family, healthcare, musings

COVID-19 has made some people MEAN… but one tragic story has given me the gift of perspective today.

I have been trying to make an effort to rant less about COVID-19, even though cases are rising in Germany again. I haven’t been in Germany since October 26th. We’re headed back there tomorrow. I look forward to going home and starting my travel series. I also look forward to seeing our dogs, whom I’ve really been missing… I think dogs are much better companions than most people are. At least they don’t judge people for getting sick, or parents for losing their children.

A few days ago, I read a post on the Recovery from Mormonism message board. It was posted by a popular board participant named Dave the Atheist. I’ve noticed that he’s been posting many articles about COVID-19, even though they’re technically off-topic. I don’t engage with Dave the Atheist much, although I’ve noticed he has a tendency to be kind of “salty”.

In any case, the story Dave posted was about a Texas mother named Amber McDaniel, who had to make the heartbreaking choice between having her 10 year old son, Zyrin Foots’s, arms and legs amputated, and an eye removed, or letting him pass away. Amber’s sister, Ashley Engmann, explained on a GoFundMe page that Zyrin contracted COVID, which weakened his immune system and made him vulnerable to other illnesses. Zyrin then contracted another virus, respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and experienced a rare and devastating COVID related complication called MIS-C, or Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome, that caused inflammation in his heart.

Due to all of these medical complications, Zyrin’s heart was unable to pump blood adequately to the rest of his body. He developed gangrene in his legs. Doctors eventually told Zyrin’s mother that the only thing they could do for her child was amputate his legs, one of his arms, and remove an eye. Even if they did that, Zyrin only had a 25 percent chance of living. But if they didn’t amputate, Zyrin would surely die.

After considering what it would be like for Zyrin’s recovery, if she decided to allow the surgeries, Amber decided to let her son die. Zyrin Foots passed on October 13, 2021, having been on life support since September 30th.

I don’t know a thing about this family, other than what I’ve read in the news and the GoFundMe campaign. I know a lot of people are jaded about fundraisers. I guess I can’t blame them for that. However, I was shocked and dismayed when I read a comment from someone on RfM that was something along the lines of “the mom will be fine” and “she still won’t get vaccinated.”

I don’t usually respond to those kinds of comments, especially on RfM. But, for some reason, I couldn’t help myself. I wrote a comment pointing out that based only on the article linked in the post, there’s no way to know how Zyrin got the virus. He lived in Huntsville, Texas, where mask and vaccine mandates aren’t popular. I did find another article that went more in depth into Zyrin’s story, written by journalist, Peter Holley. Actually, after reading the more in depth story in Texas Monthly magazine, I feel even more compassion for Amber McDaniel and her family, no matter what her stance is on COVID-19 and vaccines.

Making this situation even more heartbreaking is the fact that Zyrin was not Amber McDaniel’s first loss. Eight years ago, when she was 26 years old and six months pregnant with her third son, Zekiah, Amber was hit by a truck. Amber lost Zekiah, and she was left permanently disabled and unable to work. In that accident, Amber lost the use of her right hand and was left with one leg shorter than the other. For months, she was fed through a tube. She can’t drive, although she walks everywhere she can. She now only has one living son, nine year old Zaiden, and no insurance coverage to help pay for the massive medical and funeral bills.

I know people are tired of COVID-19, and they’re fed up with entitled attitudes from people who refuse to get vaccinated and deny the existence of the pandemic. I understand that it’s frustrating when people won’t cooperate to arrest this sickness so we can all go back to a more normal life. I just don’t understand why someone would respond to this story with so much anger and vitriol toward someone they presumably don’t even know… someone who had already suffered tremendous loss and tragedy even before COVID-19 existed.

Pastor Philip A. Hagans, a father of four, has been supporting McDaniels and her family as they cope with losing Zyrin in such a horrifying way. He’s mentioned in the Texas Monthly article I linked. From Peter Holley’s article:

A few days after Zyrin’s passing, Hagans, a father of four boys who range from seven to seventeen years old, told me he was struggling with the child’s death, not just because he was sad, but also because he was frustrated. Huntsville had always been the kind of place, he said, where people looked out for one another. But that same thoughtfulness didn’t seem to extend to concerns about COVID-19, even though Walker County has experienced nearly 12,000 cases and lost 181 residents to the virus. Some Huntsville residents were still not masking around vulnerable neighbors and family members. Others, he said, were sending kids to school with COVID-19 symptoms because it was more convenient than keeping them at home. That selfish behavior, he said, may have gotten Zyrin killed, and Hagans couldn’t understand it. “I chose to keep my kids home when they tested positive for COVID, and yes, it interrupted my schedule and my wife’s schedule,” Hagans said. “But I’d rather do that than allow them to get someone else sick whose body can’t bounce back and they end up losing their life like Zyrin—all because I didn’t want to miss work? That’s a disgrace.” 

It’s not just in Huntsville, Texas where people have become mean-spirited, disrespectful, and selfish. This attitude has been spreading for the past several years, but it seems to have gotten worse in the Trump era. Perfect strangers assume the worst about someone based on things like their political beliefs or tragedies that affect them. Social media makes it worse, of course. It’s so much easier now to read a story about someone and make assumptions about their choices or their characters. Everybody does it, including me.

Reading about Zyrin Foots has made me wish for a time when it was much harder to get bad news. On the other hand, his story has also made me stop and ponder my own attitudes about things. In fact, just now, Bill came back from picking up croissants at the grocery store. He discovered that there aren’t any napkins or paper towels in the kitchen of our guest house, and was grumbling about using toilet paper instead. It struck me as ridiculous that he was complaining about that, even though Bill is generally a much kinder and more considerate person than I am. So I just explained to him that, right now, having read this story about Amber McDaniel and the horrifying choice she had to make, I wasn’t in a place in which I could really complain about a lack of paper towels. The fact is, we’ve been on a marvelous vacation together, and we are so lucky on so many levels.

In any case, it’s hard for me to imagine that so much tragedy was in the cards for someone… but I have known other people who have dealt with similarly tragic and horrible events in their lives. I often forget their stories when I’m faced with inconveniences or annoyances, or when I am feeling depressed or anxious. But even as I write this, I realize that it’s probably fleeting insight. Because I know that I might soon forget this story and complain about traffic, or a lack of paper towels, or the fact that I hate to vacuum. When it comes down to it, petty annoyances are just that.

As for Amber McDaniel and the choice she made, I think ultimately, she did the kindest and most humane thing should could do in this situation. In the unlikely event that her son had lived, he would have spent the rest of his life battling horrific health problems. And those problems, I’m sad to say, would have been a tremendous burden to his already highly burdened family, as well as to Zyrin himself.

Imagine being ten years old, having been perfectly healthy and brimming with promise, with dreams of one day being a great chef. Then, thanks to a novel virus, you’re left unable to walk, use your arms, see clearly, or go to the restroom without help. Think about the effect that would have had on every aspect of that child’s life, and his future. I know not everyone would see it the way I do… plenty of people have these lofty ideas that people with such severe and devastating disabilities can somehow overcome them and be an inspiration to others. I know that sometimes, that does happen. But the chances of it happening were definitely not in this child’s favor. Either way, death was in Zyrin’s future, just as it is in every person’s future.

Add in the fact that Amber McDaniel is herself significantly disabled and lacks resources… and she lives in a state where people aren’t all that interested in helping the poor and unlucky. Texas is also a grotesquely pro life state, to the point at which it has even forced a pregnant woman in a coma to be kept on life support, though the developing fetus was significantly deformed and would not have survived, even if he had been delivered.

It must have seemed like a heart-wrenching decision for Amber McDaniel to let her beloved son go. And yet, practically speaking, it probably was the best decision she could make. Because if Zyrin had lived, life would have been significantly more difficult for him, and everyone in his sphere, including his nine year old brother. Sometimes, death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person.

Anyway… I decided to write about this story because I had read that nasty comment on RfM. As someone who has a tendency toward depression, it really disheartens me to read flippant comments from people who make the worst assumptions about those who have suffered loss or misfortune. It seems like so many people want to assume that anyone who is unlucky somehow deserves it. I even saw that attitude last year, when Jonny, our would-be new dog, escaped his pet taxi and got hit by a car. I never even had a chance to pet him before he was gone. People judged me personally for making that comment, and for the fact that he escaped. They didn’t know the facts, nor did they know me. They just judged… although, to the credit of the German people, once I explained things more fully to the ones who were blaming Bill and me, they came around.

I would like to hope that people might come around in this case and not judge Amber McDaniel for anything. Whatever her opinions were about COVID-19 before this happened, I’m sure they are forever changed now. And regardless, she has suffered profound losses that the vast majority of us will never have to try to fathom. I think she deserves all of the grace in the world, especially right now. I wish her nothing but peace and comfort.

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