There’s a bit of a family joke that my grandmother’s birth on the final day of June in 1929 caused a shockwave that would cause the stock market to crash. If you’ve met my grandmother, M, you’d know that she’s a force to reckon with, a woman with an infectious zeal for life, and she’s never met a storm on Lake Huron she can’t contend with. Despite having macular degeneration she reads more than most, and given the chance she’ll pitch a baseball to her great-grandchildren, and nothing gives her more joy than sitting on her deck on a rugged island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula watching the waves roll by. She likes Montana, too.
Her presence is alluring, and she loves to entertain, regaling family and friends with stories of her childhood, of the many adventures she’s had on the water, and she’s also not afraid to talk about the losses she’s suffered, the heartache of sudden death, the cruelness of cancer and diseases that would launch most mortals into despair. When she laughs, tells jokes, and talks about Queen Elizabeth with great gusto, you entirely forget that she’s 92 years old.
When my phone buzzed before 4 a.m. last Saturday morning, I knew something was wrong. My grandmother had fallen in the middle of the night and was taken by ambulance to Logan Health. She had broken her hip and required surgery.
Whether you like it or not, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. Actually, Montana and the Flathead Valley continue to claim an undesirable top spot in the nation for a significant rise in positive coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. The pandemic could be close to being “over” in a sense, or at least not continue to spread like wildfire and cause so much pain and heartache. If only more people would get the shot, protecting themselves and others my grandmother wouldn’t have found herself in an unfinished ward because the hospital is at capacity.
I wasn’t surprised that my grandmother was exceeding expectations for recovery, surprising her medical team as well. What was surprising and absolutely devastating was that because she was doing so well, she was transferred to the overflow post operation ward, a concrete floor with exposed ceilings and makeshift rooms, if you want to call them that, without their own bathrooms. This overflow unit is the unfinished third floor at the Montana Children’s Hospital. This is not where anyone, especially our beloved family members who are fully vaccinated, should be transferred for recovery.
Welcome to Kalispell, where personal responsibility trumps anything else, and people are dying.
M is home now, and she will need a lot of physical and occupational therapy to help her recover. She doesn’t have any ill feelings toward the hospital team who cared for her, knowing that they were forced to wheel her into that temporary structure with its bare floors, lack of privacy, and makeshift bathrooms because this pandemic rages on due to failed political leadership and a horrific virus of conspiracy and disinformation. The health care workers were amazed by her, loved her stories, and she made them laugh. She’s tenacious and strong, determined and fierce.
When I visited her before she was discharged, she was sitting in a chair, at the far end of the floor, looking out the window as the sun warmed the morning. The construction plastic billowed against the blown insulation, and she quietly sat alone. I greeted her and she looked at me and said, “This doesn’t have to be this way.”
She’s absolutely right.
This doesn’t have to be this way, whatsoever, but until more people roll up their sleeves and get the shot, more people like my grandmother who need emergency medical care will have to settle for less.
Maggie Doherty is the owner of Kalispell Brewing Company on Main Street.
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