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Hitting Home

Christine Welter
Interlibrary Loan and Help Desk Supervisor

I didn’t know anyone who had it except for Uwe. We grew up together in Germany. Uwe moved to Bergamo, Italy, I moved to the U.S. Our mothers are friends. COVID 19 raced through Bergamo three months before we realized that it wasn’t the flu. In phone calls with my mother I learned that Uwe and his family stayed inside their apartment all day. They were allowed to take the dog out briefly. Then Uwe was hospitalized with COVID 19. My mother knew that it had taken ages until he was picked up by the medics. He called his mother in Germany from the hospital: “We are waiting in the hallway, they don’t have room for us.”

I learned that Uwe’s younger daughter, Emmi, had come home when in-person classes were canceled at her school. His older daughter, Julia, was in Sydney, Australia, for her junior year abroad. They texted a lot.

“How is his breathing?”
“Maybe a bit better, they gave him a steroid spray.”

His wife, Antonia, was scared. Could they treat her husband? Did she have the virus? Her daughter? She watched closely for symptoms.

I talked to my mother again. Uwe was still in the hospital. No news. We had once been sledding together. Way back when the road in front of Uwe’s house was packed with snow. He helped me dig out of a snow heap.

There was no space anymore for COVID patients in Bergamo. A picture flashed on CNN of overcrowded hospitals in Italy. “He is not doing well,” my mother said. They are worried. “I will pray for him,” I added, comforting my mother. I wanted to help.

Then Uwe was moved from Bergamo to Milan. The doctors called his wife. How did his lungs get damaged? She didn’t know. His mother in Germany didn’t know either. His wife took the dog for a walk every day. The next Sunday I heard that Uwe had been moved again to yet another hospital. I didn’t understand. My 90-year-old mother might have misunderstood. He needed a ventilator and other things that they didn’t have in that first Milan hospital.

I prayed for Uwe to recover from COVID-19. We never had so much snow again than back when we were growing up and spent that snow day together.

The next Sunday my mother told me that Uwe had died. It hit me hard. It felt like a slap against my throat, I had to focus on pulling air in through my nose. “He died?” “Yes, they said he must have been immunocompromised. In one way or another.”

When I told my husband and our son that Uwe had died my voice sounded scared. The news of his death in Bergamo pierced our sheltered California bubble and made COVID real. Now Santa Clara County asked us to shelter in place. Our daughter came home from New York City. We were allowed to go out with our dogs, but should avoid unnecessary trips.

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