Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What a mess, but we can “do something” January 14, 2022

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One of my first pandemic images, photographed along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault in May 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2020)

“THERE’S NOTHING ANY of us can do about it,” she said. I disagree.

“What a mess,” she texted. I fully agree.

Those assessments came in recent communications with two family members about the current state of COVID. While a certain resignation themes both comments, they differ.

I believe we hold the power to “do something” about COVID. We’ve always had the ability to end this pandemic. If only we would listen. And act. But now we’re in so deep to this not listening to health and science, but rather to the voices of misinformation and untruths and politics, that I wonder when we will ever get to the other side. (Note that I’m thankful for those of you who do listen to health and science and act.)

PROTECTING & PREVENTING

So what can we do? First and foremost, get vaccinated and that includes getting boosted. (Thank you to those who have done so.) I am aware of far too many individuals who went unvaccinated, got COVID and then died. Perhaps they didn’t believe the science, distrusted the vaccines, listened to a loved one/friend/politician/social media/doctor (yes, even a doctor) advising them not to get the shot, believed they were not at risk for serious illness or death. Reasons vary, but the end result was the same. Needless deaths. That breaks my heart.

None of us knows how COVID will affect our bodies. Until we get it. There’s no guarantee on outcome. But being vaccinated, and following CDC guidelines, assures us that we have done all we can to protect ourselves (and others) from severe disease and/or death. Data backs that.

THE FAITH COMPONENT

As a woman of faith, I’m particularly bothered by the attitude that we don’t need the vaccine because God will protect us through natural immunity or otherwise. He also gave us scientists, researchers and others who develop life-saving vaccines. I consider those individuals, those vaccines, a blessing. Just like I consider other advances in medicine through the years an absolute blessing. Without advances in medicine, and an acceptance of them, we’d be living in the 1800s and early to mid-1900s with women dying in childbirth, children dying of disease, too many people dying of heart attacks… Our life expectancy would be low.

I believe in the power of prayer and I trust in God. Yet, I wouldn’t stand on a railroad track, praying and trusting that God will stop a locomotive barreling toward me. That doesn’t mean my faith is lacking. Not at all. But recognizing the danger and then getting off the track would certainly be a wise decision if I wanted to live.

MASK UP, PEOPLE, JUST DO IT

We have plenty of tools to “do something” about COVID. That includes masking (N95, KN95 or tight-fitting multi-layer cloth over surgical, if you don’t have 95s), staying home if we’re sick, testing (yes, I recognize securing a test right now can be difficult), avoiding crowds, social distancing… Yet, I don’t see this necessarily happening. At least not in Faribault or in rural areas (especially) of Minnesota. Shopping at the grocery store recently found me attempting to slip past two unmasked men conversing and blocking an aisle. That’s not uncommon. Most people in Faribault do not wear face masks in public.

Our city, public school and county require masking inside their facilities. But when I stopped at the library a few days ago, I saw unmasked patrons. A notice on the front door states that masks are required. Masks are even available on a table. I can cite many other examples, but I think you’ve all seen the lack of masking or the ineffective half-masking/”chin diapers”/gaiters/clear plastic face shields.

I wish that employees at grocery stores and other local businesses would wear face masks. That would set an example and show me that the business cares about the health and safety of its customers and of the community in general. The same goes for houses of worship, a place where I would expect mask-wearing as a way to show love and care. These places need to require, not just recommend, face masks. Some Minnesota schools (Owatonna and Worthington, for example, but others also) are only now just requiring face masks. I’m not sure why it took so long, but I expect community resistance factored in.

LISTEN TO THE PLEAS & WARNINGS

What a mess. The mess we’ve gotten ourselves into reaches into every facet of our lives, particularly into healthcare and schools. Staffing shortages in hospitals threaten all of us. In Minnesota, hospitals are overwhelmed. Full. Once again, surgeries are being delayed. Quality of care is being affected as our healthcare providers are stretched thin. That’s according to media reports. I feel for doctors, nurses and other medical personnel who are overwhelmed, frustrated and stressed by caring for COVID patients in this ongoing pandemic. I hear their pleas to the public. Their warnings. Minnesota government officials announced a plan Wednesday to hire temporary nurses, although I’m uncertain where they will find them. It’s a good, and necessary, move.

And in our schools, rising numbers of COVID cases are creating staff shortages and pushing some schools back to distance learning. Faribault Middle School went to distance learning today. And the high school goes to online classes on January 19. The plan now is to return to in-person learning on January 24.

More and more families are delaying funerals. That’s emotionally difficult, yet wise in days such as these. The family of Edward Kohman of Faribault writes in his obituary that a celebration of life for the 84-year-old will be held later “when it’s warmer and perhaps safer to gather.” He died as a result of COVID. The family goes on to write: Dad was vaccinated, but if you want to do something to honor his life, please make sure you are too. I appreciate when a family, even in their grief, considers the health and safety of others, and encourages vaccination. What a loving way to honor the man they loved.

It seems inevitable that all of us will get COVID given the highly-contagious omicron variant. But this is no time to give up. Vaccines, masking and other preventative/protective measures remain especially important. Now, more than ever, we need (like the Kohman family) to think beyond ourselves to the greater good, if we want to get ourselves out of this mess.

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NOTE: I moderate all comments and will not publish anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-science, anti-health and/or misinformation on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The President talks about his COVID frustrations, concerns & plans December 21, 2021

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The Coronavirus. Photo source: CDC.

CONCERN. NOT PANIC.

Those words repeated in an address to the nation by President Joe Biden Tuesday afternoon as the highly transmissible omicron variant has now become the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the US.

While Biden advised calm, he also issued a strong warning to the unvaccinated that they remain at high risk for severe illness and/or death. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before.

Yet, the warning comes with a new sense of urgency as hospital beds fill and healthcare workers continue to be overwhelmed. The actions of those choosing not to get vaccinated are affecting all of us, the President said. The unvaccinated, he noted, have an obligation to themselves, their families and their country to get vaccinated.

I agree. I would emphasize, though, the obligation to others. Family. Friends. Neighbors. Strangers. The common good.

Like the President, I’m feeling tired, worried and frustrated. Frustrated particularly because we have the tools to end this pandemic. Vaccination. Testing. Masking to stop the spread. We know so much more than we did when this pandemic started, a point the President emphasized in saying, “This is not March 2020.”

But here we are, hospitals filling or full. Not enough staff to treat patients. National Guard and federal military personnel now called to help over-burdened hospitals/healthcare workers. We should never have gotten to this point.

Biden termed the misinformation out there about vaccines and the virus “wrong” and “immoral.” Some of the misinformation I’ve heard from those who oppose vaccines is unbelievable, making me wonder how anyone can believe the untruths spewed.

At this point, it seems like people have made up their minds about vaccination. I know of cases when not even the death, or near death, of a family member would convince someone to get vaccinated.

So here we are with the federal government calling up 1,000 troops to assist in hospitals. They’re already in Minnesota. And newly-arrived in Wisconsin and Indiana and other states. More ambulances are being sent to states. Additional vaccination and testing sites are being set up. Soon we can order COVID tests online, delivered free to our homes. All of these actions are necessary.

But we must also do our parts individually. And that starts with the very basic premise of caring for one another. Caring enough to get vaccinated, and boostered. Wearing masks in public settings, regardless of vaccination status. Testing if we have symptoms or have been exposed. Caring that our actions affect others.

I feel gratitude for those 200 million plus Americans who are fully-vaccinated. They did the right thing. For themselves. For their families, friends, neighbors, community, strangers. For the common good. For their country. I can only hope the remaining however many million will choose to do the right thing and get vaccinated. I don’t want unvaccinated people to land in the hospital on a ventilator. Or worse. Die. Nor do I want vaccinated individuals who may experience a health crisis unable to get the care they need because our understaffed hospitals are filled with unvaccinated COVID patients.

NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-whatever, don’t bother to comment. I won’t publish those views, or misinformation, on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Minnesota healthcare leaders: “Heartbroken & overwhelmed” December 15, 2021

Coronavirus. (Photo source: CDC)

SOME TWO WEEKS until Christmas and nearly two years in to the COVID-19 pandemic, Minnesota medical leaders on Monday issued a strong warning to the public along with a plea for the unvaccinated to get vaccinated.

Nine healthcare executives—including the head of the world famous Mayo Clinic—signed a letter which published in newspapers throughout Minnesota. These two statements banner the message:

We’re heartbroken.

We’re overwhelmed.

The carefully-crafted letter is powerful. Emotional. Factual. And, oh, so necessary. I feel deep gratitude to these healthcare leaders who joined in sending a strong message to Minnesotans. We need to hear this. All of us. Vaccinated. And unvaccinated.

The decision not to get vaccinated affects every single one of us. That’s clear in the words of these medical professionals, in daily media reports and in information from the Minnesota Department of Health. Emergency rooms are full. Hospital beds are full. And that means challenges in accessing healthcare. For treatment of COVID-19, cancer, injuries, heart attack… That should concern anyone and everyone. None of us knows when we might need immediate emergency medical care. The situation is “critical,” according to the letter.

I appreciate the honesty. The statement “…every day we’re seeing avoidable illness and death as a direct result of COVID19” points directly to the root of the current crisis. And the frustrations felt in the medical community. “How can we as a society stand by and watch people die when a simple shot could prevent a life-threatening illness?” Exactly. How? Why? I don’t get it and I share the frustrations of those nine Minnesota healthcare leaders and their associated healthcare teams.

They conclude their letter with an “ask.” Get vaccinated and boosted. Wear a mask (regardless of vaccination status). Socially distance. Get tested if you feel sick. Encourage others to follow those steps. None of that is new. But it just does not seem to be sinking in. Especially in rural areas. My roots are rural. I love and care about our rural communities. But the truth is that in many areas of Greater Minnesota, vaccination rates are low, COVID case counts high. This virus doesn’t care about rural or urban boundaries.

In Faribault, I see very few people masking in public. Our vaccination rates in Rice County could be better, especially in those under age 49. Of those eligible for the vaccine, from age five on up, only 62% have completed their vaccine series, according to Rice County Public Health (December 13 statistics). We’ve already lost 147 of our friends, family members and neighbors to COVID in our county. Some died before vaccines became available. And I expect, although I can’t confirm, that some recent deaths of seniors may be from break-through cases in that vulnerable population. But many likely are among the unvaccinated, a situation repeating throughout the country.

I feel for the doctors, nurses and other medical personnel staffing our hospitals. I have no doubt they feel heartbroken and overwhelmed. The stress. The demands. The never ending flow of COVID patients. The death all around. The grief. The helplessness. Day after day after day. Endless physical and mental exhaustion.

I am grateful for their fortitude. Their strength. Their compassion. Their care. And now, today, I feel grateful for this united message from nine healthcare professionals calling on all of us to come together, to do our part to end this pandemic.

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NOTE: I moderate all comments and will not publish anti-vaccine, anti-mask and other such views on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the village November 30, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2020.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, a waif of a girl and her mother huddled, seeking warmth inside their small stone house. They’d just returned from a tiring journey by foot to a neighboring village. There the daughter received a magical potion to protect her from The Great Invader, who had claimed her father’s life. They felt such gratitude for the protective potion now available to all but the youngest.

The pair felt no bitterness about the loss of their beloved husband and father, but rather a mournful acceptance of his fate. When he fell ill, Ministry of Health researchers had only begun to understand The Great Invader and ways to effectively deal with him. They were certain he could be stopped. But, alas, Ministry officials underestimated the resistance to their advice, to the life-saving potion, to measures that would keep most villagers, city-dwellers and peasants from serious illness or death.

Spikes define The Great Invader and his cousins. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2019)

A KNOCK ON THE DOOR

As mother and daughter edged near the hearth, fire heating a small kettle of thin porridge, a persistent pounding broke the silence. The weary woman hesitated, unsure whether to answer the urgent knock. But the kindness instilled in her by sage elders replaced her momentary hesitation. She rose, grabbed a swatch of cloth from a peg on the wall, covered her face and cracked the door.

There stood a stranger—teeth a sickly yellow, spiked hair framing his filthy face, gnarled hand raised in a threatening pose. Without even a second thought, the mother slammed the door, dislodged a worn plank, dropped and locked it in place. Her shoulders heaved. Her legs gave way. And she fell in a heap onto the dirt floor, overcome with emotion. She recognized the stranger as a cousin of The Great Invader from a sketch posted in the village square (before The Village Know-It-All removed the identifying scroll). She breathed gratitude for the potion that protected her and her cherished child.

Wheat. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2019)

STRUGGLES & EMPOWERMENT

The young mother and her daughter were, by nature, kind and loving. They often befriended the lowliest among them. The beggars. The downtrodden. Those who had fallen on hard times. They had little themselves, but shared what they had. Yet, even with the mindset of kindness, they struggled to understand how so many in their village seemed now to care only about themselves. Gone was the cohesiveness of community care. The Great Invader and his extended family gloated, empowered to press on with selfishness, untruths, misinformation and distrust fueling their cause. They never could have imagined the ease with which they could infiltrate The Land of Plenty and beyond.

Frustration mounted whenever mother and child ventured into the crowded village marketplace. Few covered their faces. Few believed The Ministry of Health or the Office of Truthfulness. The pair observed how villagers dismissed warnings about The Great Invader and scoffed at ways to protect themselves and others. So the two hastened to gather a handful of potatoes, a sheaf of grain and a clutch of carrots clumped with dirt. They parceled pennies into the palms of peasants, then fled the market.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

HOPE IN AN UNSETTLING SCENE

On their way home, mother and daughter passed by The Village Center for Healing, now overrun with the sick and dying infected by The Great Invader. Most had refused the magic potion. The pair’s hearts hurt for the exhausted village healers who continued to care for the failing, even in the face of disrespect and denial. They skirted past the ill and sidestepped rotten tomatoes lobbed by villagers refuting reality with anger.

The woman paused for a moment when she noticed strangers tending to the ill in overflow cots along the cobblestone streets. Fear prickled her spine. Could this be The Great Invader in yet another disguise? But she soon realized these strangers had come to ease the burden on village healers. She recalled a posting in the village square announcing the arrival of the group from a far away city. Gratitude rose within her, a smile curving her lips.

Hope swelled within her that maybe, just maybe, the influx of healers would convince the doubters to recognize the severity of the situation. To realize they could stop The Great Invader, first by believing those who had investigated him and then trusting the magic potion to keep them safe. It was within their grasp…

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NOTE: In every story exists truth, this one no exception. As The Great Invader (COVID-19) continues his march, now in mutant strains, we need to remain vigilant. Get vaccinated and boostered. (If you already are, thank you.) Mask up. (If you do, thank you.) Stay home when you’re sick. Follow other safety mitigation. Think beyond yourself. To the child next door. To the elderly. To the immune-compromised. To the family you love. This is about more than each of us individually. This is about all of us, our community of humanity.

This is part of an ongoing series about The Great Invader. I moderate all comments and will not give voice to anti-vaccine, anti-mask and other such opinions on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reasons I feel grateful this Thanksgiving November 23, 2021

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Given my love of words, I created this Thanksgiving display with thrift store art purchases and Scrabble letters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

WITH THANKSGIVING ONLY DAYS AWAY, my thoughts shift to gratitude. I must admit, though, that feeling grateful in the midst of this ongoing global pandemic takes effort. Yet, it’s important, even necessary, that I reflect on my blessings.

Now, I could simply list the usual broad categories most of us would choose as reasons to feel grateful—family, food, faith, health… But hovering a magnifying glass over those words for a close-up look really focuses gratitude.

With that introduction, I am feeling thankful for…

Grandpa and grandchildren follow the pine-edged driveway at a central Minnesota lake cabin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

My immediate FAMILY circle, including my husband, three grown adult children, two sons-in-law and two grandchildren. I feel grateful for their love and for the last time we were all together in May. Although I yearn to see my out-of-state family more, I’m happy for that spring visit.

The grandchildren, especially, bring joy. Most recently, before temps plummeted into the 20s here in Minnesota, Isabelle, Isaac and I swirled sticks in a mud puddle in our backyard. What a simplistically memorable moment. Later, inside the house, we crafted snow people from paper and birthday cards for their Aunt Miranda. More moments of connecting and bonding and loving.

Time spent at an extended family member’s guest lake cabin this past summer with the eldest daughter and her family rate particularly high on my gratitude list.

The reason the Rare Pair in Northfield gave for wearing face masks early in the pandemic. I love this message. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

HEALTH, mine and that of those I love most, gives me pause for thankfulness. But this year I’m stretching that to include the scientists and researchers who created COVID vaccines and to those in healthcare who strive to keep us healthy and also care for us, whether doctors, nurses, public health officials or others. And to businesses who recognize the importance of COVID mitigation/safety measures (and to the people who follow them).

Along the topic of health, I feel relieved and thankful to now be on MEDICARE. That gives Randy and me affordable healthcare coverage and thus accessibility to healthcare. Paying about $500/month in premiums compared to nearly $1,900/month (with $4,200/each deductibles) lifts a great financial burden.

I photographed my mom’s hands during a visit with her. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

These days my thoughts often turn to my dear mom, 120 miles away in a long-term care center, health failing. I feel overwhelmed by emotion, my heart aching in the missing of her. I last saw her in early July (and not since due to too much COVID in my home county, and now all of Minnesota). Too long.

But I think back to THAT SUMMER VISIT with such gratitude. Per the social worker’s suggestion, I brought along a stash of old family photos. As I held the black-and-white images close to Mom so she could see them through eyes clouded by age, joy blossomed. “That’s my dad,” she said. “That’s me.” And then the moment that brought me to tears. “That’s my husband.” It was a photo of my dad, in his 20s, when he met and married Mom. She recognized him. He’s been gone now nearly 18 years.

If I never see my mom again this side of heaven, I carry that cherished visit with me. The brief period of time when she connected, remembered, celebrated the love of her parents and her husband. Even as she likely forgot within minutes of my departure that I’d visited and shown her those vintage photos. But I realize, still realize, that this is not about me, but about her.

The light, the colors, the water…love this photo of leaves in the Cannon River, Cannon River Wilderness Park, rural Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2021)

NATURE gives me another reason to feel blessed. During these pandemic years, especially, I’ve embraced the natural world with a deepened sense of the peace it brings. River Bend Nature Center in Faribault remains a cherished place to walk through the woods and prairie. To feel the calming effects of the outdoors, of solitude and quiet, and escape from reality. Likewise I feel the same when following a back country gravel road.

Jordyn Brennan’s “Love For All” mural in historic downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

ART continues to hold importance for me. I’m thankful for all creatives. I consider myself among them. That I can create via images and words brings me unlimited satisfaction and joy. I’m thankful for those who value my work.

And I’m grateful for the work of others like Minneapolis artist Jordyn Brennan who crafted Faribault’s newest mural, themed on love. Likewise, I appreciate the efforts of Ramsey County Library in crafting This Was 2020: Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year. To be part of that anthology with my poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic,” is such a gift in that my poetry holds value and can, perhaps, make a difference. Just like love.

An important message posted along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, WI. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

LOVE centers gratitude. I feel grateful for the love of God, the love of my husband and children and grandchildren. The love and support of friends. To love and to give love tops reasons to feel grateful this Thanksgiving. I love, especially, to observe how my grown children love and support one another. My heart overflows with gratitude this Thanksgiving, even during a pandemic.

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TELL ME: What are you feeling especially thankful for right now? Please be specific.

© Copyright 2021 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

 

The journey November 12, 2021

Featured in a 2016-2017 “Minnesota Disasters” exhibit at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, a waif of a girl and her mother wound through the packed dirt and cobblestone streets of their remote village.

Sometimes they walked side-by-side. Other times the wee girl trailed her mother. But when they reached the village square, where a raucous crowd had gathered, they clasped hands and quickened their pace. The pair wanted to avoid the angry villagers crowded around The Village Know-It-All. He stood high above the throng, encouraging them to resist all attempts by The Ministry of Health and other officials in a far away city to stop The Great Invader.

His voice boomed authority across the square. “Stand strong,” he urged. “There is no need to defend yourselves against The Great Invader. He poses no threat. Stories of his strength are greatly exaggerated. There is no need to arm yourselves with protective gear or to hide or to avoid each other. There is no need for a potion to keep you safe. That’s nonsense. Lies. No one can tell us what to do! No one!”

Masks, precautions and isolation helped protect against the flu epidemic. To the left in this photo are names of Steele County residents who died from the flu in 1918. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

DEATH & DENIAL ALL AROUND

As mother and daughter fled, reaffirming cheers created a deafening din. The two wanted nothing more than to escape the ire and untruths that raged.

Soon the pair passed The Village Center for Healing where an overflow of the sick and dying lay in cots along the street. While the ill-informed words of The Village Know-It-All droned on, echoing through the streets, the ill struggled with fits of coughing, gasping for breath. Fevers wracked their bodies and some lay stone still, perhaps already dead.

The mother shuddered in fear, clenching her daughter’s hand, distancing them as best she could along the narrow pathway.

They pressed on, passing the marketplace where vendors and villagers crowded among wagons heaped with grain, potatoes and overripe tomatoes. The mother had heard stories of villagers stealing the rotting tomatoes to lob at healers. She couldn’t understand why the healers—those who toiled endless days and nights to care for the sick—were now targeted, viewed as traitors. She could only trace that hatred to The Village Know-It-All and his followers who continued to spew misinformation about The Great Invader.

Activities that brought people together, including here in southern Minnesota, were suspended during the flu outbreak. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

INSIDE THE VILLAGE SCHOOL

Soon they reached the village school where children scratched sticks across the dirt yard. Inside, other students crammed onto benches in cramped, windowless rooms made of clay walls and dirt floors. After her daughter shared of the crowded conditions, of sick classmates and no efforts to keep The Great Invader out of school, the concerned mother kept her daughter home. She could not fathom risking her daughter’s health or life. Already a long-time elder educator had succumbed to The Great Invader and another, much younger teacher, lay gravely ill.

THE DARKNESS OF GRIEF, THE LIGHT OF HOPE

Just beyond the school on the outskirts of town, the duo passed by the graveyard. To their right, a cluster of villagers circled as the local gravedigger lowered a pine box into a dark hole. The heartbreaking wails of mourners pierced the air. The mother recognized many of the grieving for theirs was a small village. Sadness clenched her thoughts. She knew this much-loved elder had succumbed to The Great Invader, although his family and friends denied the truth. The Office of Truthfulness posted a daily record in the village square and she had seen the man’s name on that list before The Village Know-It-All ripped down the official death document.

Witnessing such grief and observing the cemetery grounds marked by countless rectangles of black, mounded dirt, the mother hurried on. Past a simple marker with a familiar name. She hoped to reach a distant, much larger, village by nightfall. There she would accept the preventative potion to protect her beloved child. Just as she had sought out for herself many months earlier. She’d waited for this day, through the grief of losing her husband to The Great Invader only weeks before the magical potion was created and distributed, then subsequently destroyed by The Village Know-It-All. She focused on the journey at hand, through her weariness and grief, determined, filled with hope.

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NOTE: In every story exists truth, this one no exception. This story about The Great Invader (COVID-19) is part of an ongoing series on the topic. If you read my previous posts, you understand that I believe science and health. I support vaccines and other measures to keep us all safe.

Minnesota is currently in a precarious place with COVID-19 cases at a 2021 high, few ICU hospital beds available and deaths increasing.

I welcome comments, but will not give voice to anti-vaccine, anti-masking, etc. viewpoints and misinformation on this, my personal blog. I moderate all comments.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Throwing tomatoes October 20, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, the villagers gathered in the harvest. Pumpkins. Potatoes. Squash. Root vegetables. And then the last of the tomatoes, much of the fruit rotting atop the soil in a plentiful yield.

In a typical year, the villagers would toss the over-ripe tomatoes to the swine. But this was anything but a typical year. What was once discarded as undesirable fodder now held value. Great value.

And so the villagers rolled empty wheelbarrows into their garden plots. They stooped to scoop and pluck the decaying tomatoes swarming with bugs. As they toiled, they hummed in unrestrained happiness. They had a plan. And their plan, they determined, would allow them to unleash their anger and frustration in a visible way, a way that would hurt beyond mere words.

OVERRUN & OVERWHELMED

While they focused on the unseemly task of salvaging rotten tomatoes, others in the village worked hard to treat those who had fallen ill—seriously ill—after encountering The Great Invader. Those caregivers felt overwhelmed by tending the sick, some of whom lay in the streets awaiting an open cot inside The Village Center for Healing. There were not enough beds, not enough caregivers to handle the sick and dying.

DENIAL

Yet, despite their frustration and exhaustion, those healers forged forward. Even as the villagers denied the presence of The Great Invader and his ability to inflict great pain and suffering. Even as village elders succumbed. Even as a life-saving potion could have stopped The Invader. Denial raged like a virus in the village and through-out The Land of Plenty.

At the Office of Truthfulness, efforts continued to share information about the life-saving potion and its availability through-out the land. But the villagers would hear none of those truths. They listened instead to The Village Know-It-All, who spouted of poison and control and loss of personal freedom. Swallow a potion reserved for swine and other livestock, he suggested to those who encountered The Great Invader. But, above all, never ever publicly acknowledge that the rulers of the kingdom, or those in The Ministry of Health, cared about anyone other than themselves, The Know-It-All impressed upon his believers. The leaders and officials, he claimed, desired to overtake the villages, to trample upon the villagers, to steal their individual rights.

Meanwhile, villagers continued to fall ill. The Great Invader felt comfortably at home in remote rural regions where few accepted the preventative powers of a powerful potion. Even as elders and others lay dying, wheezing and struggling to breathe, their loved ones denied the presence of The Great Invader. They attributed the illness to unknown spores and pollen from a poisonous plant. They would not credit the source cited by the village caregivers, for to do so would undermine their beliefs, their integrity. Their credibility.

A PLAN

And so, in their anger at The Ministry of Health, the Office of Truthfulness and those relentless caregivers, the villagers hatched a plan. On a sunny afternoon, they rallied at the town square. And then, wheelbarrows heaped with rotting tomatoes, they wheeled along cobblestone streets to The Village Center for Healing. There they waited, en-masse, for the healers to emerge after a long shift of tending the ill. And when the first caregivers exited, the villagers began lobbing orb after orb after orb of decaying fruit toward the weary healers. Smack. Smack. Smack.

The villagers felt empowered. How dare anyone tell them their loved ones, friends and neighbors had succumbed to The Great Invader. They knew better. It was all a lie. The virus. The effectiveness of some unknown potion. Lie. Lie. Lie. So they wedged their way among the cots filled with the sick and dying and emptied their wheelbarrows of rotting tomatoes typically reserved for swine.

COVID-19 virus. Photo credit: CDC

MY DEAR READERS, in every story truth exists, this one no exception. In a statement last week, Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm shared her anger about mistreatment of hospital staff by COVID-19 patients and families who don’t believe they or their loved ones have the virus.

Minnesota remains in a precarious point in this pandemic with few ICU, pediatric and other hospital beds open. A northwestern Minnesota family lost a loved one recently after he was unable to get transferred from a small town hospital to a facility with a higher level of care due to no ICU bed availability. An extended family member of mine was also unable to be transferred to a Mayo hospital in Rochester due to no beds. That’s reality. On Saturday, my neighbors buried their father, who died of COVID.

As The Great Invader/COVID-19 continues to rage, I urge you to get vaccinated if you are not yet vaccinated. Too many continue to get seriously ill and/or die. As I read stats here in Minnesota, the ages of those who are dying of COVID includes not just seniors, but increasingly those much younger. This virus does not discriminate. We need to think beyond our individual selves to the health and safety of the broader, collective community. We need to care about others—from our most vulnerable eldest and health-compromised to our youngest, who cannot yet be vaccinated.

Please also continue to mask up, whether vaccinated or not. Social distance. Stay home if you are sick. Most of all, care like you are part of a community.

Click here to read posts from my series about The Great Invader. Note that I moderate all comments on this, my personal blog, and choose which to publish and which not to publish.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shining a light of hope at the pharmacy October 5, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2021.

SHE VOCALIZED HER DISTRESS not to me specifically. But in general. In the pharmacy waiting area at a local grocery store.

I’d just arrived to get my seasonal flu shot, the powered-up version for those 65 and older, when a woman familiar to me expressed dismay over the price of her medication. Medication she couldn’t afford because she was on limited disability income. That much she shared publicly with those of us waiting. Hers was not a plea for help, but rather frustration released in words not directed at anyone. Simply spoken.

MY HEART BREAKS

In that moment, my heart broke. My empathy swelled. I recall standing at that same pharmacy window not all that long ago feeling overwhelmed by the cost of a necessary medication for a family member without insurance coverage or income. I was on the verge of tears. I didn’t turn away from the window then and unleash my despair. But rather I spoke my anguish to the pharmacy employee. And, on that day when I felt such angst over the price of a med, that caring employee found a discount that made the prescription affordable.

Now here I was, presented with an opportunity. I could ignore the distress I heard in someone I knew—but who didn’t recognize me in my face mask—or I could choose to help. I would like to write that I reacted immediately. But I didn’t. Rather I pondered briefly before reaching into my bag to remove a $20 bill. Money from a check I’d cashed a half hour earlier. Payment for photo rights sold at a discount to a nonprofit. Unexpected income that I could use, but which this woman needed more than me.

SUNSHINE

I called her by name, then extended my hand toward her with the $20. “Here, I want you to take this to help pay for your prescription.” She accepted with a smile. And a surprised look on her face. And a generous “thank you” shining a sliver of sunshine into the darkness of financial worry.

As I waited, she did, too. We didn’t converse further. Soon a pharmacy employee called her to the window. They’d found a generic brand of her medication. Presumably more affordable. She returned to me, to return the $20. I declined. “You keep it,” I said. And she did.

MEMORIES & GRATITUDE

Afterwards, when I shared with my husband about this encounter and my gift, I started crying. The emotion of remembering when I was that woman in line at the pharmacy rushed back in those tears. I recalled, too, how extended family and friends helped us during a challenging period in our family’s life and how I’ve felt the blessings of kindness and generosity from others (including those who read this blog). How loved and encouraged and supported I felt.

MEANT TO BE THERE

There’s another twist to this story worth noting. I initially planned to get my flu vaccine at the grocery store’s advertised drive-up clinic. But there was/is no drive-up clinic (much to my dismay). Because of that, I had to go inside the store to the pharmacy. That put me in the path of this woman—who lost her husband several years ago—and in a position to help. Moments like this happen for a reason. And even though $20 is not a lot of money, it was/is more about the uplifting of another human being. I hope my small gift brought her hope, showed that someone cares, that she matters. That even in the distress of financial worry, sunshine slants through the darkness.

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TELL ME: Have you had a similar opportunity to extend compassion or been the recipient of kindness? I’d like to hear. Now, more than ever, we need the sunshine of goodness shining into our days.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

As words fly, The Great Invader presses on September 30, 2021

COVID-19 virus. Photo source CDC/Alissa Edkert, MSMI; Dan Higgins MAMS, 2020

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, the villagers determined they’d had enough of the restrictions, recommendations and mandates imposed during a far-reaching health emergency. The Great Invader be damned, they would live life like it was 2018, pre-intrusion into their quiet village lives.

And so they did. They gathered in the arenas. They gathered in the squares. They gathered in the taverns and around the hearth. They packed the marketplace. They crammed into wagons and traveled hither-and-yon without worry. They cared only about their own happiness. No one, not even the Ministry of Health or the rulers of the kingdom, would tell them what they could and could not do.

DENIAL

Despite their best efforts, there was no denying The Great Invader’s presence in the land, even in the smallest of villages. But the villagers would never publicly acknowledge that. Such validation would only undermine their integrity and cast them as supporters of the kingdom leadership. They would not defect or risk becoming outcasts among their own. So, if worry or doubt entered their minds, they dared not share their concerns.

Even in that state of outcry or denial, depending on perspective, the Ministry of Health continued to post documents from the Office of Truthfulness in the village square. Oftentimes The Village Know-It-All would rip down the official scrolls, especially those listing deaths caused by The Great Invader. He didn’t need The Counters in the village adding numbers and circulating the results.

FACT & FICTION

Stopping the flow of information from respected wordsmiths, though, proved much more difficult. The writers were relentless in penning pieces about The Great Invader and his effect upon the people of the kingdom. To counter their efforts, The Village Know-It-All began posting his own carefully crafted stories for all to see. He was especially skilled in the art of manipulation. Whatever he wrote would be quickly repeated as the truth. He held that type of power.

OPPORTUNITY GALORE

The Great Invader, who could be everywhere and anywhere simultaneously, recognized opportunity when he saw it. He would up his efforts to invade the villages, to sicken the villagers, to cause pain and suffering. And even death. His job would be so much easier among those who refused to believe the Office of Truthfulness, who spread false information and who refused to take a life-saving potion available throughout the kingdom. He felt giddy with anticipation as he continued his invasion. This was proving much easier than he ever hoped, ever dreamed, ever thought possible in The Land of Plenty.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

AS COVID-19 CASES continue to surge, here are some recent headlines from Minnesota media sources, plus one from Minnesota-North Dakota. Please, if you are unvaccinated, get vaccinated. Please wear a mask in public or in close proximity indoors to those outside your immediate circle, regardless of vaccination status. Be safe. Be well. Care about others. We need to stop The Great Invader/COVID-19.

Local hospitals see record patient volume in emergency departments—Faribault Daily News

The number of schools in Minnesota with confirmed COVID-19 cases has tripled twice in the last two weeks. What’s going on?—MinnPost

“How will we keep going like this?” School nurses, staff worry about burnout—Minnesota Public Radio

Hundreds of U of M faculty want stronger vaccine policies—Minnesota Public Radio

Protestors Demonstrate Against Vaccination Mandates Thursday in Redwood Falls—KLGR radio

Carris Health—Redwood Hospital and Clinic Reinstates COVID Visitor Restrictions—KLGR radio (posted on the same date as the protest story)

Avera Marshall reopens drive-up COVID testing as need grows—The Marshall Independent

Latest surge wears on Carris Health—Rice Memorial Hospital staff 18 months into the pandemic—West Central Tribune (Willmar)

Trending rise of COVID-19 continues in Morrison County—Morrison County Record

As hospitals struggle amid delta surge, North Dakota puts extra ambulances on stand-by—The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

North Dakota baby’s nearly fatal fight with COVID-19 signals new risk to children—The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead

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Click here to read my previous posts in this series about The Great Invader. Note that I moderate all comments on this, my personal blog.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling