On Aug. 9, Audrey complained of her legs hurting. The condition disappeared later in the day, and her activities were normal. The following morning, she awoke unable to move her legs. After seven hours in the ER, I drove her home. None of the professionals who looked after her mentioned the possibility of covid-19. Instead, after taking MRIs, they suspected a flare-up of multiple sclerosis. That night, I experienced chills, body ache and a headache. Those symptoms disappeared by the following afternoon.
We both tested for the virus on Aug. 12. Our son came from Indianapolis to be with us in case we had more physical problems. (After 18 days at our home, he tested negative.) The following morning, Audrey was confused and unable to move her legs again. When the EMTs quizzed her, the only question she could answer was the name of the U.S. president. “Trump,” she mumbled. (She was not a fan.)
Admitted to the hospital with a suspicion of the coronavirus, Audrey was moved to isolation in the ICU within two days. Her body’s demand for oxygen from outside sources was growing. Mentally, she was sharp. On Aug. 16, she asked whether our son, visiting daughter and granddaughter, and I would share a dinner of ribs. I thought she was joking, but the charge nurse assured me it was all right, as long as we withheld the wine Audrey had requested. A meal of ribs, baked potato and salad was taken to the hospital. Audrey texted a photo of her enjoying the food. She was happy.
Good mothers always worry about their children. The morning of Aug. 17, Audrey texted that I should make certain our son had a specific food item for his birthday that day. In the afternoon, she sent a selfie with her oxygen device and said health staff were pleased with her oxygen level. A physician left a voice message on my cellphone, “Just know that the missus is doing okay.”
But less than 12 hours later, at 3 a.m., Aug. 18, I received a call that Audrey’s condition had changed drastically. The caller asked whether I supported her living-will declaration of no artificial means to keep her alive if all it did was prolong the inevitable? I did.
Despite steroids, antibiotics, the drug Remdesivir and an experimental convalescent plasma therapy, covid-19 won. Just after midnight, Aug. 19, Audrey Jane Beckley, 77 — role model to all with debilitating disease; community, university and church volunteer; and wonderful wife of nearly 56 years, loving grandmother and great-grandmother — died.
Audrey had the first symptoms of MS at age 25. The disease would eventually limit the mobility of her right leg. She used a cane and retractable walking/hiking poles. Her can-do attitude was remarkable to the end. But the virus filled her lungs with pneumonia. Sepsis and arterial fibrillation developed and mixed with the effects of MS to end her life.
Many covid-19 patients die alone, without family by their sides. Audrey did. But I will always be thankful for the ever-present nurse who held a cellphone that allowed me to talk to her on the day she was dying. I was able to convey my gratitude for our marriage, our children and our wonderful life together since the evening we met as students in 1961 at Indiana University. I assured her the children and I would be fine and she should be at peace. She was unable to respond, but the nurse was convinced Audrey heard every word.
Throughout all of this, the viral monster was depleting my own body of strength. Covid-19 combined with sleeplessness, a total lack of appetite and the stress of Audrey’s ordeal to leave me nearly lifeless. Through the care of my children and an eventual return to sleep and food, I am regaining strength daily. My symptoms have long since disappeared, but I still must exercise daily to combat some lung damage that left me easily winded.
What is the lesson of two lives shockingly upended? I cannot persuade those who refuse to follow all recommended common-sense health precautions. Some people still believe the world is flat. But I appeal to everyone else. Please wear the recommended face coverings, physical distance and never ever touch your faces without washing or sanitizing your hands. Those practices may not have spared my family, but they can still protect others. Despite the national government’s ongoing inaction, or what state and local governments have been trying to do, it is up to each of us to do everything we can to stop the pandemic.
Let’s stop killing one another. We don’t need more needless deaths like that of Audrey Jane Beckley.