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  • Writer's pictureM. Linda Graham

The First Thing We Do is Inhale: praying for a warrior on the coronavirus front

Updated: Mar 31, 2020

Most families have someone in the family -a sister-in-law, a cousin- who’s a healthcare provider. Most families have also been rocked over the last decade with the increasing tension of political divides. My family is like most.

My brother Dan and I are opposites who are the same in many ways. Of six children, we are both “seconds” – he’s second from the oldest, I’m second from the youngest. He lives in Florida, I live in Michigan. Dan lives in a town, I live in the country. Dan has more degrees and certifications than anyone else in our well educated family, has joyfully travelled internationally, and in a different time and place could have been a professional performer. He is astonishing in his physicality, capable of doing a standing back flip at the age of 50. After being a mover and shaker with his local community theatre for many years, Dan joined a dojo in his 50s and earned his black belt in karate by his mid-60s. He skis on frozen or warm waters, and used to scuba dive; he even did some underwater rescue work. I share some of that physicality, becoming a professional dancer before a long career as a dance professor/choreographer in higher education. I hold multiple degrees, and have travelled internationally. I could continue listing the commonalities and differences but I think you get the point. However, political differences became sticky between us several years ago. I’m a modern moderate progressive, which in conservative West Michigan makes me an artsy-fartsy elitist commie snowflake liberal. Dan is a gun-toting, climate-change denying MAGA hat wearing right-leaning Republican. You can imagine what went down between us in 2016.

Although he owned a small medical supply company for many years (which possibly reinforced the Republican-ism), Dan’s primary training, life-long career and current work in semi-retirement has been as a respiratory therapist. Working two to three 12hr shift days per week for a nearby hospital has provided for him and his. He rarely discusses his work unless directly asked, preferring to talk about home repairs. When visiting many years ago, I noticed Dan seemed a bit down. I asked what happened, and he sighed “Oh, I had a lot of people die on me today.” [“A lot” = 10+]. I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to have someone under my hand exhale into stillness.

The first thing we do when we enter this world is inhale. The last thing we do as we leave it is exhale. And Dan is there, dedicated to helping people of all ages – premature babies to centenarians- inhale and exhale. Alpha to Omega.

As the coronavirus begins to spread its dark, ugly contagious wings in Florida, my casually courageous 66yr old brother is working more, doing what he does best. Last Sunday he mentioned that he’d worked five 12hr shift days in a row, and they’d had several COVID-19 patients – one confirmed case, plus two men under 40 with no pre-existing conditions who had the symptoms but for whatever reason weren’t being tested or treated for it. Through the discussion, he adhered to a Fox-news style line, espousing [strictly my opinion] a combination of poo-pooing, drawing false-equivalents and a dose of denial. He also pragmatically mentioned that, given the lack of testing, the focus of resources needed to be on care, adding that they don’t have enough ventilators. He won’t complain or cast blame, although I wonder if this would be the same given a Democrat in the White House, and I hold my tongue [for now] about the Trump administration. I am intrigued to see where our thinking will be when we get to the other side of this pandemic. I pray we are both here for the discussion.

But now, we are facing an uphill pandemic curve, and my brother’s life will soon become more complicated than it was last week. While he’s not taken care of many COVID-19 patients yet, it is likely he will, given the current trend in Florida. He says he’s taking all due precautions to prevent infection, but while I am social-distancing into repetitive days that smack of Ground Hog’s Day in their redundancy, my MAGA hat wearing brother is on the frontline, saving lives with limited equipment and insufficient resources. For all the ferocity of our differences, I admire and love him fiercely. Alpha to Omega.

Let’s keep breathing, and say a prayer for those who help us do so.

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