Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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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