Each of the more than 42,000 COVID-19 deaths recorded so far in the U.S. has a life attached to it.
Oftentimes, these deaths are intertwined with the lives of many grieving family members and friends trying to comprehend how it all happened.
A little over a week ago, Daryl Doeschner, a college friend of Here & Now host Jeremy Hobson, lost his mother to coronavirus complications.
Annette Doeschner of Valley Stream, New York, was a vivacious 72-year-old mother of four children, grandmother to six young grandchildren and retired teacher’s aide. Her “beaming” smile brought joy to the students in the Hewlett-Woodmere School District for more than three decades, Daryl Doeschner says.
Annette Doeschner was an “extremely kind and generous” person, someone who listened intently, enjoyed indulging in pasta and relished in gathering the entire family together for holidays, he says.
After Daryl Doeschner lost his father George Doeschner — a Sept. 11 attacks survivor — to lymphoma and a long-time struggle with Parkinson’s disease, Annette Doeschner became “the major adhesive” of the family, remaining strong as they worked through the grief of losing their dad.
Annette Doeschner lost her battle fighting the coronavirus on April 12 — Easter Sunday. Self-isolation prevented Daryl Doeschner and his three siblings from mourning the loss of their mother together. They also couldn’t physically be present during Annette’s final moments in the hospital.
“She’ll never walk me down the aisle. I’ll never get to dance with her at my wedding,” he says. “She’ll never meet my kids.”
His mother had some underlying health conditions — Type 2 diabetes, stents in her heart and some issues with her eyes — so Daryl Doeschner says the family cautioned their mother early on because “she was an incredible candidate for being infected.”
“You can only say ‘stay inside’ so much,” he says. Although they can’t identify the exact location where she may have picked up the virus, Annette Doeschner ended up “sneaking out” to the bank and grocery store by herself on occasion, he says.
On March 22, she reported a dry cough. While at home, her conditions worsened and she fell twice, he says. On April 1, an ambulance took her to the emergency room, where doctors said her oxygen levels were low, he says.
Her health got progressively worse. Doctors tried multiple solutions, such as putting her on a CPAP machine, which seemed to work but only for a day, he says. She essentially became hypoxic — her tissues weren’t getting enough oxygen — and thus had to be intubated, he says.
“She was of mind to commit to intubating, which is something she had always said she had never would want to do, to be hooked up to life support or a ventilator, but she did it for us because, through the phone, we’re begging her to fight with everything that she had,” he says.
When he finally got to speak with her, a one-side conversation ensued. She couldn’t breathe and looked “out of it,” he says.
“Through tears, I’m telling her how much I love her,” he says. “We were spoken to by a doctor, the lead pulmonologist at the hospital, who had said, ‘I frankly don’t think your mother’s going to survive this.’ ”
Daryl Doeschner scrambled to contact experimental drug companies that could potentially help his mom. One company responded to him, saying Annette would make a great candidate, he says.
After hearing this news, Daryl Doeschner rushed to contact the hospital to stop them from unhooking his mother from life support. After hours of trying to get in touch with the medical facility, he learned his mother had died.
“The most painful part is imagining her having been in the hospital 11 days by herself, to not have family by her side,” he says. “… It’s crushing to me. It really breaks every cell in my body that I couldn’t have been there. She didn’t deserve that.”
Her suffering, along with thousands of others across the U.S., could have been prevented, he says.
“My whole existence, I’ve mostly stood quiet, respectful, and polite to everyone and anyone’s perspective and listened,” Daryl Doeschner wrote on Facebook. “ … I will stay silent no more. Who kept this novel coronavirus outbreak from being preventable? Our president.”
Daryl Doeschner says mixed messages from President Trump and his interest in prioritizing his reelection over public health have hurt Americans like his mother.
Trump’s early inactions have come at a deadly cost, he says. When the first cases of coronavirus sprung up in the U.S., Trump ignored the advice of health experts and underplayed the virus’ threat — thus not establishing protective measures early on — in order to keep the economy from crashing, he says.
“You’re supposed to trust what the president says to you,” he says.
Trump’s rhetoric trickled to conservative media outlets, which helped fuel the assumption that the coronavirus was similar to getting the flu, he says. The mixed messages from Trump and certain media organizations on the dangers of coronavirus confused people like his mom, he says. She subscribed to accurate information about COVID-19 too late to save her, he says.
If stricter measures were taken earlier on by the government, the coronavirus “catastrophe” may have been avoidable, Daryl Doeschner says.
“I never would have thought of my mother as an unsuspecting martyr,” he says. “But that’s exactly what you’re making her, along with the tens of thousands of her faded but not forgotten peers.”
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.