My fa­ther and coro­n­avirus


’m sorry, there’s ab­so­lutely no vis­i­tors al­lowed. Yes, I un­der­stand it’s Fa­ther’s Day, but that’s our pol­icy, I’m sorry.”

One week later: “I’m sorry, we’re still not al­low­ing vis­i­tors. Sir, I un­der­stand that Tues­day is your fa­ther’s 80th birth­day, but there’s noth­ing we can do. You can Face­Time him if you want?”

It’s been four treach­er­ous, unimag­in­able months since I’ve seen my fa­ther. On March 23, he tested pos­i­tive for COVID-19, which be­gan a 100-day roller coaster ride through hell on a track that has spanned three hos­pi­tals and two re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

The first 42 days of his bat­tle were fought against COVID-19 and the bi­lat­eral pneu­mo­nia that ac­com­pa­nied it. From a nasal can­nula to a low-flow mask to a high-flow mask and back, he was able to over­come the se­vere oxy­gen de­fi­ciency and pull through.

For the last 58 days, his strug­gle has been against the af­ter-ef­fects of the virus. His chal­lenges are sub­stan­tial, but his strength has been ex­tra­or­di­nary.

Be­fore the pan­demic, my fa­ther lived com­fort­ably in an as­sisted-liv­ing fa­cil­ity on Long Is­land. I’d try to see him once a month; it didn’t al­ways hap­pen. What I wouldn’t pay now for five min­utes with him, to see him eat vanilla ice cream with cho­co­late sprin­kles, or “jim­mies,” as he calls them.

This past week I al­most got my wish: A nurse at his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion fa­cil­ity told me that my fa­ther was go­ing to an imag­ing cen­ter for an MRI, and one per­son could as­sist him. The night be­fore his ap­point­ment, I was so ex­cited that I could not sleep. Over and over in my mind, I vi­su­al­ized the en­counter and the smile on his face at first glance.

The next morn­ing I got in my car, drove from Con­necti­cut to the imag­ing cen­ter in Long Is­land, and waited out­side the fa­cil­ity for the am­bu­lance’s 11:30 ar­rival time.

It never came. At 11:45, I called his re­hab fa­cil­ity to con­firm that he was on his way. They told me the ap­point­ment had been can­celed last minute due to in­sur­ance rea­sons. The am­bu­lance could not drive to this lo­ca­tion with­out be­ing paid a $500 fee.

De­jected, I got back in my car, took off my mask and turned on the ra­dio. Blast­ing at full vol­ume was “Ev­ery­body Hurts” by R.E.M. Yes, some­times God scores your life to per­fec­tion.

The only con­tact I have had with my fa­ther is through Face­Time, a god­send dur­ing this pan­demic. While bet­ter than noth­ing, a Face­Time visit pales in com­par­i­son to the in­per­son va­ri­ety; it’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween see­ing a pic­ture of the Sis­tine Chapel ceil­ing and stand­ing un­der it look­ing up. The screen freezes, his body lan­guage is un­read­able, and most crip­pling, eye con­tact is ab­sent. It is im­pos­si­ble to look some­one in the eye on Face­Time be­cause they are star­ing at a screen, not your face. The lit­tle square in the bot­tom right corner of your own visage fur­ther dulls the con­nec­tion, be­cause like a mir­ror, we are drawn to our own im­age.

I know I’m one of the lucky ones. Thou­sands of peo­ple with moth­ers and fathers and grand­moth­ers and grand­fa­thers in nurs­ing homes have lost them to this virus. They haven’t been able to hold their hands in their fi­nal mo­ments, a pain I can­not imag­ine.

To­day is dad’s big day. I fan­ta­size scal­ing the fa­cil­ity walls like Spi­der-Man and sneak­ing into his room. Giv­ing him a cup­cake with a can­dle that he can blow out with his re­cov­ered lungs.

Then re­al­ity sets in and re­minds me that I can­not be self­ish and put all of the other res­i­dents in jeop­ardy; my delu­sive abil­ity to scale walls is also re­solved.

And so, to­day, we will cel­e­brate dad’s birth­day on a screen. I will re­mind my­self that while I’d want noth­ing more than to be sit­ting there with him, I have learned that no day is guar­an­teed, and to be able to re­joice with him in any way is the great­est gift.

Gins­burg is au­thor of “Pump­ing Irony: How to Build Mus­cle, Lose Weight, and Have the Last Laugh.”

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