Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My story: Insights learned from whooping cough April 16, 2020

 

The gravestone of Deloris Edna Emilie Bode, my aunt who died of highly-contagious whooping cough at age nine months. A great aunt, Ida, also died of pertussis at the same age. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FROM THE BLOG ARCHIVES

In the summer of 2005, when I was 48, I came down with what I initially thought was a bad cold. Turns out the horrific sore throat, followed by the equally horrific cough, was actually whooping cough. After three doctor’s visits and a misdiagnosis of bronchitis, I was correctly diagnosed with pertussis, the first case my physician had ever seen in his longtime career.

When he informed me that pertussis is also known as the 100-day cough, he was not joking. I was racked by uncontrollable fits of coughing from around July Fourth until well after Labor Day.

For me, the summer of 2005 was spent languishing on the couch, feeling like absolute crap, exhausted from lack of sleep (ever try sleeping when you are constantly coughing), utterly worn down, unable to barely function.

The worst, and I mean absolute worst, moment came when I awoke one night gasping for air, my windpipe narrowed. In retrospect, that asthmatic type attack warranted a 911 call and I now consider myself fortunate to have survived. Yes, it was that bad and necessitated another visit to the doctor for a regiment of the inflammation reducing steroid prednisone and an inhaler.

I don’t know why I experienced a particularly bad case of whooping cough. Typically the young and elderly are most harshly affected. Unvaccinated infants can even die.

Nor do I know how I got a disease I thought had vanished decades ago and which claimed the life of my Aunt Deloris in 1935 at nine months old. My doctor speculated that I could have been exposed waiting in the check-out line at the grocery store. I’ll never know.

 

FAST FORWARD TO 2020

Why do I share this experience, which I first blogged about in 2010? I reblog this because it’s a very real example of how easily I became infected with a highly-contagious bacterial disease simply by being out and about in public. To this day, I have no idea where I picked up whooping cough and then passed it along to two family members. Since then, I’ve learned that the vaccine for pertussis, a serious respiratory tract infection, wears off and re-vaccination is needed.

When I consider how ill I became from whooping cough at age 48, I can only guess how the much more serious COVID-19 might affect me 15 years later at age 63. I recognize the two differ—one is bacterial, the other viral, for example, with many other differences. But some similarities.

Having contracted pertussis via community spread illustrates and underscores the importance of social distancing, of staying at home, of recognizing how quickly and easily the highly-contagious and potentially deadly COVID-19 virus can spread.

 

WHAT I’M SEEING

I shop at the grocery store weekly because, you know, I eat. I’ve seen too many people who don’t seem to care about social distancing. I can tell right away. They hog the aisle, don’t move over, come too close. In all fairness, many people are being safe, careful and respectful and I appreciate that.

While en route to the grocery store or to a park (about the only places I go now days), I’ve observed groups of obviously unrelated people chatting, even leaning into car windows. No social distancing. I’ve seen landscapers clustered around the back of a pick-up truck.

I recognize that we live in a free country and that people will make choices that are unwise, unsafe and not in the best interests of their health. But when those decisions affect the health of the general public, it’s different. We are all aware that COVID-19 is highly-contagious, even deadly. Every single one of us ought to care because our lives, and the lives of those we love, of our friends, our neighbors and, yes, even the woman in the grocery store, depend on us caring. Whether we live in New York or Minnesota, this virus does not distinguish between rural and urban. No one is immune.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Way to go, Wisconsin DNR March 28, 2020

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources image

 

IF EVER WE NEED LAUGHTER, it’s now. And the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources delivered this week with A CHEESY GUIDE TO KEEPING YOUR SOCIAL DISTANCE OUTDOORS.

The second daughter, who lives in Wisconsin, where a “Safer at Home” order is now in place, texted the graphic to me this morning. While reading this message, I laughed out loud. Repeatedly.

This additional info accompanied the guide posted on the DNR Facebook page:

Hey Cheeseheads! Wisconsin’s state parks and trails are open for you to OutWiGo and enjoy some fresh air. If you head out, we encourage you to stay close to home and within your community.

Social distance is key to slowing COVID-19. Stay at least 6 feet away from others – but don’t forget about the air fives!

Kudos to the creative who came up with this idea. I always appreciate a savvy and fun media campaign. Humor resonates with people. They remember. They talk about it.

The Facebook posting certainly has people talking in the comments section. And it’s not good. Seems people are flocking to state parks and not a lot of social distancing is happening. Wisconsin isn’t the only place with this problem. I’ve heard from friends about overcrowding issues at North Carolina state parks (now closed) and even in Minnesota.

You can only do so much, I suppose. Thank you, Wisconsin DNR, for doing your best and for making me laugh today.

 

Into the woods March 25, 2020

Hiking at River Bend Nature Center on Sunday afternoon, March 22.

 

THE NEED TO GET AWAY from it all—the barrage of COVID-19 thoughts and media reports—and the need to exit the house brought Randy and me to River Bend Nature Center in Faribault on Sunday afternoon.

The weather still feels very much like winter here in southern Minnesota with a cold wind, temps in the 30s and 40s, and patches of snow remaining in shaded areas or unmelted piles. So we dressed warmly, pulled on gloves and snugged on stocking caps before setting out.

 

Social distancing of vehicles in the parking lot at River Bend Nature Center on March 22.

 

As our vehicle rounded the curve and descended the hill into the heart of River Bend, I noticed something unusual in the parking lot. Social distancing. Most vehicles were parked every other space, with more vehicles than usual.

 

The entrance to the interpretative center, now closed.

 

I grabbed my camera, photographed the parking lot and then started downhill toward the trail-side center, eventually angling right toward the Turtle Pond. Along the way we met clusters of people, whom I assumed to be families as no social distancing was happening. Most, in passing, dropped into single file lines to distance themselves from others like us. I found myself fully aware of the space between us and other hikers on paths not always wide enough for the suggested six feet of separation.

 

This couple kept their distance from us, as they should have.

 

At one point I stepped to a side look-out and waited while other walkers passed, thus avoiding the too-close contact. I noticed, too, a young couple cut through the woods with their dog rather than come near us.

It was an odd feeling, this conscious effort to keep at a distance. It didn’t feel right. I tried to make up for that by greeting others with a smile and a “hello.” We can still be friendly.

 

I saw moss on rock piles and on fallen logs.

 

Randy starts across the bridge over the iced over Turtle Pond.

 

The process of collecting sap is underway at River Bend, pandemic or not.

 

As Randy and I walked, I scanned the woods for signs of spring and that seemed mostly fruitless. Ice still sealed the pond. Icy snow still covered sections of trails. Dried leaves still clung to trees while carpets of green moss and maple sap collection bags hinted of spring.

 

I often lag behind Randy because I stop to take photos.

 

Yet, I felt grateful to be outdoors, healthy and walking beside Randy.

 

Our friend’s daughter had a captive audience to watch her show off her biking skills.

 

We stopped once to talk with a friend who was out with her two young daughters. The 4 ½ -year-old showed off her bike riding skills. And for a moment or ten, we three adults forgot about the global pandemic and focused on the joy of watching a preschooler who recently mastered biking without assistance. The world seemed normal in that small space of time. Except for the awareness that we needed to stay six feet apart.

 

There on the prairie grass, an unexpected find.

 

Then we continued on, eventually crossing the windswept prairie. There Randy spotted a fuzzy caterpillar and we wondered aloud about its early appearance in these still too cold days of March.

 

Looking across the prairie pond.

 

After a brief stop at the prairie pond, we decided we were too cold to continue on. We turned back toward the interpretative center—now shuttered to the public—and aimed for the parking lot. But in getting there, we passed a group of young people tossing a football. Had it been any other day in any other time, I likely would not have thought much of it. But I found myself wondering, “Should they really be doing that?”

 

Trails remain open, but the interpretative center is closed.

 

These are unsettling times when even a walk into the woods to enjoy nature feels anything but normal.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling