FRESNO, California (KSEE) – For nearly four months, I have been covering COVID-19 as a news reporter in Fresno. On July 9, the pandemic hit home.
I had just finished a story on hospital capacity in the Central Valley when I was told by my mother that my grandmother in rural Montana had coronavirus.
My heart dropped.
My grandmother Florence (Mederios) Whitworth was 89 and had preexisting conditions. From the stories I had covered over the pandemic, I knew she would not make it.
My grandmother (aka Gma Flo) was extremely special to me and a big reason why I moved to California in 2019.
She was born in Fresno and grew up in Kerman and Los Banos. After she got married, she moved to Montana to start a family. Her maiden name was Mederios, and having the family name created an unbreakable bond.
I couldn’t sleep once I knew my grandmother was in the ICU and her oxygen was decreasing rapidly.
I felt an urge to drive to my home state of Montana. I picked up everything and traveled over 1,000 miles in one day.
On July 13, her oxygen had decreased even more. Her time was running short.
I called the hospital and the nurses told me two people could be with her at the end as long as they hadn’t been exposed to COVID-19 in 30 days. I was the only family member that met that criteria.
I walked into the hospital, onto the elevator, and through two automatic doors into the ICU. I will never forget when the nurse showed me the room where my grandmother was. I immediately started crying.
I had to be in full personal protective equipment before I could by my grandmother’s side. I pulled a blue suit over my clothes, put on a hairnet, and gloves before the nurse turned to me and said “here is the infamous N95 mask.”
At that moment I thought, “wow, I have done so many stories about these and here I am about to put one on.”
The nurse and I were with her as she took her final breath. The nurse left and I sat there holding my grandmother’s hand until the funeral home arrived.
That employee was covered in a white HAZMAT suit.
My grandmother gave me her wedding ring. A gift I will wear every day for the rest of my life.
The hardest part of the experience is the harsh reality I was pushed into. On July 14, my Gma Flo, my favorite and strongest person I knew, was a statistic on the news.
The experience was a real eye-opener. During this pandemic, the choices we make are critical. We need to all take a look in the mirror each day and decide what we are willing to risk.
This virus is real. It thrives on mistakes and will take the most vulnerable person in your family.
Note: The family does not know how Grandma Flo contracted COVID-19. She lived most of her life in Dillon, MT, and passed at St. Patricks Hospital in Missoula.
Mederios Babb was a reporter for KBZK and KXLF after graduating from UM. She now works for CBS47 Eyewitness News/KSEE24 Local News That Matters in California, which agreed to share her story with Montana viewers.