This year has changed everyone’s lives in so many ways. But for those who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, battled the disease themselves, or worked on the front lines, 2020 has been a tragedy.
Michigan Radio has been telling the stories of those we lost, those who fought, and those who survived this year. Here are some of those stories:
Remembered as a passionate patient advocate, a matriarch who boosted early morning morale by cracking jokes and wasn't afraid to ruffle feathers, Ewald is believed to be one of the first known healthcare workers in Michigan to die from complications related to the virus.
It’s been difficult to honor those who have passed due to COVID-19 with social distancing guidelines making memorial gatherings impossible. Rochelle Riley, the director of arts and culture for the city of Detroit wanted to change that.
Born on Christmas Day, Santa Staples was a masterful nurse who ran the operating room with military precision, showing up at 3:30 a.m. on her day off to handle a particularly complex surgery. Not one to suffer fools, she had a flintiness that could intimidate even the neurosurgeons.
"These people get so sick. The ones that get sick get so, so sick. Every system in their body shuts down. Our last, last resort is to put people on a ventilator. We are only doing it now if we absolutely have to. And they’re not gonna fare well, usually, if they get put on a ventilator. Outcomes are not good.”
Jerry Zeiger tested positive for COVID on a Tuesday. He is 73. Outside his screened window, the woman he shared truckstop coffee with on their first date teeters on a step ladder on a raw November day. Unable to touch her husband, Melanie Zeiger interlaces her fingers in the tubing connected to her own small oxygen tank.
“Our hearts are intertwined forever, Jerry,” she tells him.
Fourteen year old Honestie Hodges passed away Sunday, from complications of COVID-19. Friends and family held a vigil Monday night. And Hodges, now departed, carried her city’s grief one more time.
“It has been so stressful and chaotic and heartbreaking, to say the least,” says one worker who helps treat COVID patients at Mercy Health Muskegon. “You have to put aside the tears, the heartbreak, because that’s when your patients need you the most. You kind of have to put aside everything to focus on them.”
Rebecca Meyer lives in Kalamazoo. She was a healthy 31-year-old when she got COVID in March. It’s been eight months since then. And she’s still sick. She uses a feeding tube every day. Sometimes she can’t get out of bed. She has four kids ages seven to 13, but she hasn’t been able to play with them for a while.
"I can't go out and throw a football, I can't go out and play with my kids, I can't because then I'm in bed for a week."
"I wish I could go door to door and tell everybody how real this is. That we might have a bed for you. We might have a nurse for you. But it's going to be unlike anything we've ever seen in a hospital setting. And it's going to be a real challenge to give you the care that we want to give you because of how sick people are."
“Those first few months were rough. I didn't have the shortness of breath so much, but the cough lasted probably about six, six weeks. My sense of taste and smell finally started to come back maybe two, three months later. Oh and the fatigue, the fatigue was… I try to look for a word or a way to describe it. And at first on the inside, it felt like my body was trying to make energy and it just couldn't.”
“When we're talking about a pandemic, we're talking about not just protecting yourself and your family, but protecting your neighbors, protecting your community. And the fact that people are not able to wear a simple mask to protect their more vulnerable neighbors is, it's enraging. I'm mad.”
"But I don't know if COVID has taken time off my life expectancy. So I treat every day as a gift. So every day that I wake up and I'm able to be with my family...and do my job. I consider it to be a blessing."
“I have to tell you, man, it's been a very dark, dark, dark, dark year.”