A 'Harmless' Dinner Party Ended Up Killing My Dad

by Tony Wright
Originally Published: 
An elderly married couple smiling and posing at a terrace with their dog
Courtesy of Tony Wright

When the pandemic started, my parents were very concerned.

They limited their social interactions.

They cut back on attending all but the biggest family events.

Over time, life had to continue.

Mom and Dad started going to the store.

They attended a few more of their grandkids’ little league games.

They always wore masks when they went out.

Then, someone from their church small group was put on hospice for a non-COVID related illness.

The small group, some of whom had met monthly for 35 years, wanted to see their friend.

The numbers of cases and hospitalization were dropping.

No one knew anyone who had died from the virus.

So they decided it would be okay to have a dinner party.

They got their new house ready.

After all, Mom and Dad had finally downsized into their new home after living in the same place for almost 40 years.

This would be their first time to entertain in the new house.

My brother, the lawyer, objected to them holding the dinner party.

But you can only object so loudly before you start sounding like a worrywart.

I didn’t see anything wrong with Mom and Dad having their friends over.

Neither did my youngest brother.

Courtesy of Tony Wright

The group gathered for a dinner party and a Bible study, just as they had every month for many years before the virus shut everything down.

It’s hard to wear masks at a dinner party.

They hadn’t seen each other in more than six months.

And one of their friends was dying but was able to attend the party.

It seemed like old times.

No one was particularly worried about getting the virus.

After all, virtually no one they knew had gotten it.

If they did know someone who had the virus, it acted a lot like the flu. They were fine after a week or so.

These people were their long-time friends.

They were safe with these people.

Hugs were given. Hands were shaken. Masks were taken off.

But it wasn’t safe.

Someone at the party had the virus but didn’t know it.

That person worked at the church.

She wasn’t feeling sick at all.

But she did start feeling sick the next day.

She got tested and promptly let everyone who was at the party know she was positive for COVID-19.

I remember getting a call from Dad while my family and I were dining at a restaurant.

He told me that he and Mom had been exposed to the virus.

I wasn’t too worried.

Dad had some underlying health issues that could cause some issues, but he probably didn’t have it.

The next day, we found out he tested positive.

Mom was negative at first.

Then she started losing her taste and smell.

She was tested again, and they both had it.

I bought them a pulse oxygen reader.

We contacted our family physician and other doctor friends.

Dad did accounting for many doctors for many years, so he had lots of medical advice.

I talked to Dad on the third day after his diagnosis.

He had a slight cough and a very slight fever.

Mom couldn’t smell or taste anything.

Dad told me, “If it stays like this, I’m going to be happy.”

It didn’t stay like that.

One week after he was exposed, he had to call an ambulance because his oxygen levels dropped down to 88.

I was at his house, helping with some yard work, and had just left.

I came back to see him loaded into the ambulance.

It was the last time I ever saw him conscious.

We thought he would be home shortly after they gave him some oxygen.

But the hospital was filling up.

It took him almost two days to get a bed outside of the ER.

At first, we would talk to him while he sat in the hospital bored.

They wanted him to lay on his stomach, but the hip replacement he had a few years back made that difficult.

His oxygen levels were getting worse.

Chest X-rays showed he had pneumonia caused by the virus.

He started having trouble speaking.

After a week in the hospital, he wasn’t getting better, no matter what the doctors tried.

They tried every breathing apparatus at their disposal.

They pumped him full of oxygen.

His lungs were damaged.

They moved him to the ICU.

He could hardly text and couldn’t talk on the phone without his oxygen levels, dropping to dangerous levels.

We couldn’t see him.

They were just about to put him on a ventilator.

They told us if he went on a ventilator, he had a very slim chance of survival.

We all got on the phone with him.

We said our goodbyes.

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, to tell my father goodbye over the phone on a conference call.

They actually let my mom visit him for a little while.

Then he rallied for one day.

We saw some improvement. The doctor even said so.

He started texting us.

He was able to text the grandkids.

They told him how much they loved him and wanted him to get better.

I talked to him on the phone. He told me he didn’t want to die.

I told him he was going to get better.

The next day, I got a call from the hospital.

The doctor — one I hadn’t talked to before, wanted to talk about putting Dad on a ventilator.

I was confused.

He was doing better the day before.

But overnight, his oxygen levels had dropped.

I asked the doctor for some time to get my Mom up there again.

He said no. He had to do it now. Dad was in danger of coding if he didn’t.

I got Mom and my brothers on the phone.

Dad couldn’t talk. We had to take the doctor’s word that he was nodding his head.

We told him we loved him.

We told him to fight.

We all headed up to the hospital.

I hoped we could get there in time for Mom to see him before they intubated him.

We weren’t that lucky.

But we did get to see him.

And it was the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

He looked like a ghost.

He was in distress.

Doctors and nurses were all around him.

His room was pure chaos.

I don’t think they were supposed to let us back there.

We soon found out that as they put Dad on the ventilator, his lungs collapsed.

Both of them.

They were able to insert chest tubes to get him stable.

The doctor told us he was stable.

We left the hospital.

There was nothing we could do but wait for Dad to get better.

Mom didn’t want to be alone.

We all went to dinner on a patio that night.

I drove Mom.

As soon as I got home, the hospital called.

They said that Dad had no blood pressure, and we needed to come up there right away.

I rushed back out to Mom’s house and got her.

She cried all the way to the hospital.

When we got there, my brother had already arrived.

He told me.

Dad was gone.

Please, when you are planning your Thanksgiving this year, remember this story.

I would never tell anyone what to do for their own family. I know that even a month ago, the thought of not having a family Thanksgiving — which happens to be my favorite holiday — would have been met with resistance, probably flat-out ignored.

But this year, Mom will be coming over. And that’s it.

Because a dinner party killed my Dad.

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