How the COVID-19 Response Nearly Tore My Family Apart

In their eagerness to “do something” and appear to be taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, politicians, pundits, and ordinary citizens alike have stubbornly refused to admit to any costs or tradeoffs resulting from the government’s policy response to the virus. As all thinking people know, every policy has a downside, and sensible governing should involve weighing those downsides carefully against any potential or actual benefits. But in the case of lockdowns, we’re expected to believe that if everyone will just do as they’re told, everything will be fine, and that there’s no other option besides that which has been aggressively pursued by mayors and governors across the nation.

But these downsides do exist, and they can be extremely serious, as I recently learned through personal experience.

Recognizing the limits of anecdotes, I’d nevertheless like to share a story from my own life to illustrate a few of the ways in which sweeping, reflexive lockdowns can negatively impact real people.

Starting late last year, my mother began experiencing pain in her right hip. It was mild at first, and went away a few times before coming back, so naturally she was happy to dismiss it as a minor injury such as a pulled muscle or a little bit of arthritis. My mother is in her mid-sixties and has been in good health for most of her life, so no one really expected anything serious. By March, however, the pain intensified to the point where she could no longer walk. Various doctors were consulted, all of whom diagnosed the problem as orthopedic in nature. They took x-rays, which appeared to reveal nothing wrong, but because of the onset of the coronavirus, MRIs and CT scans were unavailable, being deemed “non-essential” for anyone except coronavirus patients.

My mother then proceeded to consult a parade of physical therapists, chiropractors, orthopedic specialists, and alternative medicine practitioners, each of which assured her they could fix the problem before definitively failing to do so. Meanwhile, her pain was getting worse and she was growing weak. She lost thirty pounds, developed a cough, and starting sleeping for many hours a day. She was prescribed Oxycontin for her pain, but the primary effect of the drug was extreme disorientation and confusion. When I spoke to my mother on the phone, half the time she didn’t know where she was or what was going on. It was July before she and my father were finally able to arrange for an MRI, as by now it was obvious that something was seriously wrong.

What the scans revealed was not good news. The doctors found lung cancer which had metastasized to the pelvis, where a large tumor had eaten away most of the bone there, accounting for her pain and inability to walk. Additionally, the cancer was in her blood and had spread to the brain where multiple tumors had begun to develop. It should be noted that my mother has never smoked a day in her life, and this particular form of lung cancer is a rare one which, in such an advanced state, would have been a death sentence as little as three years ago.

Fortunately, medical technology has advanced a lot in a short amount of time. The doctors explained that a drug was available that could target the cancer cells directly, attacking them much like chemotherapy without all the unpleasant side effects on healthy tissue. Those pills, combined with radiation therapy for the pelvis, should be able to shrink the tumors. It was not a cure, but if all went as expected, it should save her life and relieve most of the pain.

On the day she got her first pills from the pharmacist, she was unable to catch her breath and, nearly collapsing from lack of oxygen, had to be rushed to the hospital. The lung cancer had caused blood clots to form in her lungs, which were blocking the transmission of oxygen to the blood. She very nearly died that night, and while I immediately hopped a flight from Washington, DC to my family’s home in Georgia, I feared I would be too late.

Here again, the COVID-19 response reared its ugly head.

The hospital where my mother was kept would not allow visitors, not even close family members for short periods of time. My father couldn’t see his wife as she struggled to breathe. My sister and I couldn’t see our mother in her long hours of fear and confusion. All of us were paralyzed with the possibility that we might not get the chance to say goodbye.

Fortunately, she did survive the night and gradually stabilized, but we were still not able to see her, and the medicine she had been taking meant that she was in no shape to advocate for herself in the absence of family. One night she called us from the hospital, convinced that she had been kidnapped. Another night, she ripped the IV drip from her arm in confusion, resulting in a nasty bruise that took weeks to heal. I want to emphasize that my mother does not have any problems with dementia. She has always been the sharpest member of our family, and the confusion she was experiencing was solely the result of the opioids, which she had the presence of mind to start refusing when they were offered to her. Throughout it all, she had no one by her side to make sure she was getting the best care or to make tough decisions on her behalf. We were forbidden from going inside.

I’m pleased to say that, in my case anyway, this story has a happy ending. No longer taking the Oxycontin, my mother’s mental faculties returned, the clots in her lungs began to dissolve with the help of blood thinners, and the cancer pills and radiation began to do their work. The bone loss in her pelvis means that she is still confined to a wheelchair, and will be for some time, at least until she recovers sufficiently to pursue reconstructive surgery. But her prospects are improving daily, and we all feel very lucky.

In general, I am extremely grateful to the hardworking doctors who saved my mother’s life. But the COVID-19 policy kept her in the hospital, isolated from her loved ones, for a total of five days, during which time we could easily have lost her. If not for the government’s response to COVID-19, an MRI could have revealed the cancer months earlier and much suffering, not to mention the near miss and hospital stay, could have been avoided.

We got lucky this time, but I can’t help but think of all the families who may not be so fortunate. How many will die because of unavailable tests that fatally delay diagnoses? How many will perish alone in hospital beds while their loved ones are legally prevented from holding their hands and saying their goodbyes? How many patients will lack any meaningful form of medical advocacy as they are forced to navigate hospital procedure while alone and incapacitated? The lives lost and emotional trauma that result from these policies will probably never be known. And while the stories of COVID-19 patients are highlighted on the news every day, the patients who die as a result of the lockdowns themselves are unlikely to get a fair hearing.

I tell this story, not to minimize the dangers of the coronavirus or the suffering of those afflicted with it, but simply to point out that the government’s aggressive response has not been costless. There are some who are inclined to make flippant comments about how any opposition—indeed, any balanced discussion—of the pandemic response must only come from selfish people who value “money over lives.” It is my hope that sharing my family’s experience will cause such people to think twice before dismissing our concerns. It has never been a matter of money versus lives. It’s lives versus lives, and because of the hubris of politicians who think they know what’s best for hundreds of millions of Americans, my mother nearly lost hers.

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Logan Albright

Logan Albright is the Head Writer and Sound Engineer at Free the People. He is the author of Our Servants, Our Masters: How Control Masquerades as Assistance. Logan occasionally takes time out from his busy schedule of railing against the evils of government to play the part of musician, amateur novelist, and moustache enthusiast.

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3 comments

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  • Thanks Logan for relaying that family anecdote in support of an argument that public health officials and other bureaucrats and elected administrators are far too tightly focused on a single risk to the exclusion of all others and to the exclusion of the broad unintended consequences of actions taken to mitigate this particular risk. It is extremely disappointing and in many cases infuriating to witness and suffer the ongoing and even escalating measures being undertaken. It is clear these decision makers took the worst case scenarios and ran with them, to the exclusion of the voices of many virologists and epidemiologists who tried to counter the hysteria even before suppression measures were imposed. The MSM are largely complicit in excluding these qualified opinions and presenting only the most alarming data, e.g. cases or positive tests, not hospitalizations, keeping the population in a state of fear, demanding action. The initial ‘flatten the curve’ seems to have morphed into attempts to have zero cases, in direct contradiction of the logical expectation that the large portion of the population which will suffer no or minimal symptoms needs to be exposed in order to develop herd immunity. After all, in the normal course of events the viruses causing influenza-like illnesses end up becoming endemic at reduced levels of virulence, they don’t just ‘go away’, as the strategy of protracted avoidance by suppressive measures seems to imply.

  • Condolences for your family, what terrible luck. I lost my wife to lung cancer a decade ago, its unthinkable what horror going through the process alone would be.
    Baffling to characterize the country’s drawn out half measures as an aggressive response.. The unintended consequences of poor policy decisions are the best argument for policymakers who think through all consequences of their actions and respect science as a guideline for policy. Keep in mind the only places on the planet where life is back to relatively normal, and people can freely visit their loved ones in hospital, are the governments with the strongest, earliest responses. Maybe not coincidentally, they’ve also suffered tens of thousands fewer casualties. Doing everything over a short period of time turns out cost a lot fewer lives and ensure a lot more reliable long term Freedom than spotty flailing. The anger over our current state is misplaced in blaming hospitals for doing the only thing they can in these situations to block unchecked disease at the door. The thousands of families currently watching loved ones struggling and dying alone on Zoom are a symptom of an unchecked spread, not a somehow “too aggressive” response. If we are considering who has earned blame for this, a good start is those who raged against early action, who continued to resist mitigation efforts, and whose actions and messaging ultimately disallowed this interconnected country from making headway that would have allowed places like hospitals to operate normally. The option will never be to allow an uncurable virus to spread unchecked with no societal checks put in place. So if my options are A: 1 month of serious lockdown and going on to live in relative normalcy, or B: 18 months of half lockdown causing constant problems, where some are doing their best to curb spread while another 30 percent or so negate their efforts because of ..Freedom? I will go for the less insane, less painful Option A, EVERY time.

  • It sounds like your mom has spent this year immunocompromised and right on the edge of the age group most at risk from Coronavirus. In that case, the libertarian theory of freedom run rampant, would almost surely be a death sentence here. With no action the virus will have spread orders of magnitude more, and even if she hadn’t gone out herself, somebody would bring it back to her. A carer, a friend, even a delivery guy. Even now with the lax response here in GA I feel for her situation, as she will live the rest of this year and most of next in mortal danger of contracting the disease you seem to think would be less of a problem withot any response? I have a number of immunocompromised friends who are prisoners in their own homes for the forseaable future because the virus is at a community spread stage. What would be worse for us is infinitely worse for them. I cant see how especially in this situation, you got to the conclusion that the predicable failure of an anemic response is an argument for *less* action. Especially if the goal is keeping an endangered loved one safe from something with no available treatment. Extending prayers to your mother it sounds like she needs them.

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