"Your father is in the COVID-19 wing". A true story.
My life was turned upside down in an instant. It was as if I'd lost half my body. I can't even look at all these COVID-19 deniers and facemask-refusers. It hurts too much.
As a child I grew up in a small North Bohemian village where three apartment buildings housed Romani people only - so the "tidy" residents wouldn't be disturbed by us. Most of the Roma considered themselves as belonging there, but I never felt like I did. My husband, son and I moved to a nearby town, and my parents, my brother and his family remained in the village. It didn't bother them that those apartment buildings were in disrepair and that some tenants were being housed in basements, which the mayor had turned into apartments for rent defaulters. "We don't care about them, look, we have a new kitchen, bathroom and tiles," my Dad told me, and he was happy to have put his own apartment together. Mom took care of their little garden and the grandchildren, she visited them frequently. She didn't just come on her own because Dad was sick, she came to help the children.
Dad had undergone a kidney transplant years ago. He was not a person who complained, though. He took life as it came and he always just took what was good from it. He worked as a truck driver and loved enjoying life. The transplanted kidney served him well for 12 years before it slowly began to terminate that service. It was necessary to replace it and begin dialysis. Heart problems happened on top of that and Dad had to undergo surgery to get on the waiting list for the other procedures. I wasn't afraid even for one moment, I knew he was a strong person and would deal with it. Then COVID-19 came.
During the first wave we kept Dad isolated so he wouldn't catch it. The second wave was worse. Our neighbors no longer wore facemasks, they were not following the quarantine, they were undisciplined, and we began to fear for Dad. Fortunately, however, he didn't catch it, and at the end of October he was able to undergo surgery. The best hospital in Prague received him. After the operation, he called us all and said he felt good. A load was lifted from our hearts. A couple of days later they transferred him somewhere else, but we were unable to visit him. Then they let him come home.
We didn't learn until a couple of weeks later that he had signed for his own release at that time. Mom made his favorite food, the children drew him pictures. When he opened the door, I couldn't believe anybody could have aged like that in just a few days. He came home an older person, hunched over, emaciated, tired, with dark circles under his eyes. I could not believe it was possible that they had let him out of the hospital in such a state. We stayed up all night when he came home. Dad played with his grandkids a bit and then went to lie down.
"He's just tired," Mom persuaded me, when she saw the expression on my face. Dad slept through the entire next day, he didn't answer his phone, Mom took the calls and told everybody that he was tired, sleeping, and had to rest. Everybody understood. The next evening, when my husband and I were at home, Mom called to say Dad hadn't come back from dialysis yet. My brother had called Dad's phone and they realized Dad had left it at home. He had been picked up for dialysis by an ambulance. Nobody else had gone with him this time.
My husband began to immediately track down the phone number for the nephrology department, and when somebody finally answered that number after an hour, he had to wait another 10 minutes for them to find the information. "Your father has COVID-19, we tested him and it came back positive. He began having breathing difficulties, we transferred him to the COVID-19 wing. I'll give you the number, hang on," the dialysis nurse informed us. My legs buckled underneath me. Where could he have caught it? We had all been careful, nobody visits us. I was completely terrified, and I went over to Mom's place to calm her down. Nobody answered the phone at the COVID-19 unit that evening.
The next morning a nurse called to say that we should bring Dad his things, that he was still having breathing difficulties and that he wanted his mobile phone and charger. They wouldn't allow my brother into the hospital to see him, though, and they couldn't tell him anything, the doctor had no time, they told him he would learn more the next morning at 10 AM. They could not deliver our Dad a message, there was no time, they had a lot of patients and didn't know what to do first. That evening we all sat silently around the table and did our best to call Dad. We couldn't get through.
I felt something was wrong. Maybe they'd put him in an artificial coma, or he was so badly off that he couldn't even speak. Nobody answered the phone in the COVID-19 wing, not that evening, not during the night. Fear was stabbing me in the heart. I couldn't think of anything else but what was happening with Dad. My husband called the hospital right away in the morning and a woman's voice answered: "Yes, what can I do for you?"
"Hello, I would like to ask about Mr Gulyáš, what condition he's in, he's not answering his mobile phone," my husband said calmly.
"Who is this?" the nurse asked.
"Say you're his son," I whispered to my husband.
"I'm his son," my husband answered.
"Wait just a moment" - the voice went silent and all we could hear were other voices in the background that were hard to make out.
"Mr Gulyáš died yesterday at 3 PM. Come for his personal effects. Goodbye," the voice in the phone said, and there was no chance to ask anything else.
At that moment the ground swayed beneath my feet. I can't clearly recall how my husband picked me up and held me firmly. I lay in his arms unable to move, without shedding a single tear, I felt a terrible pain, an emptiness, anger and hopelessness.
Based on the true story of Ms M.H. First published in the magazine Romano voďi.
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