by Kellen Squire
There comes a time every year- round about October- when you’re busily going about your day, minding your own business, and then, suddenly… you hear it. Softly. Playing from a radio somewhere in the distance:
I don’t want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
And you think – ahhh, jeez. The season has shifted already. You can maybe ignore it for awhile. Pretend you didn’t hear it. But it’s inevitably coming- and it will overwhelm you before you’re ready for it.
I had the same kind of realization when I started to see “healthcare workers are heroes” memes popping up again. We’ve been seeing the surge build here in Virginia. It was easy for awhile to see Florida, Texas, Arizona, and think it was their problem. We knew better, of course. We weren’t surprised they were getting slammed – shit, we could see that coming from a mile away. But the wishful thinking that we could get away without.
And then – without fanfare – we found ourselves on the way to being quietly overwhelmed.
The numbers are always like a time bomb. It looks bad now? Well, that’s a picture from two weeks ago. And it’ll take two to three weeks after we hit the brakes before we start to see any improvement whatsoever.
Back in 2016, I warned as many people as I could that there were a bunch of angry folks who were effectively holding a knife to America’s throat, screaming “IF WE CAN’T HAVE THE COUNTRY, NOBODY WILL!” It was the genesis of why I moved from behind the scenes politicking to running for public office: to keep exactly that from happening. To fight for my brothers and sisters in emergency services, who are always the ones who take it on the chin first and foremost, for the essential workers who hold this country together.
We did good work back then. I had the honor to fight alongside so many damn good people, the ones who helped craft our strategy. People way smarter and more talented and me. People like Taikein Cooper. Sally Hudson. Joshua Cole. Cindy Cunningham. Sam Rasoul. Carrie Pruett. Ellen Osborne. Too many more damn good people then I can recount here. When I ran for the Virginia legislature in 2017, we knew the likelihood of winning was slim- but we had numbers we ran, even in late 2016, that suggested we could make the Virginia GOP burn enough money to run cover for people elsewhere. And we knew we needed every edge we could get. We had a plan from the beginning on how to outfox them. How to make them pay attention to us. Burn their money on us.
I had no problem being the least important person in that process – I was just happy to play a part in pushing us forward. And it worked! They panicked and spent a half a million bucks to fight us off. And we built those successes into the waves of 2018 and 2019.
But as I look back now and stare at the tsunami that’s coming to prove with finality that the United States of America is a third world country with a first-world veneer… I can’t help but think back on that.
I know, I know we did good.
But I missed so much time with my kids. My wife. My family. Time I’ll never get back.
A healthy 33-year old with a massive, right-sided stroke from COVID, with permanent deficits.
Sure. The essential workers who hold our nation together are woefully underrepresented in our political system, and largely forgotten. Too few are willing to stand up to fight against those willing to coast by on our sacrifices- something that’s only gotten dramatically more important.
A 25-year old on ECMO.
I can say by rote that it was worth it. The math’ll bear that out easy enough. Medicaid Expansion got passed in Virginia by a single vote. Our hard work meant the difference to hundreds of thousands of Virginia families. And I got to witness that firsthand as an ER Nurse, that it really DID make a difference.
A 41-year old ultramarathoner who can’t walk up a flight of stairs after three months of “recovery”.
But when I say that, it’s without any emotion whatsoever. When I say that, I think about all of my oldest son’s soccer games I missed while knocking doors, or that I had to cancel the trip to Glacier National Park for my daughter and I to focus on the campaign trail, or that my youngest took his first steps while I was at some godawful functionary meeting that I was told I had to attend if I wanted to be taken seriously, even though half the attendees snoozed through the entire thing.
The PPE supply chain was never improved, and won’t survive another surge.
I can say it was worth it. I can even believe it.
Patients dying alone, gasping for breath.
But I can’t feel it.
Nothing is worth missing a single second with those kids. They’re the best thing that ever happened to me. The only thing I’ve ever been close to worth a damn at in my life is being a dad. And I don’t care how worthy a cause it was for me to have given up time with them. I still gave it up.
And that feeling has only grown and intensified as I’ve watched the biggest collective sacrifice Americans have made in a generation or more- and our government wasted it. Trashed it. Completely took the hard work the people of this country did and threw it away.
We’re starting to see evidence of first wave COVID survivors getting reinfected. Which we’ve been worried about for awhile- I mean, think about other coronaviruses like the ones that give you the common cold. Those can come back pretty damn quick. But we closed our eyes tightly and wished as hard as we could that this one would be different. It wasn’t a forlorn hope. This is such a weird damn disease. There was always a chance. There still might be. Maybe we can gamble on that, or maybe one of our Hail Marys will connect, and a perfect vaccine will come through in August.
But I doubt it.
And if that’s true, that means any thought of “herd immunity” is just a frickin’ pipe dream. Was never gonna happen. If what we’re looking at now is just this side of the apocalypse, pursuing herd immunity would’ve been the Book of Revelations itself.
I’ve seen people smugly point to the lower death rate now than back in the Spring, and I say- yeah. You’re right. New York, New Orleans, Boston, and Lombardy paid a price in blood to teach us how to help keep people alive.
But I’ve seen firsthand what the price of that is – functionally, fiscally, medically, and emotionally. I’ve seen that we’ve taken the sacrifices made by millions of Americans and thrown them away. That we’ve done absolutely nothing with the time they bought us. That we have been completely and utterly failed by “leaders” who equivocate without a single care while we die by hundred of thousands.
That nobody is coming to save us.
And I can tell you without any hyperbole whatsoever that the costs we will have to bear if we have to take this crisis on the chin, if we continue down the path that we are currently on, will utterly destroy the United States of America.
It’ll be one last “fuck you” from the people that told us if they couldn’t have the country, nobody would.
And that’ll be the way things will end.
Not with a bang.
But with a quiet, dry, hacking cough.