Philadelphia Mother Fearful of Dying From COVID-19—Like Her Father

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[Black Star News Exclusive\Melissia Baker]
Baker: "I’m a dialysis patient. I fit all of the criteria. I’m African-American... I have kidney disease. I’m a diabetic. I read the newspaper and I watch the news and I know that people like myself, who contract COVID, you know typically don’t do well."
Photo: Allison Hitch

Philadelphia mother Melissia Baker is fearful of contracting COVID-19 and dying from it--like her father.

Baker, who lives in the Germantown area, checks off on several of the categories for susceptibility to the disease. She is an African-American, who lives in a COVID-19 hotspot area, and suffers from chronic kidney disease and takes dialysis treatment.

Pennsylvania has over 78,798 cases of COVID-19—with over 6,215 deaths. In Philadelphia, there are around 23,281 cases—with approximately 1,394 deaths.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney recently said social distancing must be continued. “Wearing a mask and social distancing has got us to this point where we’re close to kind of reopening up again, within the next couple of few weeks, if we continue to trend this way,” Kenney said. “But if we don’t and we go back, we’re going to be back in the lockdown again…We’re all susceptible to the virus, and we can die from it.”

Along with everything else, Baker’s fear of COVID-19 is also exacerbated by this sobering reality: she lost her father to the deadly pandemic in April.

Besides herself, Baker also has to worry about her 7-year-old adopted son and her elderly mother. Baker recently spoke to the Black Star News because she says her experience may “help educate others on the real life or death dilemma Americans are facing.”

Black Star News: I understand you live in a COVID-19 hotspot area. According to the materials I read, it said you are terrified of contracting COVID-19, explain to me where you live, where this hotspot is, and why you feel like you do?

Melissia Baker: Well, I’m in Philadelphia. I’m a dialysis patient. I fit all of the criteria. I’m African-American. I’m on dialysis. I live with my son and my mother. I have kidney disease. I’m a diabetic. I need to travel back and forth from my dialysis center three times a week. That terrifies me. I read the newspaper and I watch the news and I know that people like myself, who contract COVID, you know typically don’t do well, on ventilators, because they have pre-existing conditions, like myself that make treating COVID a really precarious and very scary situation.

BSN: As far as where you live, in Philadelphia, have you heard of neighbors and such that have contracted COVID? Baker: Unfortunately, my father actually passed away from COVID on April the 16th. And, unlike myself, he didn’t even have any pre-existing conditions. He wasn’t sick, prior to getting COVID. He didn’t have diabetes, or high blood pressure, or heart disease. He wasn’t a smoker.

BSN: How old was he?

Baker: He was 66 when he passed.

BSN: Was he living in the general area where you live?

Baker: He wasn’t in Philly, but he was in a hotspot in Abington. He and my mother lived in Abington.

BSN: I read, in the material that was sent to me, that you take care of your elderly mother and your son. Tell me how much more difficult that has been during this crisis to do that?

Baker: Well, I mean my son he’s young. He’s elementary age, so he is homeschooling, now. And, because I do dialysis in the evening, I don’t get home until after 4 am. But I still need to get up in the morning, and get my son online for school, and take care of all of his needs, after school help him with his homework, and provide entertainment for him, at home, as much as I can, play cards, or something like that.

My expenses have gone up because I have to buy my groceries online and that’s fairly expensive. My travel expenses have gone up because I am no longer able to get rides from people because they don’t feel comfortable leaving their home and taking me to dialysis. So now I have to get a taxi, which is an added expense for me. So, it has been more expensive. Obviously, isolating isn’t the most ideal experience for anyone. Fortunately, the American Kidney Fund did recognize that kidney patients, like myself, and transplant patients, do have extra expenses with transportation and getting a renal friendly diet. So, they did establish the Coronavirus Emergency Fund to help patients like myself manage some of those unexpected expenses.

BSN: You are on dialysis treatment, I noted that it was said you see patients who seem to be symptomatic of COVID. Could you elaborate more on this?

Baker: Well, my dialysis center has been really stringent about their infection control procedures. They have always been really good, but they have even stepped it up even more. When patients first get there, for their treatment, we get our temperature checked, they also have the center’s social worker call us prior to coming to dialysis, that day, to ask us if we have any symptoms, coughing, temperature, stomach problems, diarrhea, things like that that might indicate a coronavirus or COVID infection. They also limit contact with the outside. There are no visitors allowed or people that may have helped kidney patients get settled in for the evening. They are not allowing any person into the center other than the people that work there or the dialysis patients. Now, as far as people who are symptomatic, I know that they are on a different shift. People who may have the virus they put them on a different shift, so that they can limit exposure to people who are not symptomatic at all.

BSN: Have they given any indication of possible numbers there or have they been kind of secretive about that?

Baker: I wouldn’t say its secretive. I mean, I think they just try to protect patient’s privacy and that just outside of COVID too. You know because of HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) laws and things like that. My center they have been really stringent on making sure that they can do everything they need to do to try to keep us safe and the staff safe as well.

BSN: You talked about how expensive it has been. Can you tell me what you do, as far as your career?

Baker: Well, I’m not able to work any longer. Prior to my being diagnosed with end stage renal failure I was working in human resources for about 20 years. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to work for many years. I have been on dialysis for almost 10 years. So, I’m on disability, but it is more expensive. I have a limited budget. I am on Social Security disability. So, you know, my budget has been increased unexpectedly due to COVID, because like I mentioned, I have to get groceries through like Instacart through a grocery delivery service. I need to spend additional monies for travel expenses to and from dialysis, you know my electricity is more because I’m at home and I wouldn’t be home as much. My son is home using a laptop using up electricity because we have the dining room light on, because he’s doing schoolwork four or five hours a day. So, you know those expenses have gone up. And, as I said, I’m just so grateful to the American Kidney Fund in recognizing that, because they really did come through with the Coronavirus Emergency Funds in helping people like myself with those added expenses.

BSN: Has any of the local politicians announced anything, in terms of funding to help people in this particular kind of situation related to COVID?

Baker: Not that I know of. Not anything specifically related to people with kidney disease. I haven’t seen anything like that, other than the federal stimulus check that everyone is pretty much eligible for. I haven’t seen any other sorts of financial resource for people like myself. I know that there are different agencies that are giving out boxes of food. But, in terms of helping out financially with getting groceries that are specific for a renal diet and getting transportation expenses covered to and from my dialysis, I don’t know of any other agency other than the American Kidney Fund.

BSN: Who is your state senator or representative?

Baker: I believe my state representative is Dwight Evans (Congressman)

BSN: Could you give me some more details about the effects that you have seen in your neighborhood?

Baker: I mean I can’t say that I have seen people on the streets that I know with COVID. Like I said I have personal experience with it because my father passed away from COVID. So, it makes me feel like every time I watch the news, and I hear the statistics, the numbers about the people that are dying, I feel like one of those statistics. You know I check all the boxes. Because I’m African-American, I live in the inner-city, my financial resources are limited, my dad passed away from COVID.

So, it’s a lot going on. It makes me fearful. It makes me scared because I have personal experience with it. This has touched home. You know the school children are out of school. People are out of work. Philadelphia is, obviously its not as large as New York, but it is still a major urban area with a lot of people who are struggling financially. And things tend to hit the Black community even harder than they hit non-Black communities. Black and Brown people suffer even harder than those who are not Black and Brown. Job loss, it not always about being able to shelter in place. I mean, fortunately, I can. But there are a lot of people who can’t because they have to go to work because they are shift workers or they are service workers and they don’t have the luxury of being able to stay home and work from their computer.

It's like my taxi driver that drives me home at night. He has to go to work he is a taxi driver. He can’t work from home. And although I’m thankful every time I get in the cab, I’m fearful I take all the precautions that I can. I wear my mask. He has on his mask. I have disposable gloves, hand sanitizer, everything. But I’m still fearful because COVID is new and it is still presenting a lot of unknown, we don’t know everything about it. We don’t know all the different ways it may be contracted. Is it in the air? Can you get it from the surface? How long does it stay on the surface? Businesses are closed. People don’t know. They don’t have any job security. Their future is uncertain. So, it’s a very stressful time for a lot of people in the Philadelphia community.

BSN: Tell me about your mom. Is she staying at a separate location or is she with you?

Baker: She is with me right now.

BSN: Is everything ok with her?

Baker: Yeah. She’s not sick. She doesn’t have any symptoms or anything like that. She’s well.

BSN: As far as testing goes, did you test for COVID, or anyone in your family?

BAKER: No. Fortunately, no one is symptomatic in my family, other than, obviously my dad was.

BSN: How did it come about with your father? How did you find out that he had COVID?

Baker: I had actually had some surgery, in the early part of March. So, my mother had been staying with me, helping me to recuperate from surgery. She wasn’t aware that my father had gotten sick because he was at their location. He got sick. We don’t exactly know how. But, personally, it's just my opinion, I don’t feel he was taking all of the precautions. Going back from the timeline, it looks like he got sick around the end of March.

BSN: Did he die before you found out, or was he still living when you found out?

Baker: I didn’t find out. He got sick the end of March and went to the hospital, in the beginning of April. My family discussed it among themselves, and they felt like it was best that I not know that he was in the hospital on a ventilator for two weeks. Because they felt like it would really take a toll on my health, and the emotional impact of that would take a toll on my health, because there wasn’t anything anyone could do. As you probably know, the hospitals, at that time, were inundated with COVID patients in late March, early April. So, it wasn’t like we could go and visit with him, or call him on the phone, or anything.

My mother, she carried that burden of secrecy with her for two weeks. And, unfortunately, he was actually getting a little bit better. He was showing signs of getting better. But then he took a turn for the worse. And he ended up passing away on the 16th and that’s when my family informed me of everything that had been going on for the last two weeks and let me know he had passed away.

We had a small service, but even that right now was limited, because we couldn’t have a normal funeral, with like a [funeral] repast, with people at the house, outside visitors, and all of the things you would normally see, and all the customs you would normally experience at a African-American funeral service. There was none of that, because we couldn’t risk exposure even to family.

So, it was a really lonely very difficult time when my dad died because we couldn’t have that same sort of support system. We did get phone calls, cards, and prayers, and things like that from family and friends but it's not the same when you can’t hold someone’s hand, or have you auntie, or grandmother come over and sit with you and have a house full of family. It was very hard. It was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve gone through.

BSN: Does your son show any signs of COVID-19?

Baker: No. We’re all being really strict about limiting our exposure. The only place we go is to dialysis. My son gets to go outside and play, because we do have an isolated patio out back, where he can go and play and ride his scooter. So, we do that but other than going outside and back and other than going to dialysis, I haven’t been anywhere since early March.

BSN: Is there anything else you would like to say?

Baker: I just appreciate that I’ve been given an opportunity to share my story and talk about how hard it is having a chronic illness like end-stage renal failure. But I think the support that I’ve been given, through the American Kidney Fund, has made this a little bit more bearable. At least I don’t have to worry about some of the expenses that were unexpected because they did provide me with Coronavirus Emergency Fund. So, they have been really helpful because they aren’t really a whole lot of specific resources out there for people like myself. American Kidney Fund really did come thru.

For those seeking more information on the American Kidney Fund’s COVID-19 related assistance please log on to the links below.

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