Written Story by J

Summer 2021 was a time in the middle of the pandemic where many folks who could and  wanted to get their COVID-19 vaccination for protection, were able to. With a direct line of  communication to the Multnomah County Public Health Department and the Oregon Health  Authority, community members were able to remind folks of our severely ill, at-risk, and  homebound community members who were unable to leave their homes in order to get  vaccinated. Specific teams were assigned to help alleviate these issues, although no 211 staff  understood how this was supposed to work nor that a team even existed to problem solve  these issues.  

All this said, for some of us that were very high risk for COVID-19 complications, due to  anaphylaxis to excipients such as Polyethylene glycol (PEG), Polypropylene glycol (PG),  Polysorbate 80, and other ubiquitous ethoxylated excipients, the risk of dying from anaphylaxis  to the COVID-19 vaccines was a somewhat greater, and more immediate risk than dying from  COVID-19. The issue, however, was that these same excipients that could cause anaphylaxis  from vaccine administration were and also are in all of the available COVID-19 prophylaxis and  COVID-19 therapeutics, except IV Remdesivir. Although the FDA had approved IV Remdesivir’s  use in the outpatient setting, there were zero hospitals and clinics in the entire state of Oregon  that were equipped to provide IV Remdesivir to patients in the outpatient setting.  Allergist/Immunologists couldn’t even access the vaccine for their clinics to give to these  patients in smaller doses to test their tolerance.  

During the extreme heat waves that occurred in July 2021, cooling centers were opened. For  those unable to vaccinate for protection, unable to access COVID-19 prophylaxis, and unable to  access safe-for-them COVID-19 therapeutics should they become infected with COVID-19, going  to a community cooling center to escape the heat, was not a safe option… even when the  temperatures got up to 105 degrees F inside the home. Trying to access cooling equipment  being on OHP Open Card was impossible as there was not a program, like the CCO’s had, for  patients to access cooling equipment, even during one of our deadliest heat waves in history.  

This writing is what came out of this experience.  

July 2021  

Dozens of people died from the heat last week.  

The case manager apologized and said there was nothing they could do. It was either a public  cooling center and the real possibility of COVID-19 or nothing. Choose. There might be a  program that might help you access an air conditioner, but you have the wrong insurance. There  is nothing for you. I’m sorry.  

Sometimes, oftentimes, it feels useless spending every ounce of energy you have fighting  insurance companies, fighting poverty, fighting the racism and ableism that permeates the air,  the same air giving life. 

When it comes down to it, no one really cares whether a person lives or dies, well, until they’re  dead. Then we hear the honorifics, the should haves; but really, if we cared, we wouldn’t build  institutions whose job it is to grind people down. To say no until folks just die.  

There is no happy ending.  

It’s only drudgery, the drudgery of plodding through cold muck in a dark, black cave. The same  cave so many before you trudged through before, are trudging through with you now, but  within their own solitude, into infinity.  

Maybe it’s only when you briefly brush elbows, millions of times, that enough friction is created  to produce heat, a brief glimmer of light. 

Maybe these sparks produce a fire so large so as to burn it all down. All of these stifling systems  that suck the oxygen out of every room in every clinic in every hospital in every region – they  suck the oxygen out of each cell who composes its own part in the symphony that sings an  organism into being. Maybe through destructive fire, and only through that, the phoenix might  be reborn.  

But that would spell hope. And we all know that hope is the traitor, the knife in one’s back.  Besides, fire requires oxygen. So no fire. No phoenix. No rebirth.  

Dozens of people died in the heat last week.