Discovering pretty quickly how much coronavirus hits home


All of our mothers are very special women. I’ve been lucky to have had two in my life: My mom, Rose Brendel, who still lives in the small Pennsylvania town I grew up in, and whom I love and adore. And my stepmother, Helen, who is in her 90s and fighting dementia in Florida, but is still cherished by all of us in her extended family.

Gary Axelbank and his siblings had an amazing mother as well. Muriel “Mickey” Axelbank, who left us over the weekend following complications from the virus that causes COVID-19. I couldn’t even begin to describe how much Mickey’s family loved her, and how her influence has been felt for multiple generations. You can read everything about her straight from the family on Page A11.

Mickey is one of more than 10,000 people SARS-CoV-2 has claimed. And it’s 10,000 too many. It’s hard to imagine the direct impact a disease like this has until it hits close to home. I worry about my mom every day. I worry about my stepmom. I worry about my dad who can only visit Helen through a fence at the hospice she’s living in. Every day he rides his trike there, hoping the weather is nice enough for her to be in the courtyard.

On March 22, COVID-19 became especially real to me, even though I hadn’t realized it yet. I woke up that day with a very stuffy head, and a low-grade fever that got progressively worse through the day.

I wasn’t too shocked — spring had started, trees were budding, and of course my allergies were going to act up.

By the time our production deadline ended that Tuesday evening, my head had cleared up, but my fever had worsened. I blamed it on the Sudafed, which took care of my stuffiness, but for whatever reasons ignored my fever. And I kept blaming the meds until Thursday, when my fever still hadn’t dissipated, and my head cold was now a distant memory.

I talked to a doctor over the phone. I had symptoms consistent with COVID-19, but as long as my fever stayed under control and I didn’t develop pneumonia, it was better for me to ride it out at home. It wasn’t even worth giving me the test, saving them for those who were in worse shape and may need immediate medical attention.

My fever finally broke a week later, just in time for another production deadline. And I felt that I was in the clear. Except I wasn’t. I lost my senses, replaced with a mouth that tasted like I was licking lead poles, and a constant smell I can only describe as “old celery.” My energy was completely gone, forcing me to sleep more than I was awake.

Thanks to our great editorial and sales teams, we were still able to get a newspaper out that week, but even as I write these words a week after my fever broke, I am still waiting for my energy to return.

Many of us dismissed this virus when it first started to poke its way into the United States, including me. We’ve been through this before — SARS, MERS, even Ebola sounded all these alarms, but fizzled out into a bunch of nothing. Surely, this new coronavirus was going to do the same thing, right?

Wrong. Very wrong.

Sadly, we haven’t even seen the worst of this yet, even here in New York. Yet, there are still many who won’t take this seriously. Sure, many of us will end up contracting it — that’s a given.

But what Gov. Andrew Cuomo and public health officials in both the city and state are trying to achieve is “flattening the curve.” That means that, yes, many of us will get sick, but hopefully not all at the same time, in a way that completely overwhelms our hospitals.

Hopefully by the time you read these words, I’m fully back in the saddle, leading our team to get news in your hands. But journalists are just a few of the people on the front lines — and we’re not even the most important ones. That’s, without question, our doctors, nurses, technicians — everyone working in the medical field.

Then there are the police, paramedics, firefighters. Those who continue selling vital goods in their stores. Those who deliver those very goods to our doors. The men and women driving our buses, engineering our trains, keeping their cab or Uber on the road, ready to pick us up.

The applause and cheering I hear outside my Kingsbridge Heights window each night for all these people is special in its own way. But if we really want to thank each and every one of these people, then it’s quite simple what we must do: Stay away from other people, especially vulnerable people. Play the most important role of all in fighting this pandemic — just stay home.

My advice to you is the same now as it was a few weeks ago the last time I spoke to you directly: Be safe. Be a good neighbor. And be well.

The author is editor of The Riverdale Press.


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Michael Hinman, coronavirus, COVID-19,