Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts & choices & frustrations during this pandemic November 17, 2021

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I took this photo in downtown Faribault on May 15, 2020. It remains my personal most powerful early local documentation of the pandemic. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

I DISLIKE CONFLICT. I prefer decency, kindness and respect. I’d rather we all just got along. Listened. Stopped all the political jockeying and spread of misinformation. Cared about one another. Really cared. That would be ideal.

But this is not Utopia, especially not now during a pandemic. I am beyond frustrated. We’ve risen to new levels of disagreement and disconnect that threaten our health and our relationships, even our democracy. I find myself faced with sometimes heartwrenching choices as I try to protect my health and that of those I love most.

WHOOPING COUGH WAS BAD ENOUGH

A severe viral infection, which my husband caught at work and then passed along to me in mid-August, showed just how vulnerable I am to respiratory infections. While this week-long-plus infection had all the marks of COVID-19, it was not. We both tested negative. (Yes, we were fully vaccinated and recently got our boosters.) Yet, this reminded me of my need to be careful. Sixteen years ago I developed a severe case of whooping cough that lasted for three months and required an inhaler and steroids to help me breathe. (Yes, I was vaccinated for pertussis, but that protection wears off, unbeknownst at the time to me. Staying current on vaccines is essential.)

When I asked my doctor back in 2005 where I could have contracted whooping cough, he replied, “You could have gotten it waiting in line at the grocery store.” I was his first adult diagnosed case in 30-plus years of practicing medicine. I never want to be that ill again.

PROTECTING MYSELF & OTHERS

I have made, and will continue to make, choices that best protect me and my closest family circle from COVID-19. With young grandchildren and also a mother in a long-term care center, I am not willing to take chances with their health or mine. Because of high COVID rates in Minnesota, I haven’t seen my mom since July.

In the past nearly two years, I’ve opted out of grad parties, family reunions and gatherings with friends that included unvaccinated and unmasked individuals. I also stopped attending in-person worship services earlier this summer for the second time during this pandemic. I don’t feel comfortable being in enclosed spaces (beyond brief passing) with people who may or may not be vaccinated and who are unmasked.

I’ve missed funerals, attending only one since this whole pandemic began. And that was my father-in-law’s in February, pre-vaccination. It was a horrible experience, trying to keep my distance from the half-maskers and unmasked, too often repeating that I wasn’t hugging or shaking hands because, um, we’re in a pandemic.

STRAINED RELATIONSHIPS

Already, family relationships feel strained as I struggle to understand why some extended family refuse to get vaccinated. And then feel it’s OK to attend family get-togethers. I expect to make some difficult choices soon about whether to attend upcoming holiday gatherings. If unvaccinated adults are in attendance, I likely won’t be. Not because I don’t trust the vaccine, but because there’s always some risk and it’s a matter of principle. I don’t want to, by choice, be around individuals I know to be unvaccinated.

CARE, COMMON SENSE & OUR CHILDREN

And then there are those daily life occurrences which trigger concern. Like the unmasked teenage grocery store cashier who ran her fingers around her mouth. Then checked out my groceries.

Early on in the pandemic, playgrounds were off-limits to kids, including this one at North Alexander Park in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2020)

Months ago at the playground, I watched my granddaughter run up and down a tunnel slide with another little girl. The whole time I wondered, should I allow her to do this? In the end, I did, mostly because they were outdoors and in constant motion. I find myself feeling especially protective of my two grandchildren. The day my 5-year-old granddaughter got her first vaccine dose, I felt incredible joy. I cannot wait for the nearly 3-year-old to become eligible for his COVID vaccine.

Week Day, 6, a first grader at Park Side Elementary School in Marshall, MN., died of COVID on April 25, 2021. Photo source: Hamilton Funeral Home.

It’s true that, generally, if kids get COVID, they experience milder cases. But some have also ended up severely ill in the hospital and others have died. I will take every preventative measure I can to keep my dear grandchildren healthy and safe.

I recognize we each have different comfort levels. I tend to believes the experts, to be a rule follower, to want to do my part to keep others safe via vaccination and mitigation. I trust health and science. If public health officials are recommending we wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, I will do exactly that. Not that I need them advising this. Common sense and knowledge of the highly-contagious Delta variant are enough for me to mask up, keep my distance and more. I would never think of going into surgery (and I’ve had many surgeries in my life) with an unmasked healthcare team, pandemic or not.

OVERWHELMED IN MINNESOTA, A COVID HOTSPOT

I photographed this from the passenger seat of our van as we drove through Rochester in November 2020. I’d like to see a message now stating, GET VACCINATED & save ICU beds for anyone who needs one. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2020)

Minnesota, for the past week up until Tuesday, had the distinction of experiencing the highest COVID infection rate in the country. Michigan now ranks first. Minnesota hospital beds are filling or are full with few ICU beds available. People continue to die at at an alarming rate from COVID. And it’s not just individuals in their 70s and older any more. COVID is killing those in their 60s, even 30s and 40s and younger. Sometimes even teens. Long-haul COVID is also afflicting many, too many.

Minnesota’s overwhelmed healthcare system concerns me as it affects anyone who needs care. Not just those with COVID. Despite all of this, too many Minnesotans are still refusing to get vaccinated.

I want this pandemic to end. But right now I don’t foresee that happening any time soon…unless we start acting like we care about one another. How? Get vaccinated (and that includes boosters). Wear a face mask. Social distance. Stay home when sick. Practice other proven COVID mitigation measures. We have the power to stop COVID-19. This isn’t 1918. But sometimes it sure seems like 103 years ago, despite advances in science and knowledge and an understanding of how this virus spreads.

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NOTE: I will not publish anti-vaccine or anti-masking comments on this, my personal blog. Likewise, I will not publish misinformation, etc. as it relates to COVID and vaccines.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Post-election choices November 13, 2016

heart-carved-into-wood

 

IN A WEEK THAT’S BEEN particularly difficult for our country, let’s pause and reflect on the goodness we can each do. Individually.

We can choose to be kind. We can choose to listen. We can choose to be respectful. We can choose to act like adults and not like bullies on the playground.

We can smooth the rough surfaces we’ve etched with our words.

We can empathize and offer compassion and be gentle with one another.

We can choose love over hatred.

We have the choice. Which will you choose?

I direct you to Minnesota Public Radio’s story, “Na-na-na-na No-no: A guide to post-election etiquette,” and to Twin Cities Christian radio station KTIS and Jason Gray’s song, “With Every Act of Love.”

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Time choices October 11, 2015

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My WalMart watch photographs just like a Rolex, doesn't it? I did not edit this image, just in case you're wondering.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo

TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON and a time to every purpose under heaven…

Ever since the pastor read Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13 as a scripture reading last week at my church, I’ve pondered the words in verse 7: …a time to be silent and a time to speak.

How do you know? How do you know when to remain silent or when to speak?

I understand a time to weep and a time to laugh and a time to mourn and a time to dance. Those are easy. But how do you decide whether to open your mouth or zip your lips?

Taking that a bit further, how do you decide when to act or when to allow things to unfold as they may?

I believe that we are sometimes called to act and/or to speak. But how do we determine when we should talk or take action? President Obama, for example, recently stated in the aftermath of the deadly shootings in Oregon that “our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” I believe firmly in the power of prayer and I pray daily. Yet, I agree with the President. (I’m not taking a stand on gun control here, just the need to “do something.”)

As parents, especially, we struggle with how much we should say, if anything. It is easy when the kids are little. We are, mostly, able to curb negative behavior, keep our children from danger, and guide them by our examples, discipline, love and care.

Then our children grow into adulthood and they are in charge of their lives. We have given them, as my friend Kathleen says, “roots and wings, roots and wings.” How, then, do you determine when to speak or to remain silent? If your adult son or daughter was trapped inside a burning building, you wouldn’t just stand there and do nothing simply because they are adults, would you? I’m oversimplifying. But you get my point.

Have you witnessed a situation involving strangers that requires an instant decision? Speak up or remain a silent bystander. Recently, while attending a community event, I watched an angry young mother rage at her daughter. Yanking and yelling. I felt my blood pressure rise as the preschooler cowered in her mother’s presence and slunk into a corner behind a door. If the mother would have pushed an inch further, I would have intervened. I decided not to inflame the situation and was eventually able to comfort the young girl with soft words of kindness. Later I witnessed the mom once again yelling at her passel of children. And I wondered if she treats her children like this in public, how does she treat them at home? And why was she seemingly so overwhelmed? What was she dealing with in her life?

I don’t mean to judge. But you see the dilemma. Determining whether to speak or to remain silent is not always black-and-white clear.

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, the irony August 30, 2013

Fitness and smoking

ON A RECENT STOP for a treat at the Dairy Queen in downtown Hutchinson, I noticed this impressive new Cornerstone Commons retail and professional office center. Beautiful building.

But I was struck by the irony of two businesses located here, SMOKES4LESS and Snap Fitness. Say again. Yes, polar opposites housed in the same complex at 114 Main Street North.

Then there’s that Dairy Queen directly across the street. I suppose if you work out first, you needn’t feel all that guilty about indulging in a Blizzard afterward. Or if you indulge in a Blizzard before working out at Snap Fitness, you needn’t feel guilty either.

But if you’re like me and you’re passing through town and you get out of your vehicle, consume a Blizzard and then hop back in your vehicle, then the guilt factor may kick in.

Hey, but at least I don’t smoke or chew.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling