. She had been laid off. Her boss explained that there was just no way to keep paying employees if she wanted to reopen the business once this was all over. I’m a bartender, and a week earlier, I was also rendered unemployed after our governor ordered all bars and restaurants in the state to close. Our yearly collective income had been about $80,000. Suddenly, we found ourselves applying for unemployment. My estimated weekly benefit was $143. For my wife, $486. Our $1,650 rent is due April 1. I emailed our landlord letting her know we were just laid off and might “be a few days late on rent.” Her reply crushed us. “I understand Amazon and delivery services are hiring thousands of employees.”

Eric Grindley, 37, Cary, N.C.: My business has been on a meteoric rise since 2016. I started alone, working out of my house. I’ve since hired 13 full-time employees and many part-time and independent contractors. I always promised myself not to hire someone unless I knew I had enough business to support their position. If they were going to trust in me and my company as their employer, then I owed it to them to preserve that trust by promising stability.

Now, for the first time since we started this company, we are losing money. But the profits are not what I’m worried about. My commitment to our employees, that they would have a job if they worked hard, is keeping me awake at night. I don’t want to lay anyone off. They are my team, and I consider them family and friends.

We need help to make it. I don’t even want a bailout, I don’t want free money, I just want a little extra time to let this pass. We need a short-term bridge loan to weather the storm. If we can get a short-term loan from the Fed, we could pay it back in no time, but the delay in action by our government is making me weary.

‘No ventilator, save that for others’

Frances Culp, 49, San Francisco: I was quietly making plans for my death before the pandemic. After a lifetime of medical disability, my doctors and I agreed that the “end-of-life” option, legal in California under certain circumstances, was appropriate in my situation. I recently obtained end-of-life medication. The next time I fall ill, I won’t go to the ICU.

I’ve been considering what a “good death” would look like. Obviously, dying is ultimately a solo activity, but the process of dying doesn’t have to be. Being with my father when he died, holding one hand while my sister held the other, was a beautiful experience. I have no doubt that he was aware and felt soothed to have us there making physical contact with him. I imagined having my home full of family, friends, music and candlelight. I thought of asking each of my visitors to bring one flower. We’d fill a small vase with those flowers, and it would sit on the side table next to my bed as I said goodbye.

In the midst of this planning, the unimaginable happened. It is not death in general or even death from covid-19 that frightens me as much as the fact that the virus is changing our death experience to one of isolation. This is almost too much for me to bear as I think of the many people dying alone in hospitals, surrounded only by masked strangers, as loved ones are left to their heartbreak at home. As it stands now and for the foreseeable future, there appears to be a moratorium on anything we might consider a “good death.” If I were to fall ill now, my husband would be by my side, but there would be no one coming to say goodbye. I would not hear the beautiful sound of friends and family chatting. And that vase next to my bed would sit empty.

Diane Garey, 70, Florence, Mass.: I’m a cancer patient with a 14-year history of excellent treatment, but drugs have stopped working for me. I’m healthy now, but have opted in my advance directives to refuse all but comfort care if I contract covid-19. No ventilator; save that for others. This is a very personal decision. Another person with my history might choose a different path, and I respect that.

‘I knew deep down I had it’

Susan Deng, 28, New York: I’m 28 years old. I’ve been really sick once in my life. I was 8 years old and had a virus that left me hospitalized overnight. It was far from dramatic; I was just thrilled to get out of school for a day. I’ve fainted only once in my life. I was 13 and spent too much time in the sauna at Bally Total Fitness trying to lose weight for my middle school dance. Today, I’m a statistic for confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New York. I was extremely sick for five days but denied testing after three attempts. My age and the strict regulations made it impossible, even though I had tested negative for the flu and 23 other viruses. After fainting three times, I was admitted to the ER and finally given the test, which came back positive. From all my extreme symptoms, I knew deep down I had it, but it didn’t lessen the shock or fear that overtook me. After 12 days of fevers, pain and another fainting episode in the hospital shower that left me covered in blood (landed on my nose, but nothing is broken thankfully), I have been discharged and am self-quarantined, waiting for full recovery. The only symptom I have left is shortness of breath. I never thought as a healthy 28-year-old I could be so negatively impacted by covid-19, both physically and mentally. I am grateful my body has been able to fight it off, but the reality is there are many people who have not and could not, and we need to do our part to protect them.

Sarah Stumbar, 34, Miami: My husband, Lunan, and I are both doctors. Lunan is a urologist who is completing his final year of training in New York. He spent last week as the urologist on call for his hospital, seeing patients coming into the emergency room with kidney stones and bladder perforations and other emergent issues. (Yes, “normal” emergencies continue even during this pandemic.) The initial situation in his hospital was chaotic; some of his patients went to the emergency room and sat among patients waiting to be evaluated for covid-19 by heroic emergency medicine physicians. He found an N-95 mask that he saved just for when he retrieved patients from the ER.

Read more:

Kevin Brennan: Some people worry we’re overreacting to coronavirus. I worry about dying on a ventilator.

Samuel G. Freedman: In Miami Beach, the palpable sensation of an unfolding tragedy

Jason Rezaian: I survived solitary confinement. You can survive self-isolating.

Daniel Sallick: What my family learned after a year of social distancing

Craig Spencer: A day in the life of a New York emergency room doctor

Stacy Torres: Stop hoarding hydroxychloroquine. Millions of Americans, including me, need it.

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