Life is funny. Who would have thought something that brought the world so much pain and anguish ten years ago, could bring us such joy and happiness today? Lori is six years old, and she’s an amazing child. Same brown blonde hair and dark brown eyes like her mom. My beautiful wife, Laurel, stands beside her with our two-year-old son, Richie in her arm. I am the one operating the camera, capturing the happy occasion. There are a few other kids around, neighbors, friends from Lori’s school.
Lori is about to blow the candles on her birthday cake.
“Make a wish dear!” I say. Lori closes her eyes, tight. She makes the wish, then blow the lit candles with all her might. Everyone applauds.
“Good job!” Laurel says, “You blew out everything in one go!”
“Does that mean my wish will come true?”
“I should think so!” Laurel responds.
“Then one day, I am going to be a doctor just like daddy and find the cure for cancer!”
The happy grin on my face is instantly reduced to a sad smile. Laurel and I lock eyes. We understand Lori’s wish. My father died from pancreatic cancer a few weeks before. It was a short, horrid fight for his life. And the memory takes me back to the time I met Lori’s mother.
Darn it! I am going to be late. It was my day off, and I had a dental appointment. Somehow, I had lost track of time. It was a beautiful day in West Palm Beach. The time was February 2020, and Donald Trump was President of the United States. I sped along Okeechobee Boulevard, enjoying the feel of the wind tearing through my short chestnut brown hair. I adjusted my sunglasses as I approached the stoplight. The light switched to green and I quickly made a right unto 24th Street when a white car comes out of nowhere and crashes into the left side of my car! Like what the hell!
I jumped out of my new silver Porsche sportscar. The taillights were all smashed in. The back side was crushed. A tall slim lady in a blue suit gets out of the white car, and I let her have it!
“Are you blind?!” I shouted.
“You hit me you jerk!” came the sharp retort.
“I hit you! Are you kidding me? The light was green for me lady!”
“No! Don’t. I had the yellow!” She snapped.
“That means proceed with caution!” I informed her.
She looked at her small white Hyundai and screamed. The front of her car looked worse than mine.
“Name and number please?” I said.
“My car!” She cried.
There were tears in her eyes. And I thought, was she really going to do this? Cry. Like a baby. I didn’t have time for this nonsense. “Can I have your contact information please?” I asked.
She looked up at me and screamed, “Bite me!”
I missed my dental appointment due to that Laurel girl who had wrecked my car.
After another heated argument, we did end up exchanging contact information. Her name was Laurel Evans. I reported the matter to the police. She was clearly in the wrong but didn’t want to admit it. I was real angry. It was a new car! And she attempted to cry over, over…that piece of junk she drove!
I told my close friend Trevor about the entire incident at a get together at his place later that night. Trevor was a Neurologist at the hospital where I worked. I specialized in internal medicine, and I worked in the ER. Trevor’s three-bedroom home was exquisite. It sat on a vast botanical property with a roomy driveway and chandeliers glowed from each room.
“I am sorry about your car. That’s horrible. Just glad no one was injured.” Trevor commented.
“Yeah.” I responded.
“Try not to think about it. Remember, tonight I am introducing you to Tonya, that beautiful Psychologist I was telling you about. She should be here any minute.”
“Yeah.” I said again. I swirled the ice around in my Gin and coke. I was no longer in the mood to meet anyone, but Trevor swears this girl was worth the effort.
We joined in on a conversation with some other medical professionals. They were talking about the new Coronavirus epidemic that was showing up across the world. There were already sixty-five cases in America. Thankfully, no reported deaths as yet. We were of course deeply concerned. The virus was so bad in Wuhan, China, that the province had been on lockdown since January. There was a deep foreboding among us, of what could happen globally, if we didn’t get this epidemic under control.
“Richard.” Trevor had called my name. I turned to face him, “meet Tonya.”
My heart literally slammed into my chest. Not because of the pretty half Indian, half Caucasian girl that Trevor wanted me to meet. But right beside her, stood Laurel. The woman I hoped never to see again.
I stared into Laurel’s cool brown eyes and swallowed. She cleaned up nicely. She was actually…hmmm… very attractive.
“Richard!” Trevor brought me out of my shock.
“Hi Tonya! Nice to meet you.” I said, automatic.
“Same here. I heard a lot about you from Trevor.” Tonya said with a sweet smile.
“Yes, I hear you work a lot with high school kids in the Miami Dade area?” I tried to ignore the girl standing next to her. Tonya and I started talking, and both Trevor and Laurel slipped away.
Tonya and I chatted for a while, but my thoughts were constantly on Laurel. Everyone here, was a professional in some way or the other. Why was Laurel here? I was curious and as soon as I got the chance, I went over to her at the desert station. Laurel stood beside the table, looking lonely. Tonya seemed to have ditched her.
“Are you stalking me?” I said as I picked up a salted caramel cookie with a napkin.
“You wish.” Laurel answered, pursing her lips.
“Twice in one day. That’s unusual don’t you think?” I inquired.
“Yes. Just stupid odds, I guess. Are you a doctor?”
“Yes I am. Are you?”
“Nope!” She responded, looking at everything else except me.
“So, you are just here with Tonya?”
“Yes!” She quipped.
“Are you visiting? Your car had a Massachusetts plate on it.” I queried.
“Maybe. Why so many questions? You have no clue how to treat out of towners,” She said, all haughty.
“It’s simple. Learn how to drive.” I said, casually staring at her in that red blouse, tight jeans with matching red high heel slippers. Red nail polish too.
“Don’t worry being a doctor and all, I am pretty sure you have good insurance.”
“Don’t you?” I replied.
“No, I don’t. Not everyone is as financially okay as you. That’s why it’s so easy for you to be an insensitive prick!”
“Insensitive prick.” Her words sat with me throughout the night. Later, I would learn that Laurel had fallen on hard times. She had lost her job as a physical therapist and was looking to make a fresh start in Florida. She was staying with her friend Tonya, until she found a job. Laurel had just arrived in Palm Beach the day before the accident. I thought of her crying when she saw her bent up old car and thought what an insensitive jerk I truly was. There was no way she could afford to fix my car…and hers. What type of car insurance did she have anyway? It didn’t matter. I decided not to pursue anything further on the matter. I would cover the cost of fixing my car. In the meantime, she needed something to drive around in.
I called her. The conversation was short. Laurel thanked me for not pursuing the matter further, even though the accident supposedly “was my fault.” Laurel said she was good and had gotten a car to borrow. I was both angry and disappointed. She broke the red traffic light, trying to squeeze the nothing that was left on the yellow and still, wouldn’t take responsibility. Grant you, I should have seen her coming, but I didn’t. Yet I wanted to help her. I wanted to see her again.
Tonya, and I spoke occasionally over the next few months. Thankfully, she seemed totally disinterested in being more than an acquaintance. I figured she grew indifferent, given all the horrible things Laurel may have told her, since the accident. But that didn’t matter. For whatever reason, I remained curious about Laurel. Talking to Tonya, was the only way to find out how Laurel was doing.
The coronavirus epidemic had turned into a pandemic. In the meantime, it was the middle of April. There were approximately eighteen million coronavirus infections globally. Florida, along with many States across the US was under a state-wide lockdown. My physician colleagues in New York and neighboring states had their hands filled with coronavirus cases and deaths. Hospitals were nearing capacity of covid patients only. Even in Britain, the Prime Minister was hospitalized with the virus. It was a horror story all around. New York had on average seven hundred deaths daily. Thank goodness, that wasn’t happening in Florida.
Laurel got a job where she worked with several senior homes in the Palm Beach and Broward communities. She was doing much better and moved out of Tonya’s home. I wished she didn’t cross my mind as often as she did. But I sometimes wondered if she was okay. Was she safe?
At thirty-three years old, I guessed I should be settled. Many of my friends were married or in serious relationships. But apart from my ex-girlfriend Lindsay, who I dated all through medical school, I have never found anyone I took seriously. Lindsay and I broke up when she decided to move to South Africa to pursue her dream job. She was now a top-notch surgeon there.
The State of Florida continued to be doing well, as opposed to states like California, Wisconsin and North Carolina. New York was doing much better by early May. My work colleagues and I were worried about Florida however, given the lag in us shutting down the State and adhering to proper social distancing measures. We were the first to open very aggressively all businesses like masseuse parlors, gyms and movie theatres. And we had so many out of towners coming to our beaches, especially over the Memorial Day Weekend. The virus was out there. Waiting. It was just a matter of time.
Palm Beach had a large senior population. All of Florida in general, had an aging population. So, we were all very concerned about the spike of covid cases that we were seeing at our local hospital by May. Persons had difficulty breathing, some had chest pains, some were confused and easily tired, others just couldn’t move. It was like their bodies froze and they were rushed to the ER in an ambulance. I was seeing critically ill patients daily. Hospital beds were filling up fast. Too fast. We were hearing similar stories of terror in other cities.
After the human carnage that the virus had wrought on New York, Italy, Spain and Brazil, we medical professionals in Florida felt like sitting ducks, waiting for the Tsunami to strike. Yet, on the surface things seemed manageable. And there were several COVID vaccination trials being worked on. But too many people came to the hospital with possible covid symptoms, and because they weren’t tested and their symptoms didn’t seem life threatening, we sent them home. We requested that they quarantine for fourteen days.
My main concern with the residents of Palm Beach was that they acted like the virus did not exist. No mask. No social distancing. No care for anything. Life was the same. Palm Beach became one huge hangout spot. There was little effort to flatten the pandemic curve, while my colleagues in Miami Dade consistently were seeing more than a tick in cases. By late June, they had a hurricane of COVID patients and we in Palm Beach weren’t fearing much better.
I had always wanted to be a doctor. I was passionate about saving lives. The field of medicine had always been a demanding profession but lately, my mind and body felt tired. It hurt to be a doctor during COVID. I was in a battle, and no matter what I did, I was losing…losing badly. One by one, COVID patients in my care were dying, even the young. Medical professionals in all COVID battle ground spots were feeling the same.
Going into the hospital every day, felt like rushing into a war zone. You never knew what challenges the virus would bring that day. It was the not knowing that made things so difficult. The fear and uncertainty. I called all my family and close friends to speak to them about the seriousness of the virus. I begged them to take all the necessary precautions. This thing wasn’t a joke. And then, when I was all done calling everyone important in my life, I thought of her. I have never called her since she moved out of Tonya’s place. I dug around, until I found Laurel’s number.
“Hi,” Laurel’s calm voice reached me through the phone.
“Hi.” I said, equally pleasant.
“How are you Mr. McGinty?” She inquired, using my surname.
“I prefer to be called Richard thanks. And I am doing okay.” I said, hoarse.
“I don’t believe you Richard.”
Why didn’t she believe me? I laughed, trying to soothe the tension, “I just wanted to know how you were doing?”
“I. Am. Okay. I work with several senior care homes in West Palm and Broward areas. And the seniors are just a joy to work with. They keep me smiling. I love going to work.” Laurel said.
At least one of us was happy going to work. “Have you come in contact with anyone with the virus?” I asked.
“Yes.” Laurel sighed. “Two of my friends passed on. A husband and wife in their eighties. It was an awful experience. The wife went first, and then the husband after. Just horrible.” Laurel responded.
“I’m sorry to hear. This virus is bad Laurel. It’s putting a strain on our hospital resources. If in a few weeks’ things don’t ease, we’ll be out of ICU beds, and we’ll have to delay other critical surgeries.”
“I heard. Oh, my goodness, things are really that bad over there?”
“Well, it’s getting worst week by week.” I told her.
“It must be so difficult for you and everyone at the hospital. Oh Richard, you guys really are our heroes. What would we do without you being on the front lines?” Laurel lamented.
Her words struck a chord, and I grew concerned. I was a bit luckier than some of my colleagues who had families to go home to. The nurses, janitors, other hospital workers had spouses and kids. I had no one except my parents and a brother who practiced Law in the Cayman Islands. I thought I was lucky, until I heard Laurel’s concern for everyone’s wellbeing, except her own. Her job was equally as risky, yet she did it with selfless duty.
“Aren’t you afraid when you go out there, Laurel?” I asked.
“No. I am too busy being thankful to God for a job in the middle of this pandemic. So many people are out of work right now, depending on foodbanks. Don’t know how they are going to pay bills. That was me when I met you Richard. I was out of a job for months before moving here. Things were very hard, trust me. When I hit you that day, I was on my way to a job interview. A job that I desperately needed.”
“I am sorry about how I acted that day Laurel.” I said, meaning every word.
“I am sorry too. I wasn’t very kind.” She offered.
“You shouldn’t have to be. I acted like an insensitive jerk.” I maintained.
“And I wasn’t much better!” She laughed. I loved her melodic laughter.
“Still Laurel, you should be careful. The virus has been ravaging senior centers from coast to coast. You really have to operate with the utmost care.”
“I do. I am always in my mask. And the homes are properly sanitized.” Laurel said.
“Do you have adequate personal protective equipment?” I inquired.
Laurel hesitated and my head antennas went berserk.
So, it turned out Laurel did not always have the proper safety equipment. She sometimes wore garbage bags as coverings. But defended her employers, saying PPEs were needed for people like me, the doctors and nurses who care for covid patients directly. Somehow, this angered me, as a physical therapist also cared for patients and was equally at risk. Things were getting bad in Florida. Laurel wasn’t doing all she could to keep herself safe. I made a mental note to send her a few supplies from the hospital. We didn’t have enough, but at least she could be somewhat safe for a few weeks until things blew over.
Things never blew over. Instead, the COVID 19 crises intensified throughout the State. Hospital staff were getting sick with the virus. I worked long shifts and helped at other hospitals. I never got the chance to send Laurel the PPEs, and Broward county where Laurel worked, was seeing record numbers of infections daily. I kept going as long as I could. Doctors, at the hospital got tested regularly for the virus. There were times I was sure I caught COVID 19, but my tests always came back negative.
I dragged myself to hospital duty one evening in mid-July. There was a nice warm breeze outside, and, on this weekday, I welcomed the steady banging of cooking pans that often greeted us when there was a shift change at the hospital. The pans were knocked by people who lived in apartments close to the hospital for hospital personnel. It was their way of appreciating the arduous work that we did. We needed that encouragement. Seeing people die at the rate that we did, was grueling.
I changed into my medical gear, head covering, face shield, overall, everything that could hopefully protect me from the virus. I then checked through the chart of new corona cases patients at the ER registration desk. One case jumped out at me immediately. Laurel Evans. No! no! no! I ran to the patient’s treatment room.
I pulled back the blue curtain. It was Laurel alright. She was lying in bed, looking distressed. She had an IV stuck in her vein. There was a nurse with her. I noted there were no breathing tubes which was a good sign. I asked the nurse about the patient, and she advised me that Laurel had a severe cough and struggled to breathe. She drove herself to the hospital, where they admitted her immediately and administered care. Laurel had barfed and was able to breathe a bit better afterwards. While the nurse was speaking, Laurel coughed, a recognizable dry cough. I quickly felt her forehead. She had a fever.
“a hundred and fourteen degrees,” the nurse advised. I nodded. The nurse left to check on another patient.
“Richard, is that you, looking like an astronaut?” Laurel asked with a weak smile.
“Yes, it’s me! Laurel, I am sorry. We’ll take good care of you… okay.” I empathized.
“Thank you.” Laurel whispered.
“How long have you been sick?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Yesterday, I felt weird. Sore throat and I was coughing. And today… I had some muscle… pain. And I had a fever. I knew something was wrong. I went to Musgrave Memorial and…they…they sent me back home. I went…went back home but could hardly breathe…” She could barely speak. I didn’t want her talking anymore so I finished the sentence for her.
“You couldn’t breathe so you drove here instead of going back to Musgrave.” Laurel nodded. “Wise decision.” I said, hating Musgrave for doing this. How could they be so stupid as to send Laurel home.
“Richard, I…” Laurel was saying something.
“Try not to speak,” I said flustered, adjusting her IV drip.
“My…my family…doesn’t know…I may not make it…”
“You will be okay.” I promised. All the signs were good so far, although I had to review her chart to be sure. We may have to run some tests.
“You are a good guy Rich. I am happy you are…here.” She whispered.
I laughed. It felt so good to hear her say that. For whatever reason, I thought about her all the time lately, she is special.
“And I’m happy to be here. You know, I happen to like you alot Miss Evans. What do you say when you’re all better again, I take you out on an actual date?”
Laurel smiled, “Hmmm…I would like that. But this is…im-important Richard. Let my family know that I love them…and that I was ready…when God came for me, I was ready.”
What was she saying? Ready for what? “Laurel you are not dying today. I won’t allow that to happen.”
Laurel chuckled, “It’s not what you say, it’s what Jesus says.”
What!!! Suddenly, I really, really, really wanted to see her chart.
“Rich…you’ve been working too hard…carrying so much on your shoulders…please take care…” those were her last words. She struggled to say them. Her skin was pale. Laurel was going into respiratory arrest.
““Code blue! Code blue!” my voice thundered, while applying chest compressions. Within seconds, the code blue alarm was activated, and Laurel’s room was filled with code blue responders. We had all become experts at this, during the pandemic. Laurel’s face was covered with an oxygen mask and we rushed her to the ICU unit where she would be incubated. I was with her the entire time. She was not alone. The God she worshipped had better come through.
The hours of staying with Laurel while she slept turned into days. I worked and checked on her as often as I could. I told the entire ICU team that she was a special friend and should be monitored closely. Of course, everyone knew Laurel was special, I lived at the hospital for days while Laurel was incubated. I never went home. I was by her bed side, checking her vitals, talking to her and holding her hand. My brave, fearless nurses did the same. Laurel was family.
Back then in July 2020, I did not know that I would fall in love with Laurel Evans, someday marry her, and she will be the mother of my children. I just knew she was special. If she died, something inside me would die too. I would have lost someone extremely important. I did what every hospital visitor did when a loved one was in a life-threatening situation, I prayed. Laurel was a healthy twenty-seven-year-old woman. She deserved all the chances in the world. I passed on her final message to her family through Tonya, who would let them know Laurel’s precarious predicament. The team and I did everything we could to save her, but like what Laurel said before she went under, her life was in God’s hands.
I wasn’t at the hospital when the miracle happened. Laurel had woken up seven days after being incubated. The chief physician had kicked me out of her room, demanding that I go home and get some rest. I was lying in my bed when I got the call. I felt like God had removed a huge burden from my shoulders. Laurel was awake. Doctors, nurses, the support staff all celebrated.
They also celebrated at our wedding a year later. We invited everyone who was part of Laurel’s recovery to our virtual live stream wedding. Though, there was a vaccine for the virus, like a bad smell, the virus lingered. Only family members and a few friends could attend our wedding, in person.
I lift my beautiful birthday girl from the floor and kiss her on the cheek, “You’re going to find a cure for cancer?” I ask.
“Yes daddy. A cure for cancer and all the bad diseases out there that hurt people!” Lori responds.
“Do that girl. And you will be one of the greatest gifts to humanity!” I laugh, giving the future doctor a hi five!