On a Radio Lab WNYC podcast (3 April 2020), Johns Hopkins University oncologist, Dr Tatiana Prowell, was interviewed. Her discussion raised the critical, but mostly overlooked, issue of dying alone. A COVID-19 death is, according to Prowell, ‘the worst death’ for this reason. She explains:
If something good comes from all this, it’s to distill down all the unnecessary stuff that has gone and that what’s left is what really matters: like you are down to ‘do we have sufficient nutrition? Are we with the people we love most and are they safe? Are we able to do our essential work even if it’s hard and its made more complex?
I mean, really, the little, tiny, tiny pearl at the centre of all this is that it forces us to say what is essential. And part of that essentialness is connecting with other people - meaningfully – deeply. I mean that is a big part of it.
The greatest tragedy in my mind of this entire illness is the fact that people die alone. So you know in the case of Papa Doc (Dr Prowell’s brother-in-law’s father) a thing that has been really hard for our family was that they sent him directly to the ER. And his wife called me and said ‘we went there and they heard what his oxygen level was and he was coughing and that he was a physician and they took him right back him right back into the isolation area as a PUI (person under investigation) for COVID-19. And they wont let me come into the ER because I’m not symptomatic and they don’t want me to be exposed and I can’t be with him because he’s now in this isolation unit’. And that’s the last time she saw him.