The mask isn’t for you

I am scrolling through Tik Tok on a somehow still hot and sticky November morning waiting for my Algebra II class to start. While scrolling, I come across a video that I still think about to this day. The video is a PSA telling you to wear your mask and is showing you what the final moments of a COVID patient’s life looks like from their point of view. The video shows a medical professional in full PPE, to the point where they hardly even look human, standing over you. Medical equipment beeps and buzzes, all before the screen goes black.

As I sit, my stomach churns. My Nana and Grandad live in New York City and had been diagnosed with COVID the week before. My Nana had beaten it and was feeling better, but my Grandad wasn’t doing too good. He has cancer, and recently had a stoma put into his abdomen to slow the spread of cancer, even if just for a couple of years. I can’t help but worry that the horrid video might become their reality.

Now, he has been hooked up to a ventilator fighting for his life, unconscious, completely closed off from the world.

About once a week, my family will gather around the dinner table and speak to him, even though he likely won’t comprehend what we are saying. He wears a necklace that plays the live recordings of our voices into his ears to hopefully give him some reassurance, but the thought of it makes me feel sick to my stomach of him sitting there alone, without my Nana to comfort him, and instead just voice recordings.

The hardest part of having someone you care about have COVID is that you can’t see them when they are sick. My Grandads’ doctors told him that he only had a couple more years left before he succumbed to cancer, but my whole family had just been hoping that the pandemic could go away so that he could live out his last days to his full potential. But now, all of that is uncertain. Even if he does make it off the ventilator, there is a decent chance that his body will be so weak COVID that he will spend the rest of his days bedridden. My grandparents live across the country, so I’m used to not seeing them all that much, but there is nothing I’d rather do right now than be able to give both my Nana and Grandad a hug.

I think my Nana said what I’ve been thinking best: I hate that he is just a piece of meat in a hospital, no one is there to love him or reassure him that he will be ok from a loved one.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how thankful I am for my Grandad, and how if he makes it off the ventilator how many things I want to thank him for. One of my most cherished family traditions is walking across the street from my grandparents’ apartment on the Upper East Side, where there stands a huge Barnes and Noble that has not two, but three levels. Whenever I visit New York City, my grandad would walk me and my siblings across the street where we would walk around the store, and he would buy us each a book. When I was little, I remember holding his strong hand while crossing the busy street. My grandad loves reading, in fact, he worked as an editor at a small publishing company for history books before retirement. I like to think that his love of reading and writing has been passed down to me.

While my family might feel alone right now because the closest we can get to each other is by FaceTiming, this has sadly become the reality for many Americans. As of yesterday, December 16th, 300,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and over 16 million have tested positive.

300,000 people have died.

300,000 families are broken.

To put that into perspective, every day, more Americans die from COVID-19 than died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

So, as news of a vaccine makes the front page of newspapers everywhere, consider getting the vaccine. The truth of the matter is that my Grandad probably would’ve gotten the vaccine if it came out just a little earlier because he is at such a high risk for serious complications from COVID. I can’t help but think about how the vaccine could’ve been what kept my Grandad from getting the virus.

As the Holiday Season comes upon us, I urge you to wear your mask, get the vaccine if it is available to you, and stay away from large gatherings.

The lives of yourself and those around you depend on it.