What COVID-19 didn’t know about my grandma? (Parts I and II)

PART I

Background: What I am about to express cannot be translated into a few words. Those who know me know I am a private person, so this piece is not my usual piece that I write. But, I felt compelled to write it. While there are many ways to write the same thing, I am writing this in a very raw form.

My grandma’s COVID-19 fight made me reflect on how much she has influenced my life and values. I told Christopher Kai in a recent podcast interview how much my grandma has influenced my life. So, I wanted to honor her and her life (and this article is one way). I want the world to know that my grandma was a bad-ass woman in her heyday! She is much more than COVID-19.

My grandma’s name is Gloria. She was born in the 1930s. Her parents were hard workers and came from sharecropper families in the South. This naturally means our family are direct descendants of slaves. Her father worked at both Union Pacific and Libbey Glass Factory, which were across the street from the other, working alternating shifts. While her father worked hard at those two jobs, additionally, her mother and father own and operated a corner grocery store where fresh produce from local farms were sold, among the usual corner store items sold, and owned and rented row houses to low income families.

Born in a time where segregation and Jim Crow laws were the norm, my grandma was a part of the first graduation class (1954) of the now historic African American high school in her city in Louisiana, where it was the epicenter of civil rights advocacy. There was a strong sense of pride and obligation among her and her classmates.

After high school, her father sent her to Hampton University, a prestigious HBCU. This was not an easy thing to do, i.e., sending her child to any university, better a prestigious HBCU. My great-grandfather, as I was told, was a hardworking man and serious too (i.e., he did not play). He was a leader in his community, and provided my grandma the best life one could afford, despite segregation and racism rearing its ugly head.

She would later give birth to my mother. Staying close to home she attended another HBCU, Campbell College in Mississippi, which was later made a part of Jackson State University. She later obtained her business degree from Wiley College in Texas.

What’s amazing about her story is that during those times she got married, had a total of 6 children and achieved a lot. Anyone who knew my grandma, knew she had the gift of gab and she was active in her community and in helping others. She was in society pages and local newspapers for years and was vocal on civil rights issues. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and long time, dedicated church member to a historic AME church.

My grandma became the first African American, clerk of court, juvenile division in her city (she was featured in the local newspaper for this achievement and she framed this article and is very proud of it too). She has met civil rights leaders and celebrities, and leaders would often ask for her opinion as her opinion has been valued time and time again. Like I said before, my grandma was a bad-ass woman in her heyday!

She continued to work in the public sector in various capacities, including as an educator, working for the parish school board for 40 years. She was very proud of her time working in the public sector (she loved the 40 years of service accomplishment and acknowledgment by the school board). She has a plague displaying her 40 years of service.

I didn’t realize how much influence she has had on my life until recently. With all of my accomplishments, I owe my grandma much gratitude. Having my own battles to overcome due to my talents and being so young when I achieved my initial success, people were envious of my success and could not understand how I could do and know so much and be so young.

To provide a little background on myself: I was a musical child prodigy. I learned several instruments on my own. At the time, my band director gave me instruments to take home (to get me out of his space). He never thought I would do anything with the instruments. However, I would come back to him the next day having learned the instrument, how to play it, how to read the instrument part, and transpose. He was amazed since not even music majors (in college) could do this with ease and independently.

From there, my band director encouraged me to learn more and even entered me into numerous competitions. Before long, I was invited to competitions. I was thrust into the spotlight in my bayou town, as I was frequently sent by my school to represent our town in various competitions. My band director eventually wrote his master’s thesis on me.

I do not need to tell you that with this attention came a lot of negative feelings towards me from my peers or others who were envious. Yes, this does happen! Hate and envy are very much real and active.

I have intentionally watered down my accomplishments in this article in an effort to save time and because this article is not about me. If you want to know more about what I have accomplished in my life (to date), please check out my LinkedIn profile. In any event, I digress ……..

I graduated from high school early and went to college at Jackson State University (JSU). Though I had full music scholarships and academic scholarships to several colleges and universities (some of them top tier institutions), Jackson State University resonated with me. I did not realize it at the time but my grandma also attended a college that was a part of JSU, Campbell College.

I became a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority (like my grandma). Having been around Deltas pretty much all my life and volunteering with my grandma in her Delta activities, it was natural to join Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Shortly after, I graduated from JSU a year early. I became an educator teaching on all levels including K-12, while attending grad school. After, I went into law school, graduated and later briefly working in the public sector in a prosecutorial role. I would also begin working in professorships at various private and public colleges and universities. Again, like my grandma who worked in the public sector (and my mom, a master’s degree social worker, who also worked in the public sector), I too worked in the public sector.

Later I became a human rights advocate, serving as an UN Delegate for an international NGO. I would later speak at the UN advocating for the rights of all people as well as facilitating UN panel events. Similar to my grandma, the civil rights advocate, I became a human rights advocate, speaking on a host of topics in national and international forums.

Most recently, I did a TEDx talk on my life experiences and how our stories are our superpowers and how we must harness those experiences to make our world and others around us better. I believe these values come from my grandma’s influence on my life as well as my mom’s influence on my life. My mom died several years ago, but her life’s work as a social worker has definitely had an impact on my life.

My grandma is still recovering but is not out of the clear. Regardless if she survives COVID-19 or not, I want the world to know that COVID-19 doesn’t define her or anyone else who has suffered or died from it. All of us have stories and lives much bigger than COVID-19 will ever be. We must advocate for ourselves, our loved ones and those who may not have anyone to advocate for them.

Navigating the healthcare system, especially with unique situations like COVID-19, is far different than anyone imagined. We must not be hard on ourselves, medical staff, or the government. Everyone is trying their best to find solutions and stop this from happening ever again.

PART II

The following is a glimpse into the world of a loved one having COVID-19 and navigating unknown and relatively new terrain for anyone. I hope this helps others in understanding we are truly in this together. Before the second half of this article, I want to say that this is not a slogan, but real talk and real life.

COVID-19 has devastated all of our lives. Those who are suffering and those who have died from this mutating virus are often viewed in the light of the virus and nothing else. We politicize COVID-19; but at the end of the day, COVID-19 does not care who you are. It will kill you and those around you!

It is an equal opportunity virus. Moreover, it clings to our system for survival — almost like a living organism but more hybrid. It is a smart virus (like smart technology), COVID-19 learns us and attacks our vulnerabilities and evolves. But, there is something COVID-19 does not know, which is our lives are more than COVID-19. Our lives mean more than the virus and we must not forget this.

This is a time for all scientists (social scientists, political scientists, technical scientists, etc.), researchers and doctors to come together to find a solution, as each professional can identify and find different aspects that are not apparent to the other.

Louisiana (my home state) is one of the worst hit areas in the U.S. for COVID-19. The rural communities around the world have been hit hard due to a lack of resource and having to depend on each other. There is no ride-share or insta-delivery in these areas. Most people have to go out to get essentials. So, COVID-19 can logically spread faster, and the resource for the local hospitals do not always reach as fast as other places.

I want to thank the medical staff who cared for my grandma and those who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes all essential workers and those who are staying home and those who are limiting their activities to keep themselves and those around them safe.

So here PART II goes …..

I got word from my family in Louisiana that my grandma, i.e., my mother’s mother, was rushed to the hospital due to low oxygen (near organ failure). After running tests and trying to stabilize her, the hospital confirmed my grandma had COVID-19 and was having heart issues. My family prepared for the worst and grieved knowing we couldn’t be there as she laid there and died, since there was very little livelihood she would live.

My instant reaction was to go to Louisiana. I was going to drive if I had to from Miami, Florida to Louisiana. Then, I thought “Wait, the hospital won’t let anyone see her since there are protocols in place in handling COVID-19. Plus, we would not be able to gather in large groups if there is a funeral (and my family and family friends are pretty large in number). So, I most likely would have to be there via Zoom.” So, calming down I got into problem-solving mode.

My family and I called the hospital constantly checking on her status. I also called and began asking the nurse about giving her OneBlood COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma. She surprisingly did not know what I was talking about. I told her that in Miami, Florida there was news coverage and public announcements about COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma for those who may be suffering from COVID-19.

I found myself having to educate the nurse, who was located in Louisiana, over the phone about this special plasma. She insisted I had the wrong information and I did not know what I was talking about. I conceded (since I was and am not trying to be right, I was just trying to get the message across to someone who could help with my inquiry), and I simply asked that she convey the message to my grandma’s assigned doctor.

She did convey this to the doctor, as I got a call hours later from another nurse apologizing stating that I was ahead of the curve as their hospital, days ago, got information from the federal government and federal health authorities on this special plasma. She explained they just read the guideline information and are still trying to make sense of the process and only a few people had been given this plasma in their hospital (if not city). The nurse asked me how I knew about this information and, again, I explained to this nurse that, in Miami, there were news outlets and public announcements about it.

She stated that it was not so easy to get this special plasma since my grandma had to be in dire need of this special plasma, then placed on the list. From there, we needed to wait until she was next on the list and then it was no guarantee, since a blood donor with COVID-19 antibodies had to be a blood type match. She explained that assuming all this happens, the plasma transfer could be a few hours or a few days, depending on whether a match was found.

I explained to her that she is clearly elderly and is having heart issues. This in itself should warrant a dire need. The nurse insisted that I was wrong.

Another hour later, I got a call from a clinical researcher who explained that the doctor received my message and the doctor via the researcher thanked me for advocating for my grandma. The clinical researcher stated that the process is relatively new one and not every staff member understands the special plasma or even knows about it, better yet families knowing about it, who may have loved ones suffering from COVID-19.

The clinical researcher stated that the doctor determined that my grandma definitely was a candidate for the special plasma donation transfer. The doctor via the researcher stated that despite the traditional methods and medications she was not doing well, COVID-19 spread to her heart and her chances of survival were slim without the special plasma. Therefore, she needed the special plasma.

While the doctor’s prognosis was not good, I finally felt heard and I felt like my grandma was heard too. Though she could not speak, I know she would have wanted the special plasma. After consulting with the clinical researcher about the special plasma and its risks, she also called other family members and discussed the same things including the risks. My family and I agreed to the special plasma donation transfer. It was better than nothing.

The process did not take long for my grandma to get the special plasma. It was a matter of a day or so. After the special plasma was given to her, one of my uncles had second thoughts about the special plasma, despite our family giving permission. He found that it was too late to object since they had already given the special plasma to her earlier in the day. But, our family would be glad they gave her the special plasma.

The COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma was a lifesaver. Thanks to the donor and medical staff! This increased her survival rate and brought her extended time with us. Her oxygen levels got better, though she still had some heart issues. Days later, she was able to talk and hold a conversation. They transferred her out of ICU. A week later, she then was transferred over to another facility.

Though this is a lengthy article and raw at its core, I hope all of you got a glimpse into the world of not only a bad-ass woman but bad-ass medical staff, who despite not knowing everything about COVID-19 (as no one does), are working to find solutions and make this world better for all of us!

Associate Professor. Author. Tech Enthusiast. TEDx Speaker. Former UN Delegate for WILPF-US.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store