Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Looking beyond ourselves to the broader community June 24, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Early in the pandemic, the Rare Pair in Northfield posted this sign on the front door. While social distancing and masking are no longer required in Minnesota, the overall message of LOVE OTHERS can apply to vaccination. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

AS THE BAND PLAYED, as the scent of gyros wafted in the breeze, as the summer day drew to a close in Central Park during Faribault’s Heritage Days celebration, I engaged in a conversation that left me frustrated. The subject: COVID-19 vaccination.

For some 10 minutes, an acquaintance and I discussed the vaccine, specifically his refusal to get vaccinated. I tried to be respectful as I listened to his belief that COVID is no worse than the flu and his assessment that, if he gets the virus, he expects a mild case. He’s around my age, in his 60s. I politely disagreed with his assessment of COVID and stated no one really knows how their body will react to the virus. In our county of Rice 110 people, ranging in age from 24 to 104, have died from COVID.

I shared stories about those, with a connection to Randy and me, who have died of COVID. Those deaths didn’t seem to matter. He acknowledged hearing my concerns, but remained unswayed.


When he called his co-workers at a local factory “paranoid” about COVID, I felt myself losing patience. There’s nothing paranoid about concern, about taking precautions, about preventing the spread of a potentially deadly virus. There’s nothing paranoid about caring for your own health and the health of humanity by choosing vaccination.

In hindsight, had I known I would have this conversation, I would have taken a different approach—emphasizing that the decision whether to get vaccinated or not stretches beyond our individual selves to our families, friends, neighbors, and yes, even our co-workers. Even to strangers.

My acquaintance, while seemingly unconcerned about his own health, should feel a sense of responsibility to his community. I wonder how he would feel if he exposed someone to COVID and that person died or suffered long-term health issues. I would struggle with guilt.


Not only do I struggle with my acquaintance’s refusal to get vaccinated, but I really struggle with those employed in healthcare settings who are refusing vaccination. At my local hospital, about 37% percent of staff remains unvaccinated, according to a recent story in the Faribault Daily News. They are putting patients at risk by that choice. The same goes for those who work with our elderly and most vulnerable in long-term care centers. Where is the sense of care for others, of respecting science, of maintaining health in a place devoted to health?


To those of you who have chosen vaccination, thank you. Thank you for protecting yourselves, those you love and the broader community. Because of your choice, we are seeing a significant drop in COVID cases. Vaccines are working. That decline doesn’t apply everywhere, though. In states like Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, where vaccination rates are especially low, COVID cases are still prevalent, according to media reports. And the highly-contagious Delta variant is quickly spreading, accounting for 20% of new COVID cases in the U.S. This pandemic isn’t over yet and I’m concerned for those who aren’t getting, or can’t yet be, vaccinated. Like my acquaintance. And my young grandchildren. And others I know who refuse to trust and accept that vaccines work.


In closing, I want to share one final story. A friend’s son and his family are flying from their home in Brazil to Minnesota to get vaccinated. Vaccination is many months away for them in a country hit especially hard by COVID. Their oldest daughter, who has Downs Syndrome and thus is especially vulnerable to the virus, is their primary concern. Think about that for a moment. We can’t give away vaccines in this country. People are refusing them. And here we have a family of four flying some 5,000 miles to get vaccinated. They trust the science. They want to protect themselves. They understand that COVID-19 can be worse than the flu. They are part of our global family and I feel thankful that they are choosing vaccination.

If you are not yet vaccinated, please get vaccinated. Your decision is about more than you. It’s about all of us. Your family. Your friends. Your neighbors. Your co-workers. Your community. Your world.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A closer look at whooping cough, including my story August 17, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:19 AM
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FIVE YEARS AGO, I earned the distinction of becoming my physician’s first adult whooping cough patient in his 30-plus year career.

I still remember that day when I perched on the examining table, so exhausted from my coughing fits and a subsequent lack of sleep that I could barely function. Five weeks earlier my doctor had diagnosed bronchitis. When I wasn’t getting any better, I returned and he gave me the same diagnosis. But now, on this third visit with my condition steadily deteriorating, I wanted answers.

Then I coughed.

For my doctor, that was a profound moment. He didn’t even hesitate. “I think you have whooping cough,” he blurted, then soon left the room to consult with another physician.

I don’t recall exactly how I responded, but I remember thinking that whooping cough couldn’t possibly exist in 2005.

How very wrong I was about that assumption. Today, five years after I struggled with this debilitating illness that invaded my lungs and throat, causing persistent coughing fits, a severe sore throat, asthmatic type attacks and a resulting inability to sleep, the disease continues to infect, and even kill.

California, if trends continue, is expecting more pertussis (whooping cough) cases in 2010 than it’s seen in 50-plus years, according to the California Department of Public Health. As of August 10, those numbers stood at 2,774 reported cases, including seven deaths among infants. The cases represent a seven-fold increase from the 395 reported during the same period in 2009.

Naturally, I wondered how Minnesota compares. According to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Health, as of July 16, there had been 395 cases reported. The report notes that the state is near the end of an outbreak that began in 2008.

In my home county, Rice, three cases of the disease have been recorded in 2010. The majority of infections are, as I would expect, in the more heavily-populated counties of Hennepin (75 cases), Wright (60), Dakota (52) and Ramsey (40).

But statistics really don’t matter if you’re the one with whooping cough. I remember the follow-up phone call from my physician who delivered the news that pertussis is known as “the 100-day cough.” He wasn’t kidding.

And he wasn’t kidding that he really couldn’t do anything for me. The disease would have to run its course—for me from early July until after Labor Day—and my body would need to heal on its own. Antibiotics help only early on in either preventing whooping cough or diminishing the severity of a case. The pertussis bacteria die off naturally after three weeks of coughing.

My entire family received a regiment of antibiotics with my husband and my second daughter both developing whooping cough, albeit much milder than mine.

Whooping cough, I can undeniably tell you, should be taken seriously. If you are an adult, or a teen, and haven’t been vaccinated since childhood, listen up. By age 10 or 12, you are no longer protected by that childhood vaccine. I was 48 years old when I developed pertussis. I’ll never know how I contracted the disease, but it’s highly-contagious. Infants are especially vulnerable.

Ironically, in the same year I became ill, new vaccines for adolescents and adults were approved. With widespread immunization, pertussis can become an illness of the past.

Within my own family, whooping cough claimed the life of my Aunt Deloris. On May 10, 1935, Deloris Edna Emilie Bode, second-born daughter of Lawrence and Josephine, died of pertussis, pneumonia and a gangrene-type infection of the mouth at the age of nine months and nine days.

Whenever I think of Deloris, I nearly weep at the thought of that beautiful baby girl wracked with uncontrollable coughing fits, struggling to breathe, fighting to live. I will feel forever linked to her by whooping cough, the 100-day cough, and today a preventable disease.

(The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated August as National Immunization Awareness Month.)

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling