UNK graduate Vanessa Ortiz was working in construction in Colorado when she went to visit her family for the holidays. While most spend this time celebrating the year with their family, this was not how Ortiz and her family spent their Christmas during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ortiz’ parents contracted COVID-19 when visiting their family in Mexico, a trip they take every year at this time. Despite their conditions, they were unable to go to the hospital.
“When we went in January, my parents both got COVID,” Ortiz said. “And in Mexico, the resources are very limited. We didn’t take them to the hospital because hospital beds weren’t available. And if they were, they were charging crazy amounts of money.”
Since both of Ortiz’ parents needed oxygen tanks that the hospitals didn’t have, they resorted to keeping them at their family’s home. They were able to borrow oxygen tanks from a family friend, and a family doctor came to check on them and give them medication when needed.
“So basically, I was tending to both of them all the time,” Ortiz said. “The first night, I think when we found out that both of them had it, I think I slept one hour, from midnight to one. And I just stayed up, and I think it was about five or six days that I went on like that. I never left my house.”
As she cared for her sick parents, Ortiz would send her siblings to refill the oxygen tanks that her parents were using. The oxygen tanks were being used so quickly that they had to refill them every 4 hours. As they continued to do this, they looked for larger oxygen tanks to buy.
When the family doctor got busier with more COVID patients, Ortiz had to learn how to help her parents on her own. She learned how to change IV bags and to inject insulin for her father’s high blood sugar. She provided them with everything they needed, while making efforts to stay sanitary to avoid contamination between her mother and father.
“I would go into my dad’s room, check on him, give him food, meds, water, whatever he needed,” Ortiz said. “As soon as I was out of there, I would go into my mom’s room. And this whole time I had a spray bottle with rubbing alcohol in it, and I would just spray my entire body with it. By the end, my hands were like, burnt from the alcohol; they would burn every time I used it. And you can see the burn marks.”
This went on for almost a week.
“I can’t remember ever sitting down to eat or anything,” Ortiz said. “I can’t remember going to the bathroom. I definitely didn’t shower.”
Her father passed away on January 11th at 11:01PM, his birthday. Ortiz found significance in the numbers of his passing.
“So he died 01/11 at 11:01 and 11:11 is supposedly a lucky number,” Ortiz said. “An angel number, and for a long time, I was angry about it because how could such a lucky number bring so much pain and sadness?”
Although Ortiz struggled with her father’s passing, she has been able to accept it and learn from the experience.
“I struggled a lot in the beginning,” Ortiz said. “And obviously it still hurts. I don’t think it will ever not hurt, but I think that I’ve accepted that it happened. I know that there’s nothing I can do about it now. And I know I did the absolute best that I could have done. Now I just think that the biggest thing was learning to accept things. I think we know how to accept things we just don’t want to. But I think that I’ve accepted it. And I think that’s helped me a lot. Because most days, I can tell you a story about my dad and I don’t cry. So I think for me, that’s the biggest one.”