Several authors and editors I respect counseled me not to write the book as quickly as I did; they urged me to wait two or three years and put some distance between me and the expedition in order to gain some crucial perspective. Their advice was sound, but in the end I ignored it…
—Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
Those he most loved simply kept repeating into our iPhones, “We love you. We’re so sorry. We love you. We’re so sorry.” We did, and we were.
Charles David Blase died alone in a COVID ICU on February 23, 2021. My father may as well have been on the summit of Everest. On his thirteenth day in what the hospital switchboard operator kept referring to as “the overflow unit,” the decision was made to intubate. An angel disguised as a nurse initiated a video call with my mother and brother in Arkansas (an hour’s drive from the hospital). My brave brother patched me in via cell phone as my wife and I drove reckless from Colorado across nowhere Texas to try and make it back to Arkansas. Something wicked came along during the intubation procedure and dad went into cardiac arrest. He didn’t make it that day. We didn’t either.
From his alienesque masked face to his eerily echoing voice, the final live images I have of my father are like something from a Ridley Scott nightmare. The deafening roar of CPAPs and BiPAPs and God knows what else occupied his windowless room swallowed every other sound and hope. I’ve viewed plenty of those “I made it!” videos from the summit of Everest—jangled, patchy images of human achievement from the earth’s thinnest air. That’s exactly how our phone call felt, except the view held no airy traces of heaven. Hellish is my word for my dad’s last stand.
My father was a Southern Baptist preacher for sixty years. Dad was old school, one of the good guys. Think Shane minus a six-shooter. He played by all the rules—God’s, man’s, Billy Graham’s—and he still died alone. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, o ye barkers of the prosperity gospel. Sure, there were medical personnel surrounding him, but not us, not his blood. Repeated requests to visit over those thirteen days were consistently denied due to COVID concerns. As with most things, I’ve no doubt it’s complicated, but at more than one point along the way I felt concerns were greater for COVID itself than the patients and their families.
In Kant’s Little Prussian Head And Other Reasons Why I Write, author Claire Messud remembers with regret the death of her lonely aunt: “I failed to accompany her as far as the gate—which is all, and the best, we can do.” In this life we cannot escort a loved one farther, but we’re supposed to be able to get them to the gate. On that point, I failed. Or the system failed. Hell, maybe we all failed, for dad died unaccompanied. Do I believe God’s presence was right there as my father clawed for his last breath? Yes, I do. But we should have been there too. It’s just not right.