Just because you don’t have to doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
By Patrick Gallagher, PE, SE | Senior Bridge Engineer
This is a story about how COVID-19 came into my home, how it progressed through my house, and presents a reasonable case to consider getting vaccinated, particularly as it related to our company values. This is based solely upon my own experiences and is my plea to you. So please give this a read all the way to the end.
When the COVID crisis hit, I was in the midst of a long phase where the bulk of my assignments at Vaughn & Melton were bridge inspections, requiring I spend days and weeks on the road each month. At that time nobody knew for sure what we were in for, and basic elements of inspection life became very complicated very quickly. I spent the next year and a half cleaning otherwise clean hotel rooms, eating dinner in my inspection truck or a hotel lobby, and spending hours cleaning my work truck just in case I got this mysterious disease because I didn’t want to give whatever it was to my coworkers. I was careful to touch elevator buttons with my knuckle and wipe down surfaces in my empty office, just in case someone I didn’t know entered. It was a very weird time and I was trying to do my part to get by. So, when COVID came into my house in the manner it did, I was surprised.
To set the tone of this story, it’s important to recognize my values and how I live my life. My wife and I proudly live a traditional life. My wife generally tends to the house, while I work at the office and I am the sole breadwinner in the house. We homeschool our children, and attend church each Sunday, including Sunday School in the morning and the evening. I have been elected to public office three times as the conservative candidate in my hometown and am on the board of my Homeowners Association to protect the values I have. We live the life we preach as best as we know how. We are reluctant to vaccinate our children because we are sincere in our fear of autism. We are like most of those we know who do not want to get a COVID Vaccine. For reasons I explain later on, we decided that my wife, my oldest daughter and myself would get vaccinated.
COVID entered our home from Katie’s friend. Katie is my oldest daughter, 17 years old. Katie is in the high-risk category, as I describe in the company values section below, and concern for her life was very real to us. The family of Katie’s friend shares our conservative way of life but did not get vaccinated. Her friend’s family spent some time waterskiing a day or two before they came over to my house. When they returned home and felt symptoms of COVID, they mistakenly ascribed them to the physical toll of a day of waterskiing. I wish they would have taken COVID more seriously.
Ironically, the way COVID entered my home wasn’t from a bridge inspection trip or one of any number of road trips our family took in the last year and a half. It was from a friend of the one child of mine we were most concerned with, and she got it first. I’m not trying to tout my own awesomeness. I am far from perfect. But what concerns me is these friends of mine were not vaccinated and they fit the profile of many I know who insist upon not getting vaccinated. Had they been vaccinated, had they cared a little more to learn more, had they been a little more patient with their symptoms, the ones I love would not be suffering. The severity of the entire situation would have been diminished and the risk of spreading the disease would have been lessened with a vaccine.
Life with COVID in my house is scary. Since half of us got vaccinated this story could have been much worse. The Delta Variant is able to infect some of those with the vaccine, but the severity of the sickness is lessened. And even in this lessened state, dealing with COVID has been a real struggle for us. For the three in our family who were too young to get vaccinated, there was no hope other than the statistics that suggest children handle it better than adults; not a statistic I want to bet on.
As I stated, Katie was the first one to contract COVID. Given her health history, watching this virus progress through her body was scary. We didn’t know just how bad she would react to the virus and we were fearful for her life. We have four children. Imagine the fear in the hearts of my other three children as they see their brothers and sisters fall victim to this unstoppable virus, waiting for their turn to come. My youngest son doesn’t have the virus as of right now, and it’s almost comical the lengths he’s going to in an effort to protect himself. And we’re encouraging it! That boy’s life is very bizarre right now as he wanders the house seeking cleanliness.
The sounds in my home have changed. We used to hear my children play the piano, act out something they were doing in a game they made up, tell stories of something they saw in a video they found interesting, or hear them yell with their friends as they run through the yard (yes, we make them play outside). Now we hear the groans of my wife as she aches, the hacking of phlegm as one of my kids coughs up another ball of goo, or me snoring on the back patio because I was too tired to do anything that day. We don’t play at the neighborhood pool. We don’t go to parks. And all of this is happening during the last few good days of summer. We don’t socialize with anyone unless there’s a street or screen between us. An exciting day is now when one of us goes for a drive just to escape the monotony of being home all day.
My home is usually very clean. Typically, our kids do chores, my wife cooks most of the food we eat, and I clean most of the dishes. With so many of us sick at the same time, the usual functions of the home have all but stopped. Nutritious home cooked meals are replaced with whatever mom or one of the older kids can muster the strength to cook. And if I cook, it’s not usually very good. Counter tops are cluttered with dirty dishes because nobody has the strength to wash them. Finding a clean glass often means someone pulls a dirty one from the heap in the kitchen sink and washes it themselves. And nice, neat drawers filled with clothes ready to wear has turned into a series of laundry piles with varying levels of cleanliness on the floor. This is not healthy living mentally or physically. Then there’s the complications with homeschooling, being cramped in our house with each other for a week or two, and the usual strain of sibling rivalry as one sibling gets whiney and irritates the other. Plus, there are no friend’s houses to run to for refuge! Our adult friends can’t do much to help us either because we are isolated, doing our part not to continue the spread. It’s a stressful and unhealthy event, further making recovery more difficult. It’s a vicious cycle that only ends when the last one of us recovers and we are able to scrub every corner of the house and cars we’ve neglected.
This is my life right now. And while I tell the story in dramatic fashion, the reality is this seems to be a temporary inconvenience for us. Life is getting better as each one of us recovers and take on more responsibility. We’re about a week into this and it seems as if it will all be over by the end of the month. And honestly, I’m not feeling too bad! But it could all have been avoided if one key person in our life would have been vaccinated. And we’re lucky! Our story is one of inconvenience. For others we know well, their stories have ended with a funeral.
Now I want to reflect on the company’s values and make a reasonable plea for those with a similar world view as me to get vaccinated.
To do the Right Thing:
As with many of the topics that divide us, establishing the right thing can be a very messy and complicated exercise. Since we are mildly in the anti-vax crowd, deciding to get the COVID vaccine did not come lightly.
My wife and I believe Katie contracted Swine Flu about 10 years ago. Ever since then Katie has had complications with her respiratory system, even under normal conditions. So, when we learned how boldly COVID-19 attacks the respiratory system, we had to seriously reconsider our intentionally laid-back stance on vaccines. We vaccinate, but not to the level some would suggest we do. In the end we decided the right thing to do for us was get THIS vaccine. Diseases of my grandfather’s generation have been all but wiped from the face of the earth (due to vaccines, I know). But this current disease is actively killing hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of people worldwide. And I did not want Katie, or anyone really, to be counted among them.
Katie fit the high-risk profile and the traveling nature of my work further increased that level of risk. So, all of us who became eligible were vaccinated in April and May 2021. This only included three of the six members of our household, since three of my kids were too young. But the reasons to get vaccinated go further than that for us, as I outline throughout the rest of this post.
To be Team Players:
I want to step back from my own life a little bit and reflect upon how different our work life is now. Last year we all worked in the same space, enjoyed those little conversations about our lives, and we got to know each other. And this is how coworkers came to know each other for generations. Some people turn their nose up at these little conversations in the workplace, and you can be assured these conversations with me will likely be shorter than with others. But they need to happen. I am a firm believer that morale is one of the better indicators of a company’s effectiveness, and those little conversations boost morale. The more we understand the people in the office around us, the better our morale, the better we communicate, the more efficient we are, and the better products we produce for our client. As with anything, these little conversations can be abused. But to be better humans, we need to do as humans do, and make at least some time to interact with those around us. That can be hard to do when not face to face.
It’s been stated that 90% of what you say is not the words you use. Tone, body language, understanding the person’s nature, the changes in pitch as you form your words, all give those words context that allows the listener to better understand what you’re trying to express. Here’s an example. There was a time last year when I read an email from a coworker. The words I read made me upset and I followed up that email with a phone call, ready to pounce and fight back. When I heard the tone in my coworker’s voice on the phone and gathered the details they didn’t put into the email, I reprocessed the words in that email. My emotions went from anger to normalcy. I am thankful I had just enough sense at the time I called to listen before reacting, and thankful I knew this individual through face-to-face interactions before acting out. It’s these little details that will be forever lost if we don’t get through this and start developing those working relationships again.
To Work Passionately:
Friends of mine call me eccentric, a freak, or some find some friendly way to say that I’m just weird. And I proudly own those titles. I don’t know how to live any different. And the elements that give me this eccentric reputation extend to how I view COVID.
Getting the COVID Vaccine was not something I ever wanted to do. But when I apply the same enthusiasm I apply to bridges into my life’s decisions, I don’t know how I could have decided NOT to get vaccinated.
I take the time to study the structures around me, why wouldn’t I take the time to study something trying to kill me? I can give you details about bridges I’ve never been to and can show you some amazing photos of bridges I have been to. I can show you how to safely climb a 40-foot tall ladder, how to safely walk across an interstate, determine just how much strength is left in a bridge beam, and tell you exactly how a 600-foot long beam will deflect. I’ll take the time to do my work the hard way because sometimes the hard way is the best way. Why wouldn’t I explore COVID with the same level of effort? Why wouldn’t I look at COVID as objectively as I do a spreadsheet and try to sort out the data I have?
We all work very hard at our jobs. I believe we should apply that same effort to managing Covid.
To be Respectful:
I like to say that “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” That simple expression sums up a lot of my world view in one simple sentence. For this case, I propose a slightly different wording, “Just because you don’t have to doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”
With freedom comes responsibility. I believe you should be free to do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t infringe on the ability of others to do the same. So, is increasing your risk of exposing your friends and neighbors to a disease that has killed literally hundreds of thousands of Americans, and is still doing so, an act of responsibility? I think not. The decisions my friend made not to get vaccinated and then show up at my house unwittingly harboring the virus put the ones I love most at risk. I trusted them, so maybe the fault is mine. But who wants to live like that? Who among us believes that giving our friends the 20 questions routine every time they come over is best?
I believe we need to take ownership of our situations and protect ourselves as best as we can. Had my friends really embraced the responsibility that was demanded of their freedom, they would have either been vaccinated, or stayed home that day until they were confident that they didn’t have COVID. They would have known the difference between sore muscles from a day of fun and COVID, or at least stayed at home until there was clarity on why exactly they were sore.
To be Good Citizens:
When we think of good citizenship, we often confuse citizenship with politics. And I do not intend this to be political. But recognize that if there was political capital to be gained through this issue, the end result is a tie. One of the most effective vaccines ever created by mankind was developed under the watch and administration of one president, and then delivered to the masses under the watch and administration of another. In my opinion, these two presidents are very different from each other, yet both of these men were very effective in doing their part during their time in office. And we are all better for it. I think it’s time we recognize the good things both of these men did and take advantage of their combined efforts.
I also want to look to our past and consider some of the positive aspects of how people lived in the generations before us. People with differing world views were still friends. They lived their lives in peace next door to each other and even found time to spend together, sharing life experiences together. There was once a day when inviting the neighbors over for dinner was normal, and children from homes with differing values knocked on the doors of their friends and played together.
While division isn’t new, I think the degree to with which we’re divided is atypical. Look at presidential election maps throughout our country’s history. Until very recently, people would generally get behind one candidate or another. There are exceptions and trends. But people were more often willing to back the better candidate even though the candidate was different from them.
I believe we should see those different than us as neighbors, men and women made in the image of God, or whatever value your religious and/or world views ascribe to people. We should love our neighbor as ourselves and seek peace among all men and women. I believe that is the ultimate sign of a healthy citizenry.
I want to conclude with this one last example to consider. When you go home today, look at those you love around you. Look at your kids, your neighbors, and people you see on the highway on the way home from work. Imagine the fear in the eyes of those kids as they watch their brothers and sisters get sick. Imagine the sound of their parents groaning in pain as their body fights the virus. Imagine how filthy their house will be because nobody has the strength to maintain the home. And then imagine YOU were the one who introduced them to the virus. You may have made your point that you didn’t have to get the shot. But at what cost?
After going through this experience myself, I urge you, get your COVID Vaccine. I’m going to modify a quote from Jim Carrey at the end of the movie, Bruce Almighty, “Get your COVID vaccine right away, because the life you save could be mine!”