Mom and Dad thought the coronavirus was overblown. And then they got it.

September 8, 2020 7:02 am

The writer is pictured with her father, who was in the hospital after contracting COVID-19.

Mom was in CVS when I texted her Sunday, letting her know I was headed to North Dakota.

She and Dad had been diagnosed with COVID-19 nearly two weeks prior. They’re both 79 years old, and their texts seemed to indicate they were weathering it pretty well. 

But on Sunday, she was in CVS looking for a nebulizer for Dad because the anti-vaccine dietary supplement guru Joseph Mercola had recommended nebulized hydrogen peroxide to treat coronavirus. You can imagine my concern. 

I remembered reading a story a few months ago about how virus-stricken people can buy something called a pulse oximeter to make sure you’re getting enough oxygen. Or something like that. I just remembered reading that some people don’t realize how sick they are unless they have one. 

My mom is more likely to listen to the latest naturopathic doctors or Fox News contributor’s advice than mine. She and Dad have been downing vitamins and supplements to pump up their immune systems. 

He already had his oxygen checked at the clinic, she texted, and as long as he “didn’t walk a lot,” it was fine.

Still, for some reason, she listened to me. She couldn’t find a nebulizer, so she bought a pulse oximeter for about $50, took it home and clipped it on Dad’s finger less than an hour later. His pulse was 124 and oxygen 88, she texted me and my four sisters. She remembered Mercola saying if the oxygen is below 92 you should go to the ER.

“Not good but he’s just looking at me instead of answering!” she texted us, referring to Dad. “Pray for him!”

She finally coaxed him into a car and into the ER. They wouldn’t even let her out of the car. Dad disappeared inside, where he texted occasional updates.

By then, I was on my way home. When the pandemic first broke out, my parents said it was overblown. In subsequent months they called it a plot to take down President Donald Trump. Bill Gates was involved. Or a 5G network. Communist China. On and on. 

They ignored warnings to stay put, and traveled to see daughters and granddaughters in Arizona, Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming. Everywhere but Minnesota (knowing what sticklers we are out here).

Meanwhile, the virus ravaged Florida, Texas, Arizona. Now it’s exploding in the upper Midwest, including the Dakotas, Iowa and Kansas. 

They said it was ridiculous to shut down the economy just because of a virus. They said there have been other viruses. That we’d get through it. 

And then they got sick. After one day of misery, Mom had fared well, aside from fatigue. Dad, however, slept and coughed a lot and worsened daily.

Finally, about two weeks after being diagnosed, he was in the hospital. As I drove toward Bismarck, he texted us that he could have visitors as long as they didn’t have the virus, and just one at a time. Aside from my sister — who is in a wheelchair and at high risk because of muscular dystrophy — I’m the closest child to home. I’ve long felt if a loved one ended up in the hospital with the virus, the hardest thing in the world would be to leave them there alone. 

I called the hospital to see if Dad was right: Would they really allow visitors? Yes, they said, as long as I wore a mask, gloves and gown. I couldn’t believe it, since many hospitals banned visitors altogether, or at least in the COVID unit.

I drove straight to the hospital, walked in the door and was greeted by two workers. One took my temperature; the other asked what room I was going to. The COVID wing.

I figured that’s when I’d be rebuffed. Nope. Instead, she escorted me halfway to his room and gave me directions to the COVID unit.

Down the hall and take a left, she said.

I just walked to the intensive care unit and could have walked right into his room, but stopped where a sign directed me to the nurses’ station. Nobody noticed me for a few minutes, and finally a woman looked up from her computer. 

“I’m here to see Larry Kromarek,” I said.

She directed me down the hall, where outside his room a nurse helped me into a disposable gown and handed me disposable gloves. 

“Is this OK?” I asked, motioning to the cloth mask I wore into the hospital. Yes, she said, and walked away.

I walked into the room, and there was Dad, in his plaid pajama pants and a gown like mine. I didn’t hug him. I sat in a corner, except to take a photo with him, in case it was my last chance.

Once he started getting fluids, oxygen, antibiotics and steroids, he was feeling much better, even asking the nurse for banana bread. He has pneumonia in one lung and the doctor told him he’s lucky he came in when he did. 

This is a guy who’s had prostate cancer, part of a lung removed, a burst appendix and diabetes. He says COVID-19, however, is “the worst (expletive)” he’s ever had. 

He raised seven kids — wanted a boy so badly that he put up with five baby girls before he got one. 

I was supposed to be a boy named Dean. As usual, I didn’t oblige. Finally his two boys arrived last in line, but they both had the same rare form of muscular dystrophy as my sister, and died in their 30s.  

My father was a teacher, then realtor until the oil boom went bust in southwest North Dakota and he moved to Bismarck. He spent years caring for my brothers full time, lifting them in and out of bed and taking them to the bathroom. One of them died of pneumonia, the other of failing kidneys.

Losing his shirt in the ‘80s humbled him. Having three disabled children softened him, and he became as God-fearing as Mom. 

Before long, Dad was complaining from his hospital bed that the doctors can’t do anything for COVID-19. That they don’t prescribe hydroxychloroquine, the drug Trump has said could work. That there is a cure but they want to take down Trump instead.

The beep of the IV and machine monitoring Dad’s oxygen level combined with the latest news on FOX, the channel Dad has watched for the past few decades. Trump’s new pandemic adviser was pushing a “herd immunity” strategy, the chyron said. 

Dad wasn’t about to change the channel.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.