The cost of negligence

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Opinion… by Matt “Mister V” Veraldo

Before moving to Granby I worked in health care for twelve years, six of which were spent as a patient transporter for Medical Imaging. During this time I saw more than my fair share of people die, and even had the opportunity to save a few lives. The memories that stay with me though are those when instances of minor negligence resulted in terrible harm.

Once, after returning a patient to their room, I failed to place the nurse’s call button within their reach. When the patient got up to retrieve that call button, they slipped and fell, breaking a hip. I saw them later that night on their way to surgery, vomiting and wailing in blind animal agony and knew instantly that every ounce of their pain was my fault.

Another time, after placing a patient with notable respiratory distress back in their room, I attempted to inform the patient’s nurse of their return. The nurse was busy caring for another patient. Rather than waiting for her to become available, I informed her superior of the patient’s return. I left, assuming my message would be passed along, but it was not. By chance, someone checked in on this patient some twenty minutes later and found that their oxygen tube had somehow become unhooked. The patient, now close to death, had to be intubated and transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. I do not know whether or not this patient survived.

There was even a time where I became the victim of my own negligence. In preparing to transport a patient with a Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection (otherwise known as MRSA), I was informed by a nurse that I did not need to don a protective gown. The infection was in the
patient’s bladder, and could only be transferred through their urine.

Avoiding this particular bodily fluid seemed like a sure thing. Five minutes later, while transferring this patient to a gurney, I accidentally bumped into their nightstand, which contained a half-full urinal. Infected urine cascaded all over my unprotected skin. Fortunately this mishap did not result in my becoming infected, but it easily could have. I just got lucky.

Some fifteen years later, these are just a handful of experiences that continue to haunt me. Had I been more aware of the limitations and frailty of others, had I been more responsible and courteous, I could have spared innocent people, and myself, much suffering. There is little I wouldn’t give to change the consequences of my actions today, but this is obviously not possible. My burden is to live the rest of my days knowing how much harm was caused by my preventable mistakes.

I see many of you, my Grand County neighbors, erroring in the same thoughtless spirit when you refuse to wear protective masks in public. You take the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic lightly, and in doing so you put not only yourselves and your loved ones in danger, but strangers and their families as well, people that you will in all likelihood never meet.

I have heard you say that cloth masks do not prevent the transmission of this respiratory illness, which is completely false. Your cloth mask may not be as heavy-duty as the N95 masks used in health care, but no mask is 100% guaranteed to stop the spread of an airborne disease. Likewise, no condom is 100% guaranteed to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections or pregnancies, nor do seatbelts 100% prevent fatalities in traffic accidents. Disregarding safety precautions because they don’t make one invincible is a fool’s errand. I can personally report that in my lifetime masks have kept me safe from numerous diseases, including influenza, meningitis, tuberculosis, and even the dreaded MRSA.
I have seen with my own eyes that there is much conflicting information, particularly online, about the effectiveness of masks. To those of you who have researched and concluded masks are not necessary, I would ask what the harm would be in erring on the side of caution? If you’re right, and wearing a mask has little impact in the spread of COVD-19, at worst you’ve committed a harmless fashion faux pas. But what if you’re wrong? What if wearing a mask DOES make a difference, and in your refusal to take precautions you’ve caused irrevocable damage to yourself and others. Are you prepared to live with the consequences of your self-assured foolishness?

I’ve also heard you say that wearing a mask is a political statement. I say that is only true if you allow it to be so. While I wish our leaders at both a local and a federal level were providing a better example, I have lived in Grand County long enough to know that its citizens care greatly about the health and safety of their neighbors, regardless of their beliefs or affiliations. I’ve seen this type of blanket compassion before, again in health care. There were times when anyone coming into contact with certain cancer patients, those whose immune system had been ravaged by radiation therapy, were required to wear face masks. In doing this, the patient was protected from contracting airborne illnesses, because even the most inconsequential cold could prove fatal to them in their weakened state. What is true in the Oncology ward is true with the COVD-19 pandemic. What may be a nuisance sniffle to one person could be a death sentence to another. Your resistance to the disease does not apply to others. Are you willing to put someone in danger, maybe even cost them their very life, to make a political statement?
I can’t imagine anyone I know in this community answering “yes” to this question. However, if you did say yes, do you mean it? Do you REALLY mean you’d be willing to let someone die over nonsense politics?

In the face of this pandemic, I wear my mask today without hesitation whenever I am in a public place. I do this for a very selfish reason: I do not want any more innocent blood on my hands. This desire transcends comfort and politics. It is a matter of human decency. I would wear a mask for the rest of the decade if doing so would spare the life of just one single person.

Grand County, in these terrible times you have no choice but to join me in one of two scenarios: you will either protect yourself, your family, your friends, and strangers alike by wearing a mask to help prevent the airborne transmission of the deadly COVD-19, or you will lay awake in the dead of night, wondering why you didn’t do the bare minimum to spare another human being a terrible fate. Whichever option you choose, I hope you are prepared to live with it.

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