My friend Jerry died this week. He was 63 years old. He was married and had one son. He died of COVID-19 after almost three weeks on a ventilator in a hospital I used to work at in Fall River, Massachusetts. He had worked in that same hospital for 32 years before moving on to another one in Rhode Island 4 years ago.
I’ve known Jerry for 42 years; I’ve known his wife for 44. Their wedding was the first one of my friends I ever went to. It was a big affair. He was Portuguese (like me). His parents had immigrated from Portugal. They were so proud of him. And he treated them better than I’d ever seen anyone treat their parents. I don’t think that’s just a Portuguese thing. I think it’s a first-generation American thing. He wanted his parents to be proud of him and what he did with the advantages they gave him.
Two things always stood out about Jerry. First, he worked hard, and he worked a lot. That is definitely a first-generation American thing. The second thing was that he always had a smile to greet you with. He loved people and he loved making friends. And he was genuine about that. It wasn’t a phony thing.
Jerry’s wife is my oldest friend. We’ve known each other since we were 14. She started dating Jerry when she was 16 and he was 22. That would be frowned upon now (and her family was not crazy about it in the beginning), but back then it wasn’t unheard of. Their marriage lasted 37 years before the virus took him. Like any couple together that long, Lisa and Jerry had their problems. But the things that seemed so important in their 30’s became trivial little problems in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Their marriage was strong. And Jerry loved Lisa like men do in romance novels. He adored her. Always did. It made me happy to know that was possible.
Jerry was a Supervisor in Environmental Services at the hospital he was working at. He had people that worked under him and was not really supposed to be working on the hospital floors. But a lot of his staff got sick and Jerry said he couldn’t let the patients or hospital down. So, at 63 he put himself into the rotation and began helping clean the hospital so that people could be cared for.
Unfortunately, the hospital did not have enough masks or PPEs for him and his staff; Jerry didn’t have masks to wear until 4 days before he became symptomatic.
In the end, even though he had excellent care, the virus got the best of him. His lungs had been ravaged by it and he had gone into multi-organ failure. And then, on Friday morning, he had a stroke. There was no more that could have been done for him after that. Lisa understood that and had Jerry taken off the ventilator on Friday afternoon.
Jerry died because he wasn’t protected while he was making sure other people could be taken care of. If you knew Jerry, that’s how he would have wanted to die. Other people always came first for him.
I’ve been one of the people who early on,took the position that this was a very deadly virus and that strict precautions needed to be taken. Many people in the ex-pat community disagreed with me on that. And many are still quite vocal about it online, even as we see people dying worldwide.
I hold firm to that opinion and still believe that while the restrictions the government is putting on people are a hardship—and a lot of people will suffer significantly from the financial impact of them—they have to be done.
People will not take the necessary precautions seriously enough if left to make their own decisions. They will feel that someone else will catch the virus, not them. They will try to pay attention to not get too close to others. They will think about washing their hands. They will say they won’t go out unless it’s an emergency.
But they won’t do all those things all the time. They will try, but they will stumble. They need to have someone looking out for them.
So please, tone down the rhetoric about the restrictions and let the public health experts make the decisions and proclamations. Because a lot of people have died from this virus. A lot more will die even with restrictions. Without restrictions, the numbers will certainly get much worse.
My second oldest friend died from this virus. I am heartbroken and so sad. My friend died because he was trying to help people. In a country that everyone thinks has one of the best healthcare systems, he was left unprotected.
Please let the system here try to protect its people. There is no route that gives a perfect solution. The tight restrictions will hurt people for a long time. Without them, people will die. Nothing the country does will be liked by everyone.
So please, please, let it err on the side of saving lives.