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709: The Reprieve

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Prologue: Prologue

Ira Glass

Rana Awdish is a doctor in the intensive care unit at a big hospital, Henry Ford in Detroit. And when corona cases started arriving in March, she made up this job for herself.

Rana Awdish

How are you?

Woman

I'm good.

Ira Glass

She started spending hours of each day walking the fourth, fifth, and sixth floors that made up the ICU, just checking in on her co-workers, seeing how they were doing. Which means that maybe more than any single person in the hospital, she knows best what the staff has been going through at every stage of this pandemic. And she tries to help. Even, for instance, when a unit clerk tells her that she is short on bleach and wipes.

Rana Awdish

I'll see if I can poke some people.

Unit Clerk

OK, thank you.

Rana Awdish

I love you.

Unit Clerk

I love you, too.

Ira Glass

Miki Meek on our staff is the person who first reached out to Rana and got to know her. Hey there, Miki.

Miki Meek

Hey, Ira. So one of the things that's new about coronavirus is how much death the doctors and nurses see. It's relentless. And Rana especially worries about the doctors who are still in training, the residents and fellows.

Ira Glass

Ah, right. Henry Ford is a big teaching hospital.

Miki Meek

Yeah, so when Rana was a resident, she says the doctors in charge never checked in with the trainees about their feelings after a patient died. She says it's traumatic. You can feel like you failed them. And Rana says that two of the residents she trained with actually died by suicide. She sometimes still wonders if someone checking in might have made a difference.

So when she heard about the team of Henry Ford trainees who lost a patient, she made a point of stopping by to see them. They were all in this cramped, windowless workroom. It's on the fifth floor.

Rana Awdish

Hi, you guys. How are you?

Jay Lakshmikanth

How are you? I was trying to write an email to you, but I got caught up.

Rana Awdish

That's why we came down, because I figured it was like a better talking thing than-- we heard there was a bad day.

Jay Lakshmikanth

There was a young 22-year-old woman who died, and everyone took it pretty bad.

Rana Awdish

Yeah.

Jay Lakshmikanth

So--

Rim

There wasn't a dry eye.

Jay Lakshmikanth

Anywhere.

Miki Meek

That's a resident named Rim saying there wasn't a dry eye. I'm not sure I've ever heard doctors talk like this among themselves about what it's like when a patient dies.

Ira Glass

I have to say, it's interesting. You've played me this tape, and before this conversation with the trainees even get started, their leader, Jay Lakshmikanth, heads for the door to leave. And we had to kind of blocks him.

Jay Lakshmikanth

You guys can chat. I've got to go do this thing.

Rana Awdish

I'm going to walk over here.

Jay Lakshmikanth

Yeah.

Miki Meek

So she stands in front of the door, and she opens up this bag of donated scrub caps that have sharks and dinosaurs on them.

Rana Awdish

Did it make you too sad? Is that why you just took yourself out of the conversation?

Jay Lakshmikanth

No, well--

Rana Awdish

I feel like you need one of these, though, because I'm seeing your hair.

[LAUGHING]

Jay Lakshmikanth

Do you know how many of those I have?

Rana Awdish

Why aren't you wearing them?

Jay Lakshmikanth

People keep giving them to me. It's sort of a hint.

[LAUGHING]

Miki Meek

And then Rana, she turned to that resident, Rim, to get her to say more about her feelings about this patient who died. They'd taken care of her for a whole month.

Rana Awdish

What were you sharing about the patient?

Rim

Oh, no, it was just, you know-- like, she's 22. She's just like one of us. And I was just staring at how beautiful she was.

Rana Awdish

Aww.

Rim

Like, her eyelashes, her nails, her toenails. She worked in the eyelash business. She was-- like, we saw her pictures. Her mom shared her pictures with us. And she was so beautiful She was the hardest case for us. I know, for me, personally, I wanted to quit many times. Many days, I would imagine the conversation with Dr. Perry. I would just tell him, I can't do it anymore.

Rana Awdish

Aww.

Rim

But it's almost over, so it's like--

Rana Awdish

We all have those days. We literally all have those days. It's crazy what we expect of ourselves.

Rim

I've cried on rounds multiple times. I've had to leave to take a break to cry, and then come back. It's just really hard. And I have such a good--

Miki Meek

Jay had tried to get Rim to take a day off to get a break. The next day was her son's seventh birthday. But Rim didn't want to leave the rest of her team hanging.

Rim

And he said--

Jay Lakshmikanth

Your son's birthday, come on.

Rim

Yeah, I know. It's OK.

Jay Lakshmikanth

And you miss it.

Rim

Come, finish my work, and then I'll go.

Jay Lakshmikanth

No.

Rim

No, it's OK. He doesn't wake up till 11:00 anyways. [LAUGHS]

Jay Lakshmikanth

You know what seven is?

Rim

I got him a drone. I got him many toys, so--

Jay Lakshmikanth

Toys aren't going to replace you. Do you know what seven is? It's a lucky number in Hinduism.

Rim

Yeah?

Resident 2

Oh, really?

Jay Lakshmikanth

In my culture, it's a very lucky number.

Rana Awdish

Even here, with white people.

[LAUGHING]

Jay Lakshmikanth

Hey, have you seen this room? We don't know about white people.

[LAUGHING]

Ira Glass

We chose Henry Ford Hospital because it's in Detroit. The city is 80% Black. Black Americans have been dying of COVID-19 at higher rates than anybody else. In Michigan, they are four times more likely to die than whites. Henry Ford usually gets a mix of Black and white patients from all over the Midwest. But with the pandemic, the hospital basically turned into a huge COVID ward for the city of Detroit, and the patients in the ICU were now mostly Black. The staff says the majority were essential workers-- bus drivers, police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers, people from grocery stores.

Geneva Tatem

It's personal on a lot of levels.

Ira Glass

Dr. Geneva Tatem is one of the few Black doctors in the ICU and one of the senior doctors in the hospital. She's a pulmonologist. Her family moved to Detroit when she was 10. She has deep ties to the city now, and a deep awareness of what the virus has done to Black people there.

Geneva Tatem

I mean, I've had friends' parents, I've had multiple church members, multiple community leaders die. When I walk into the ICU and 15 out of 16 patients is a Black male between the age of 45 and 75, it's really an emotional, emotional thing.

Ira Glass

Dr. Tatum lives alone, but because of the stress of COVID, she's talking to a therapist for the first time-- her cousin.

Geneva Tatem

She has way more phone calls with me than she would probably care to admit. I probably owe her thousands of dollars in counseling money [LAUGHS] at this point.

Ira Glass

We started recording the staff at this hospital in mid-April, because we wanted to see what it is like for them to be going for so long in this intense and difficult situation. Rana started recording these conversations on her iPhone for us, with everybody's permission and knowledge. And she sent out emails to 40 people, urging them to talk to us, and to be honest about what's really happening in the hospital and tell everything, including, quote, "where we fail at times." "Be you," she wrote. "I love you."

The day in mid-April that we started talking to Rana and the doctors at Henry Ford was the very first day that the number of people admitted to the ER was fewer than the day before. It was the very first day after their peak, and the number of COVID patients has slowly dropped since then. We wanted to follow a hospital staff over time, because we wanted to see how they managed, and adapted, and adjusted, and just what it did to them personally.

And so we did regular calls with nurses and doctors on the Henry Ford staff for 2 and 1/2 months. And what we're going to bring you this hour are the moments that just really struck us and surprised us, of all sorts. From WBEZ Chicago, it's This American Life. Stay with us.

Robyn Semien is the producer on our staff who talked to Dr. Tatem, who you just heard. And Dr. Tatem told her this story that gives a sense of the situation at Henry Ford and in Detroit. Robyn will explain.

Robyn Semien

In our first interview, I asked Dr. Tatem a benign question about COVID patients using FaceTime to talk to their families who can't visit the ICU because the disease is so contagious. And as an answer, she told me a story so harrowing, it speaks to the relentlessness and devastation of the disease on the city, its speed and cruelty. It was about a patient in his early 40s--

Geneva Tatem

--who had Down syndrome, who was being cared for by his sister at home.

Robyn Semien

His sister brought him in with COVID symptoms. She was also taking care of her mother, who was also sick with COVID, so she had to drop him off at the hospital by himself.

Geneva Tatem

We bring him in. He's very sick. We brought him into the ICU. You know, we're gowned, and masked, and face shields, and gloves, and that physical barrier between us and him. And we're trying to explain to him what in the world is going on.

He doesn't understand it. He just sees a bunch of people dressed this way and is scared, confused, wondering where his sibling is and what's happening, why he needs to wear oxygen. And then, that's when it dawned on us-- we have to figure out a way pretty quickly to help him understand.

Robyn Semien

So they used FaceTime. This was one of the first times Henry Ford used it with COVID patients. It was still early in the pandemic. Dr. Tatem and her team got the man's sister on the phone, on video, so she could explain to her brother how sick he was and why the oxygen was necessary. And then she told the doctors what might help her brother relax.

Geneva Tatem

His favorite TV channel is this. His favorite TV program is that. He likes this for a snack. He likes these things for activities. And so we were able, pretty quickly, to get those things that he needed to create the environment as close to normal as it can be in an isolation room, if you will.

Robyn Semien

And did that work? Did it calm him down?

Geneva Tatem

It absolutely did. It absolutely did.

Robyn Semien

Meanwhile, she says his mom was at a different hospital with COVID, and her condition was worsening. His sister was monitoring them both from home and calling their brother all the time to check on him and keep his spirits up.

Robyn Semien

Was she giving updates to her brother about how their mom was doing? Or was that a bridge too far?

Geneva Tatem

That was a bridge too far.

Robyn Semien

Oh, wow. So he really didn't know that his mom was sick, basically?

Geneva Tatem

No. And the sad thing in this case is actually, because the sister who was his caregiver was both taking care of him and his mother, she got ill.

Robyn Semien

The staff found this out by accident. One day, they needed the sister's help.

Geneva Tatem

And we kept calling and couldn't get an answer. And then, after multiple attempts, another sibling called and said, hey, I'm so-and-so's other sister. And the reason why you haven't been able to get in touch with my sister is because she has now passed away.

Robyn Semien

Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness.

Geneva Tatem

I'm not really sure if he knows that his sister, who is his caregiver, has passed away.

Robyn Semien

Oh, my goodness.

Geneva Tatem

Yeah, because it-- so it was devastating to us, as a team, when we heard about that. Because again, this is the aftermath of what we're seeing. And to know that his sister, who spent her life making sure that he was OK, wound up dying from the very disease that we're treating him for was really, really difficult.

[SNIFFLING]

And this was what we'd been seeing over and over again-- the person who gets admitted to the ICU who tells us, yeah, well, my spouse is also sick, or my daughter or son is also sick. We've had instances where we've had multiple family members of just one family in our ICUs. So it's really difficult, and something I don't think any of us could have even emotionally prepared ourselves for.

Robyn Semien

At its peak, COVID spread through Detroit like an invisible wildfire, entire homes, neighborhoods unrecognizable afterwards. The man Dr. Tatem treated was moved to rehab to recover from what COVID did to his body. What it did to his life is different. There's no rehab for that.

Ira Glass

Robyn Semien is a producer on our show.

Act One: Pod Bless America

Ira Glass

Act One, "Pod Bless America." In April, when we first started talking to the staff at Henry Ford, the intensive care unit was struggling with something they had never seen before-- all these patients who were just not getting better. These were COVID patients who would either die, or they'd stay stuck on ventilators for weeks, and the staff had no idea how to get them off. When that doctor, Rana Awdish-- who we heard at the beginning of the show-- would circulate through the hospital, talking to staff and checking in, they all knew that she has a very particular approach to medicine and to patient care.

Miki Meek, welcome back.

Miki Meek

Hey again, Ira. So yeah, Rana's whole approach to medicine comes out of an experience she had back in 2008. She was a doctor here at Henry Ford, and then she landed in her own ICU as a patient. She had multi-system organ failure and went on a ventilator. And she told me her co-workers acted like she couldn't hear them, but she actually could.

Rana Awdish

What shocked and upset me the most was overhearing a resident in the hallway say, she's trying to die on me. Hearing in the operating room, she's circling the drain.

Miki Meek

That sounds so scary to hear that.

Rana Awdish

Yeah. It was so difficult to imagine my own recovery when everyone around me was talking about me as if I was dying. But, you know, I had said similar things.

Miki Meek

She's circling the drain?

Rana Awdish

Yeah. It was a culture of bravado, and it was showing that you were untouched by suffering. It was that it didn't matter. One of the things I've always felt sort of ashamed about is that our patients have been telling us these things for years.

Miki Meek

When she recovered, she returned to her job at the hospital with a new mindset. It was all about empathy-- that empathy would make her a better doctor, not worse, which was the opposite of her training. She'd been taught that too much feeling clouds a doctor's judgment. She and a small team revamped the way the whole system talks to patients, and Rana wrote a book about her experience that's now used in medical schools.

But when COVID hit their ICU, it became impossible for the staff to do some of the things Rana put in place. Like, before COVID, when someone arrived unconscious or sedated into the ICU, they'd always ask the family, what do you think your loved one would want me to know about them? Families would put up photos and bring in quilts, personalize the rooms. And the staff, they liked that. They really wanted to get to know the person they'd be caring for. But under COVID, all that was impossible. Families could no longer come in and get to know the staff.

Rana Awdish

I had one nurse tell me just yesterday, I feel like all of my patients are the same.

Miki Meek

What does that mean, all the same?

Rana Awdish

In this case, they all have COVID pneumonia, they're all proned, they're all on the ventilator. And so there was the risk of depersonalization for the patients.

Miki Meek

She said getting to know their patients was a part of their job that they really got a lot of satisfaction out of, but they didn't totally realize that until COVID took it away.

Ira Glass

This change throughout the hospital was biggest for the nurses. They're the ones who spend the most time with COVID patients. And our next story is about the nursing staff in Pod Four.

The ICU in Henry Ford is broken up into these pods. Pod Four was the front line in the hospital's COVID-19 effort. It was the very first pod designated as all coronavirus patients before the other ICU pods also became all COVID, all the time. Ben Calhoun spent weeks talking to the nurses in Pod Four.

Ben Calhoun

By mid-April, the nurses in Pod Four had adapted to the alternate universe of COVID-19, at least in certain ways. What I mean-- take just the PPE. That's the personal protective equipment they had to wear to go into COVID rooms. This was a high-stakes thing.

At this point, people had seen 10 ICU staff get COVID. Two colleagues were on ventilators. One nurse had died. Some people got superstitious about "I always put on my gloves in this order." "I always wear a scrub cap under the paper cap, and then I won't get sick."

What I didn't get about the PPE until talking to the nurses in Pod Four was the mundane, relentless, crazy-making-ness of the very gear keeping them safe. This arduous ritual of rubber gloves, tie-up gowns, P100 respirators that look like gas masks, clear plastic face shields. It took five minutes to put it on to go into a room, five to eight minutes to take it off when you come out. You might have to do this as many as two dozen or more times every single shift.

How long it took to get into a room because of all the PPE is actually a good example of how COVID changed what it was like for people to do even just the basic and normal parts of their jobs. Evan Guffey is a nurse in Pod Four. He says you have these ICU rooms with windows out onto the hallway.

Evan Guffey

Like, all shift long, you hear people banging on the glass windows.

[SHARP BANGING ON GLASS]

Because they need-- they went into the room, and they forgot their supplies to draw blood, or they forgot one medication. So--

Ben Calhoun

OH, so that's a regular sound?

Evan Guffey

Yes, it's very irritating, but we're all doing it to each other.

Ben Calhoun

[LAUGHS] So there's a little bit of a boom, boom, boom-- oh, not again?

Evan Guffey

Yep, yep.

Ben Calhoun

It was hard, in the new world of COVID, to even communicate with these patients, to explain where they were and what was happening, and to reassure them, and to connect with them in the way that they're used to, the way Rana Awdish talks about. They were still puzzling out the ways to do that.

These patients, many of them were sedated, alone in a room with the nonstop sound of the ventilator, which is loud. It's like a vacuum. So nurses had to shout through their P100 masks-- which is like a gas mask-- and a clear plastic face shield over the roar of the ventilator.

Nurse

Hey, sir, do you know where you are right now? You're at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Do you know that? OK.

Anthony Valeri

Now, it's-- really, you're speaking through your eyes, because that's really all they can see.

Ben Calhoun

Anthony Valeri, another nurse in Pod Four.

Anthony Valeri

You've got to speak through your eyes, because they can't see it. Or you just explain to them that you're smiling. Think how many times I've said that. I said, I'm saying good morning with a smile on my face right now.

Nurse

You know what you're here for? You're being treated for COVID-19, the coronavirus, right now, OK? Are you in any pain right now?

Ben Calhoun

In April, a month and a half into all of this, the nurses from Pod Four seem like people who are in the throes of a crisis, but also like people who are used to crises. The first time I talked to Evan, I asked how he was holding up.

Evan Guffey

I'm good, yeah. I have a good ability to leave work at work. So the second I leave, I can just not think about it. But I'm holding up good.

Ben Calhoun

Sarah Davis is another nurse in Pod Four. She'd been hoping to take on extra shifts because her husband lost his job thanks to COVID. But you ask how she's doing, she's got the same kind of ICU nurse toughness, which I sort of grew up around. My mom was a neonatal ICU nurse. She talks like Evan, who talks like Sarah.

Sarah Davis

I think what I do and most of us do, you're in the ICU, things are hard. What I say is, you put your pants on and you do it. You can't complain about it. That's going to make it worse. And you just-- you've got to do it.

Ben Calhoun

By May, a month later, things change. Now it seems likely that Pod Four patients, who have been stuck on life support for weeks, most of them would probably never recover. Evan was used to helping patients get better, or giving them a dignified death. Now he felt like he was seeing too many situations that were neither.

The nurses had not seen this coming. Sarah Davis told me she'd braced herself for the surge, but nobody envisioned this part.

Sarah Davis

You know, you go to work because you want to help people. These patients-- any patients-- are why we go to work in the morning.

Ben Calhoun

Yeah.

Sarah Davis

And when we can't-- when we can't help somebody, or we're just helping them just get through the day, when a lot of this-- and I don't want this to sound the wrong way-- but we know that they're probably not going to make it out of there, right?

Ben Calhoun

Right.

Sarah Davis

So-- and I feel like I'm a person optimistic by nature, too.

Ben Calhoun

Mm-hmm.

Sarah Davis

And recently, I feel that-- because I feel like I have changed. I'm more of like-- my husband is a realist and I'm an optimist. And now I feel like we're changing places.

Ben Calhoun

When I talk to Evan Guffey in May, he tells me about what he's struggling with the most-- that families are continuing to tell them to do everything they can to save patients, which he gets. But there's a patient who typifies what he's seeing-- a man, several underlying health issues, who's been stuck on life support for weeks. He's heavily sedated, breathing tube down his throat.

Eventually, the man's kidneys give out, so he's on constant dialysis. His lungs also give out. And even when they stop sedating him, he remains unresponsive.

Evan Guffey

It's like, what are we doing here? We're just continuing to make these people suffer, in a way. It's tough to see those people suffering every day, hooked up to all of these different lines and tubes, and they're essentially unresponsive. And we know if we were to cut a couple of the interventions off, they would pass away very quickly.

Ben Calhoun

Mm-hmm.

Evan Guffey

So I think it causes a lot of frustration with the nursing staff. Because we feel like we're prolonging the inevitable.

Some of the frustration got brought up yesterday. We had one of our nurses talking with our physicians about, well, when is enough? When are we done?

Ben Calhoun

Evan means that the caring thing would be to let them die.

Evan Guffey

I don't know, Ben. I don't know.

Erin Dicks

It sounds like everyone, from what I could tell from the rounding, they're just really frustrated. They feel like they're torturing people now.

Rana Awdish

They do, very much. I actually was--

Ben Calhoun

Around the same time, Rana Awdish checked in with Erin Dicks, Evan and Sarah's boss. They were standing outside the nurse's break room, talking about exactly what Evan was saying.

Erin Dicks

Because they feel like they're doing wrong.

Rana Awdish

Yeah.

Erin Dicks

They feel like they're preventing the inevitable, and everything that we do is not doing anything. And they're like, this isn't right. Like, they feel-- they start to feel guilty.

Rana Awdish

Yeah.

Erin Dicks

Yeah.

Rana Awdish

Yeah.

Erin Dicks

Like they're just keeping somebody alive when there's nothing we do is changing any outcome, you know?

Rana Awdish

No, I completely understand that feeling. You know, there's no way--

Ben Calhoun

They talk about how Pod Four nurses are stuck in the worst position in medicine. They're caught in the middle between patients who they worry are suffering, who are clearly dying, and their families, who are holding out hope.

Erin Dicks

Because that's-- they don't understand it.

Rana Awdish

It's so abstract.

Erin Dicks

Yeah.

Rana Awdish

We wouldn't believe any of this if we weren't here, right?

Erin Dicks

No. No, it's hard. I mean, you don't. Unless you're sitting there day in and day out and living it every day, you don't understand it. You can't have the feelings that we all have. And so it's--

Rana Awdish

I've been wondering if there's anything we should try to prepare to do differently, maybe before the next wave.

Erin Dicks

I know, which is going to come.

Rana Awdish

I hate to even say it.

Erin Dicks

I know, I know.

Rana Awdish

Like, if there are different timelines for these conversations.

Ben Calhoun

By "these conversations," Rana means conversations with patients' families. She wonders if doctors and nurses need to change the language they're using with them, when a patient isn't getting better.

Erin Dicks

We were talking about this the other day. I think it's how we say things. Instead of saying-- when they're that sick, instead of saying, we've seen progress today, maybe we say, we've seen a change today. And this is what we've seen.

Rana Awdish

Because it creates false hope.

Erin Dicks

Right. And so not to-- I don't want to instill that, like, oh my god, they're getting better, because they're still so crazy sick. But if we say it differently--

Rana Awdish

Yes, because we're so eager to give good news, right? We want to, and so we--

Erin Dicks

You almost need that.

Rana Awdish

Yeah. But sometimes, it's false.

Erin Dicks

Yeah. Yeah, because they can change.

Rana Awdish

No, that's a really wise insight.

Erin Dicks

Yeah, they can change so rapidly. So I think that's the challenge.

Rana Awdish

We're asking a lot of everyone. A lot.

Erin Dicks

Yeah.

Ben Calhoun

That same week-- this is week nine-- one of the nurses I talked to, Sarah Davis, she had a day where two patients died, and neither of them had family in the room with them. The first was a man who was intubated, so he couldn't speak. Sarah stood with the doctor and held an iPad wrapped in a plastic bag in front of the face of this dying man as a woman said goodbye to him.

Sarah Davis

And just hearing that conversation, with that woman who was talking to the patient who couldn't speak back to her, just saying how much she loved him, and that it was a pleasure to have him, to have him in her life. And there was just really-- just so much sadness.

Ben Calhoun

In normal times, Sarah wouldn't even be witnessing this kind of private moment. Families would come into the room. Doctors and nurses would leave. The second death-- this was the same shift-- Sarah and others in Pod Four gathered outside the room of a man who was dying alone, and they prayed with the man's son, who was on speakerphone.

Sarah Davis

So that-- that was hard.

Ben Calhoun

Probably less than an hour after that, Sarah says, the other patient, the man with the iPad, a couple family members were supposed to be there when he died. But things went wrong. The family told the hospital, take his ventilator tube out, and we'll be there to say goodbye at 7:30. So not long before 7:30, Sarah was in the room, and he was extubated. But then, this man starts dying much faster than normal, and his family is not there yet.

Sarah Davis

So I was waiting for them to come. But while-- I was waiting for them to come and I was making him comfortable. And I stayed with him while he died, before his family came. And he ended up passing right before his family came.

Ben Calhoun

I can't stress enough how different this is from Sarah's normal job, being alone with a dying patient. Since COVID, it's common for nurses, though, in hospitals everywhere. With this man, Sarah stood by herself, and held his hand, and stroked his head. She told him he did a good job, as she stared through the window, hoping desperately that his family would appear.

Sarah Davis

And then I came home. And you'd appreciate this, because you have kids. And I thought I was OK. And I had come home. My kids are normally asleep. So I just peeked in the room that they were in. And they both were looking like they were sleeping. I was just looking at them, crying. [LAUGHS]

And then they were both up. And my son was like, oh, are you sad? Then I start bawling my eyes out. And I was like, yeah, it was a sad day.

And you know, he knows what I do. And we called the virus "the world bug." And he asked if somebody died. And so I told him, yeah. And just in six-year-old terms, that I was with him, and that he was comfortable. And so that was probably the saddest day that I've had.

Ben Calhoun

I'm so sorry. I can't imagine.

Sarah Davis

Yeah. It just really-- it just really sucks.

Ben Calhoun

Around the same time, early May, COVID cases have finally receded enough that parts of the hospital are starting to go back to normal. Non-COVID floors are reopening. People who've been furloughed are coming back to work. Specialists who'd been assigned to COVID ICUs go back to their normal jobs. Even the deli reopens.

Some people tell Rana that they're surprised to find themselves feeling upset about other parts of the hospital going back to normal-- not because they're jealous, but because it makes them feel like this awful thing they'd all gone through is being erased. And for the staff of Pod Four with their 16 ICU beds, they're still 100% COVID patients. And the COVID patients are going to keep coming. Rana talked to Miki about it.

Rana Awdish

I'm not seeing relief. I'm seeing sadness. And that's the thing that's starting to settle in, is this is ours.

Miki Meek

The relief valve isn't coming any time soon.

Rana Awdish

Right. The group of, I think, doctors and nurses who are caring for these patients are going to be the group of doctors and nurses caring for these patients for the next two years. And I don't know if we've wrapped our minds around yet.

Ben Calhoun

COVID was this brutal new normal, stretching out all the way to the horizon of the foreseeable future.

Ira Glass

Ben Calhoun, he's one of the producers on our show.

Coming up, OK, your dad comes off a ventilator. His life has been saved. What is the very first thing he says to you? We hear what happened in one family. That's in a minute, from Chicago Public Radio, when our program continues.

Act Two: Stan’s Good Day

Ira Glass

This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today's show, "The Reprieve," stories of coronavirus at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit-- not when they were busiest and things were the worst, but in the weeks since, as the number of cases steadily declined. What you're hearing this hour is when things were less awful. I should say, before we go any further, that, of course, this past week, COVID-19 cases across the country have been on the rise, including in Michigan.

Anyway, in the first half of our show, we focused mostly on the staff of the hospital. In this half, we turn to the people that they tried to save. We've arrived at Act Two of our show-- Act Two, "Stan's Good Day."

And we found out about the patient in this story from a recording made by a young doctor named Stan Linder who worked in the intensive care unit during the second year of his training at Henry Ford, studying his specialties, nephrology and critical care. He said that he would binge Oreos to cope with the stress. "I am not going to make my summer body goals," he told one of our producers.

Anyway, our producer Emanuele Berry put this together. It begins with a voice memo that Stan recorded for us on his phone.

Stan Linder

This is April 30, 2020. It's 7:30 at night, and I've just finished my last COVID ICU day. I've worked the last 11 days in a row, and it's been sort of a crazy experience.

And today was really rough-- really rough. I've had some really horrible moments-- horrible moments that I will always remember. And I feel like I'm eventually going to have PTSD from this, which sucks.

But one of my best moments in this has definitely been one of my patients-- and I will always remember her for the rest of my life. She was young and pregnant, very along in her pregnancy-- very along. And the first day that I met her, she was struggling to breathe-- like, really struggling to breathe. And you could tell that just by how fast she was breathing.

But she was, in that same moment, comfortable. Her face was total comfort. It was sort of eerie to see how fast she was breathing. 40 to 50 times a minute-- that's very fast. That's almost one breath a second. For you to inhale and exhale that quickly takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of muscle movement to do that. Eventually, someone will tire out, and they will stop breathing.

Before the patient ended up intubated, I had to have her call her husband on the phone so we could have a conversation about what would happen, not only to my patient, but also her unborn child. That's an extreme conversation to have within five minutes of meeting a person.

And so she was on the ventilator for seven days and ended up getting extubated on that seventh day. And she did great for a couple hours after she got extubated. And then, by noon, everything went haywire. And she was adamant, adamant, that she would not-- she absolutely did not want the tube back in. And I pleaded with her, because her heart rate was up, she was breathing so fast. I thought she was going to tire out again. And she was adamant. She's like, no, I do not want that tube back in.

And then, two days later, she had a vaginal delivery. I have never-- she had a vaginal delivery two days after getting extubated from a ventilator for seven days. That blows my mind. It blows my mind, blows my mind. A miracle! Amazing!

My patient survived. My patients survived. I had two, two patients in that room, and they both came out healthy. And a lot of my patients, especially in the beginning of all this, didn't. So I'm really glad I've had this experience right at the end.

Emanuele Berry

What's the baby like?

Francesca Miranda Aquino

Well, she's-- [LAUGHS] She's a really tough baby.

Emanuele Berry

Why?

Francesca Miranda Aquino

She's, like-- she want to be in arms all day. And if you don't do what she wants at the moment, she gets really mad, and she give you this mad face. And it's funny that she's-- [LAUGHS]

Emanuele Berry

You don't know what I went through for you, child?

Francesca Miranda Aquino

Yeah. I'm like, OK. Yeah, I'm like, OK, you really have a bad attitude with me.

[LAUGHING]

Emanuele Berry

This is Francesca Miranda Aquino. She worked as a chef at PF Chang's. She's originally from Puerto Rico. Now she lives in Mexicantown, Southwest Detroit, with her husband, who's a preacher, their two-year-old son, and now her newborn daughter, who does not seem to appreciate what her mom went through to bring her into the world.

Francesca remembers a few things from her time in the ICU. She remembers how hopeless the place seemed when they wheeled her in. It felt like breathing in death, she says. She remembers how, days later, when she came to, no one else in her pod was awake. And she remembers the moment Stan talked about, where she refused to be re-intubated. It was the morning of the 21st. The tube had only been out for a few hours.

Francesca Miranda Aquino

And I remember that another doctor came in, and he told me that my heart was beating really fast and my blood pressure was really, really high. And he told me that, really, they need to put the tube back in again, and I need to relax. And I told him, no.

Emanuele Berry

[LAUGHS]

Francesca Miranda Aquino

I told him, no, you're not going to put those tubes back again. And I told him, it's just passed one hour where they took out the tubes on me, and now you want to put the tubes back on me? No. You just need to give me time. That's what I told him. You need to give me time where my body starts reacting normal. And he was like, OK.

Emanuele Berry

Billions and billions of people have had babies. Millions have gotten COVID. Very few people, like Francesca, have done both at the same time.

They decided to induce labor, and she chose to do it alone because she thought it would be too dangerous for her family to come to the ICU where everyone had COVID. Remember, she'd only been off the ventilator for two days. She was incredibly weak and could barely raise her legs by herself.

At this point, she's still on oxygen. The doctors wanted her to hold her breath and push, but breathing in general was still tough. And then, once the baby was born, after 25 hours of labor--

Francesca Miranda Aquino

So when I had the baby, they really took the baby out of the room, and I didn't get to see my baby after three days.

Emanuele Berry

You didn't get to see the baby for three days?

Francesca Miranda Aquino

Yeah, after three days, yeah.

Emanuele Berry

Francesca was still recovering from COVID and still in the ICU, so she and the baby were separated. When Francesca was well enough to be moved from the ICU to the general floor, she was told she would have to wear a mask and gloves, but she could hold her child for the first time.

Francesca Miranda Aquino

And I was like, oh my god, I thought I would never hold you. But I felt really happy. And as soon as I was with him in the room, I called my husband on video call, and my husband started crying. And he-- my husband, he's a really emotional person. And he started crying, and then he was really excited. And he put on the phone my son. And my son was watching his sister. It was a really, really good moment.

Emanuele Berry

What's the baby's name?

Francesca Miranda Aquino

Arisbeth.

Emanuele Berry

Francesca is at home now. She's not working because she doesn't have childcare, but she's happy that she's no longer being poked and prodded with needles at the hospital. Arisbeth is doing great. She's perfectly healthy. Francesca says she loves kisses from her big brother. She's sleeping through the night and already trying to roll on her tummy.

Ira Glass

Emanuele Berry.

Act Three: Granger in a Strange Land

Ira Glass

Act Three, "Granger in a Strange Land." So Robert Granger was in Pod Four for three weeks. He got close with one of the nurses, Sarah Davis. She's the nurse that you heard earlier who saw two people die in a single day, the nurse who talked about becoming less of an optimist.

She had a special connection with Mr. Granger and attached a lot of hope to his case. They talked about his wife, who died of cancer in January, and how hard his family had taken it. He also talked about his grown daughter, Jocelyn. And as he got sicker, Sarah really pushed him to phone Jocelyn. Here's Sarah.

Sarah Davis

I was like, we're calling her. No, I don't want to. I was like, we're calling her. [LAUGHS] But what was really interesting about him and his daughter was, as he was talking to his daughter, he was being so tough, but at the same time, crying. His wife had just passed away, not from COVID. And he was doing everything that he possibly could because he didn't want his daughter to lose Dad.

Ira Glass

Emanuele Berry put together this story about Robert Granger and his daughter Jocelyn.

Emanuele Berry

Jocelyn's in her 20s, and her dad's in his 60s. He works for the city fixing buses. And he called her one Friday and said he needed to go to the hospital.

Jocelyn

I'm like, that's all I need to know. Hung up, ran down, speeded all my way to his house, because I was scared. I'm like, I think he has it.

Emanuele Berry

Yeah, what was that car ride like?

Jocelyn

He probably was scared, because I probably was driving like the dragster at Cedar Point. It was to the point to where it was-- I'm worried about-- I'm like, I need to get him there, because I'm thinking-- I'm hearing all over the news that they're running out of supplies. And I'm like, I need to get him in there just in case he needs a ventilator. And he was like, um, you know how fast you're going? And I'm like, OK, OK, reality, reality-- and then spiked back up.

And I literally just remember drifting into the emergency, because I've seen the tents. I had my mask on. He was in the back seat, just to social distance from me. And then, the last thing he said to me was, if I get out of here and you're taking me home, don't drive like this when we go back.

Emanuele Berry

But she can't take him home. He has COVID, and he's taken to ICU Pod Four. As the days pass, he gets worse. The medications don't seem to work. His breathing becomes more labored. And then, on Jocelyn's birthday--

Jocelyn

I get a call from him saying, like, hey, I might be put on a ventilator. And I'm like, no. No, no, no, no. Because the doctors are telling me the last thing they want to do is put them on the ventilators, because most people are not making it out. So I'm freaking out. Then it turns out it was a false alarm.

And then, a few days later, I get a phone call. And he just said, it's not looking so good. And it almost sounded like he whispered it to me, because he couldn't breathe. One of the scariest phone calls of my life. Probably the top second. The first is when he called me to tell me my mother passed. And now, this was the second-worst phone call I've ever received in my life.

Emanuele Berry

How do you react to that?

Jocelyn

When I say it took so much muscle to not have my voice crack because I was getting ready to sob-- I'm like, OK, Dad. I'll talk to you soon.

Emanuele Berry

Why didn't you want your voice to crack on the phone or for your dad to hear you getting upset?

Jocelyn

Because if-- just like my mom, if I worry, he worries.

Emanuele Berry

That's what he said about you.

Jocelyn

Is that why you he said he didn't want to-- he had to keep his composure, too?

Emanuele Berry

Yeah, he didn't want you to worry.

Robert Granger

Told her that, you know, I love her, and that I'm about to go on a ventilator and I don't know what's going to happen. And I just told her, let the family know, and talk to our minister. And they came in, and they put me on it.

Emanuele Berry

This is her dad, Robert, though I'm going to call him Mr. Granger, because that's what Sarah Davis called him. And it's just a solid dad name. The nurses told us they often wondered what this all looked like from the patient's side. Here's how it looked for Mr. Granger. When he was rolled into the ICU, he says he felt like he was inside a fishbowl. Lots of windows, lots of people staring at him through those windows, including Sarah Davis.

Robert Granger

Sarah stands out the most. I just remember her, a lot of times, looking through the window and out at the nurses. And one nurse in particular would hold up a little piece of paper and saying, we're praying for you.

As I started getting a little worse, I noticed just the doctors were-- they didn't come in at first. They would just look. They would just look through the window. Look at me, wave, and then look at the meter, at my vitals.

Emanuele Berry

What did it feel like to just have people looking?

Robert Granger

I didn't know what to think at first. And then one doctor came in, and he sat down, and he asked me, what did I think? And I say, well, I'm thinking things are not too good.

Emanuele Berry

This is when the doctors told Mr. Granger they may have to put him on a ventilator.

Robert Granger

And I said, if I'm on it for a reasonable amount of time and things don't look good, take me off.

Emanuele Berry

Was it easy for you to make that decision, or--

Robert Granger

No, but it's a decision I wanted to make. I didn't want my daughter to have to make that decision. Going through my head is, at that time, they didn't know whether I was going to make it or not. And the only thing I can think of is, wow, we just went through losing my wife, and my daughter is losing her mother. Now, if she lose me, she's really going to be devastated. Because my daughter, she's an emotional person.

Emanuele Berry

On that phone call about the ventilator, dad was trying to protect his daughter by being tough. Daughter was trying to protect dad by doing the same thing. But neither of them is conscious of this until Sarah, the nurse who was getting to know them both, pointed it out. Here's Jocelyn.

Jocelyn

She just asked me, like, you know, how was it? Like, how did you stay so strong? And I said, girl, when I hung up, I was not strong at all. I let it out. She was like, your dad literally said the same thing. I was like, go figure.

And that's when I realized, I usually-- my mom was the sweetest person ever, and I used to think-- I got the kind of thing where I can't say no to helping people. I used to think I got it from her. I got it from him. And that was just-- it just made me feel more guilty. And I'm like, wow, I really wish I took the time to get closer to you, equally as much as my mom.

Emanuele Berry

For 10 days, he's on a ventilator, and she wonders if she'll ever have more time with them. Jocelyn described this thing that really stuck with me, that when you call into a hospital every day, when you cannot see or talk to your loved one, you live with a sort of picture of them in your head that you're holding onto, even though what's happening to them may be completely different than that image. There's this disconnect.

So when she calls to check in on him a week or so in, in her head, he's sleeping on a vent. But the nurse who answers the phone says, oh, he's off the vent. And he was. She gets him on the phone.

Jocelyn

And then, like, you know, one of the first things he asked me when he answered the phone to tell me that he was off the ventilator? He literally asked me, did I need any money?

[LAUGHING]

I'm like, are you serious right now? [LAUGHS] I'm like, no. I'm like-- and it just kind of like-- you know how someone has a personality quirk that just sums up their whole character? That was it. I was like, wow. You literally just died and came back, and the first thing you asked is, do you need any money?

I just remember calling him on April 17, which is my mom's birthday. He was still not conscious. So I asked the nurse, and I'm like, is my dad awake? And she was like, no, he's sedated. And I'm like, OK, good, because today would've been his wife's birthday. I just want to make sure he's not sad or depressed.

Emanuele Berry

After four weeks in the hospital, Mr. Granger was discharged to a rehab center. When he was well enough to come home from there, Jocelyn went to pick him up. She made sure to get all her crying done in the car before she got there.

Jocelyn

Yeah, I did. I tried not to cry, because I hate crying in front of my dad.

Emanuele Berry

I do, too. [LAUGHS]

Jocelyn

Because I feel like-- yeah.

Emanuele Berry

Yeah.

Jocelyn

I really hate crying in front of my-- I don't know what it is. But I don't know. I just hate crying in front of people. But it's just, I really hate crying in front of my dad. So I'm like, don't cry, don't cry. Like, I want my crying out in the car. I was playing all of my sad reuniting songs. So I'm like, OK.

Emanuele Berry

What were you playing?

Jocelyn

I think-- I'll have to go through my playlist, because I played about, like, 65 songs. Because the problem with me is I can never play a song fully. In the middle, I'm like, OK, I'm tired of this song.

Emanuele Berry

[LAUGHS]

Jocelyn

But I do know some artists. I played some of his favorite artists, which are The Temptations, The Whispers. I played some of my mom's favorite artists, which were the Bee Gees-- which is hilarious.

And when I seen him, he looked different in a good way. Like, my dad never had a beard before. So I was like, wow, you have a beard. And he looked so thin. Not in a bad way-- like, you could tell he lost a lot of weight.

And I said, I'm like, wow, if Mom could have seen you now. It just felt like we just kind of pressed play. It's like-- all right, you know how you play a CD, and it just skips, and you're just in some random scene? I felt like I was just like in a random splash of happiness. It just didn't happen.

Once I got him in that car, it felt like it didn't happen. I'm like, wow. Like, I literally have you in the car. And you don't-- I didn't expect you to look like this, but you look better. And then we started talking about food and just normal things we talked about. And I was like, wow, I feel like Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin. [LAUGHS]

Emanuele Berry

How so?

Jocelyn

It's-- OK. Every time, the end of the movie, they go to the special place where they just talk about random things, and it's called the Enchanted Forest. And it's kind of like that whole car ride was just conversations of things he missed, things that have been going on, random things that we'd talked about before, what we've been craving to eat. And it just is so amazing.

And I'm like, wow, I almost-- I'm so happy that I almost forgot the trauma that I just experienced.

Emanuele Berry

Mr. Granger's at home, but still in recovery. When I talked to him, he could walk up to 9 minutes at a time. He's hoping to make it around the block soon without a walker.

Ira Glass

Emanuele Berry.

Act Four: Mr. Eastside

Ira Glass

Act Four, "Mr. Eastside." Some of the first COVID patients to arrive at Henry Ford were police and others who'd attended a community breakfast in early March called Police and Pancakes. And we were especially interested in the story of that breakfast and those patients because it illustrates the scale of loss outside the hospital walls, the scale of loss in the city of Detroit.

Aaron Foley is from the city. He used to work as the city's chief storyteller, a position in the mayor's office that focuses on Detroiters telling their own narratives. He has this story of the breakfast, and of one man in particular who ended up at Henry Ford.

Aaron Foley

I'm going to take you to the East Side of Detroit for a minute, which is hard for me to do as a West Sider, but I'll let it slide, because I want to tell you the story of someone who embodies everything the city's East Side is made of, Marlowe Stoudamire.

The East Side is were some of the first Black Detroiters were able to legally purchase homes, and that includes some of Detroit's best attractions, like Belle Isle, which is something like our Central Park. But it also includes ZIP code 48205, which, in addition to diehard loyalists, has had one of the highest crime rates in the city.

The policing in that ZIP code, and in the rest of the city, included so much excessive force that the Detroit Police Department, the DPD, was put under a consent decree for years. And ever since, police have been trying to establish a better relationship with the community. The Police and Pancakes Breakfast was part of that.

The precinct there, the Ninth Precinct, held the breakfast to highlight the progress that they'd made and to try to get more voices in the conversation about police, like young people, pastors, and business owners. It was at Fisher Magnet Upper Academy-- a table in the entryway for name tags, and long buffet tables where heated trays of hash browns, eggs, and, of course, pancakes are waiting.

About 100 people were at the opening session-- police officers, of course, but also residents, representatives of the mayor's office, state legislators, and some high-achieving high school students, like senior Harley James. He's wearing a suit on a school day. His principal texted him the night before asking if he could come. He's a good public speaker, with a full ride to Michigan State this fall. When he arrived, the crowd was exactly what he expected it would be.

Harley James

A lot of old people.

Aaron Foley

[LAUGHS]

Harley James

It felt like one of them events that don't nobody go to. But like, I didn't expect no high schoolers to be there. It wasn't barely any high schoolers there. It wasn't something a teenager would go to just like-- if they were just like, oh, let's go to that. It was just, like, all grown people there.

Aaron Foley

Letty Azar, who works in the Mayor's Office handling community affairs on the East Side, was speaking that day. When she arrived, she saw Harley and gave him a big hug, not surprised that he'd be out of the classroom for an event like this.

Letty Azar

I mean, the kid can network like nobody's business. He's an incredible young man. So--

Aaron Foley

She's looking around the crowd to see who's here, looking around at all the different police, worried that the message of the breakfast won't come across.

Letty Azar

And then I saw Marlowe, and that was a big reassurance that, in fact, it was going to be a good day and a great event.

Aaron Foley

Marlowe is a community staple in Detroit. He had been tapped to help organize this event and host one of the portions of the breakfast as well. Letty worked with him a lot last year, side-by-side in intense community meetings where he put people at ease and got their trust. But she hadn't seen him in a few months.

Letty Azar

But I remember him walking through the entry door, and he just-- he gave me the biggest hug and lifted me right off my feet. And we were both so excited to do this together that morning. And I was kind of reminded of that, the minute I saw his face-- that any concerns we had about how successful that day would be just went away once you saw Marlowe and got that hug.

Aaron Foley

One of the other people Marlowe ran into was my friend, Adam Hollier. We went to high school together. Now he's a state senator, representing part of the East Side. So he's always at events like the pancake breakfast. But today, he wasn't giving out any hugs.

Adam Hollier

I was taking COVID-19 very seriously. People were, like, foot tapping or elbow bumping, but I wasn't. I was trying to keep my distance with folks, just because my mother had recently got through chemo, and I was operating under an abundance of caution throughout this process.

Aaron Foley

And then he saw Marlowe, and he forgot all that.

Adam Hollier

Nobody has a quick interaction with Marlowe Stoudamire. I mean, that's a guy that makes you feel like you matter, right? A good friend of mine was teasing him-- like, Marlowe's that hustle guy who found his way to work in the system, not on the outside of it. He's just like, hey, I need five turkeys, or I need to get these kids from this practice to this practice. And then, all of a sudden, you need a referee. It's like, well, where are you going to get the referee? You just call Marlowe.

Aaron Foley

Everybody has a story about Marlowe, and Marlowe seemed to know everybody who was trying to make life better for Black Detroit. He'd host these people on a makeshift talk show he did on Facebook Live.

Marlowe Stoudamire

I want to talk to you about a special guest that I have today. She's killing it right now, in a major way. Brittany Rhodes-- yeah, that's her-- is the founder of Black Girl MATHgic, all right? It's "math" and "magic." Put them together--

Aaron Foley

I first met Marlowe when we were both invited to speak at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-- for a panel about Detroit, of course. I had just started working for the mayor's office as chief storyteller, and I was getting some backlash because the mayor is white, and I'm not.

I had a long career as a journalist, and the mayor hired me during an election year. People said I sold out. I heard rumors about me that I was just hired on to finesse the mayor's image. And because of that, I didn't know who in Detroit I could trust.

That very first time I met him, Marlowe sensed something was wrong with me during that trip to Boston. So he got me to open up. He was disarming, and I shared with him some of the mixed emotions I was having about what people were saying about me back home.

He told me, and I quote, "That really pisses me the fuck off that people would say that about you. And if anybody has anything to say about it, we're going to deal with them." I never forgot that. Marlowe told me to "fuck 'em"-- his words. He told me that folks are rooting for me, folks are watching me, folks are wanting me to do well, and that he was excited for me and he was counting on me.

Just weeks after the breakfast, Marlowe Stoudamire would become the first person in Detroit publicly identified as dying from the virus.

Marlowe Stoudamire

Yo, yo, yo, good morning, Detroit. Good morning. This is Marlowe Stoudamire with another edition of Saturday Morning Coffee, at another location, as you will see and find out in a few minutes.

Aaron Foley

Here he is the day after the Police and Pancakes Breakfast, discussing the event on his makeshift talk show, which he hosted every Saturday on Facebook Live.

Marlowe Stoudamire

I had the privilege of being invited by Justin Kimpson at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center-- shout out to Justin-- over on the East Side to facilitate a conversation between the community and the Detroit Police Department. And it was called Police and Pancakes. And the cool thing about it was is that they brought in the different police and different community stakeholders, and the whole conversation was how to create a better community experience with the Detroit Police Department.

Aaron Foley

On that video, he also talked about his health. This was before COVID really hit Detroit. It wasn't on most people's minds. And he chalked it up to his lifestyle-- hustling, grinding, always going hard, 24/7.

Marlowe Stoudamire

I ran into one of my frat brothers over the weekend, last weekend. And he said, man, I really like the stuff that you're doing, the moves you're making out here, and all these other different things. But one of the things that he talked about was-- he said, make sure you take care of yourself. He said, you need to find a way to have self-care.

And what's interesting is that this week was a week where I felt bad. I had a few health challenges. I had a procedure done this week. And I realized that I hadn't been taking care of myself. So I need to make some adjustments--

Aaron Foley

No one knows exactly how COVID started spreading through Detroit, but law enforcement was hit hard in the beginning, and dozens of officers were at Police and Pancakes. At its height, more than 500 DPD employees were quarantined to contain the spread-- about 1/5 of the force.

As COVID spread through Michigan, I remember looking at what people in Detroit were sharing on Facebook. There are a lot of requests for prayer. But there are a lot of jokes, too-- some about how Vernors, the popular ginger ale, was all Detroiters needed to beat this deadly virus.

After Police and Pancakes, the Detroit Health Department began letting attendees know that they may have been exposed to the virus. People started wondering if they were carriers and who they might be passing it on to. Harley had left Police and Pancakes and went back to school. Letty left for another community event in District 4. Adam went to mingle with some pretty big names.

Adam Hollier

As soon as I left the breakfast, I went over to the Joe Biden office opening, the Joe Biden for President piece. And so I was there with the LG--

Aaron Foley

The lieutenant governor.

Adam Hollier

--Representatives Yancey and Tate, and former governor Blanchard as we kicked off the office. And I drove up to Cornell and then came back. And that Monday night, we had the big Joe Biden rally at Renaissance. And that was the last big event that I had gone to.

But at that same moment, I bump into Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris, and a host of Congressional members, and I'm with the governor. When I got the call, maybe a week later, that Marlowe had tested positive, it was like, man, god, I just hope I didn't give somebody COVID-19. And when you look back at those moments, it was all very scary, because you're like, well, when, how, if? Do I have it?

Aaron Foley

He didn't get sick.

Marlowe once worked at Henry Ford as community and diversity manager, and later, director of international business strategy. When he got there in March, he was one of the first patients treated for COVID-19 in Pod Four in the ICU. His time there was short. He died on March 24. Someone from work, a mutual friend, called Letty with the news.

Aaron Foley

Was he the first person you knew that had passed from it, or--

Letty Azar

He was. But interestingly, three hours later, I got a call on a DPD friend who had passed away. That's Jonathan Parnell, who was one of our DPD captains. And I've known his family for some time. So he was a great guy, very well-respected police officer and member of the community.

So it was Marlowe and Recon that day, and then the next day two, more. Then, the next day, three more. And that week of March that Marlowe passed away was-- I hope to never have to live anything like that again.

But it was just unbelievable, the number of calls, and texts, and people you knew that you worked with, you prayed with, you ate with, you grew up with, that you would see at community meetings, that you realize you're just never going to see again. We lost so many valuable souls in this city. And to come out of this pandemic-- they'd be the first people you'd turn to to say, all right, how do we get everybody-- how do we help rebuild some momentum? And they're not there.

Aaron Foley

Over the next few hours on that day, tributes started to pour in across social media about Marlowe, about how Detroit lost a giant, a champion, whatever your preferred term may be, and there was now a void that couldn't be filled. Who do you call now when you need advice or when you need mentorship? Who calls you when you need to be checked on? Who among us did he leave, and what would he be doing now in this moment when racial inequities have been laid bare, not just by the virus, but also by the killing of George Floyd?

In Detroit, another name you hear at the demonstrations these days is Aiyana Stanley-Jones. She was a seven-year-old girl from the East Side who was killed in a police raid while she slept on a couch back in 2010. Adam Hollier-- my friend, the state rep-- says Marlowe would be jumping in right now to help realize the goals of Black Lives Matter, wherever the biggest need is.

Adam Hollier

Oh, Marlowe? I mean, Marlowe is the type of person who would have been in the forefront. But he'd also have been someone that white people would have been reaching out to, right? So I have gotten a number of calls and texts from my well-intentioned, caring white friends who were like, hey, just checking in on you. Thinking about you.

Marlowe would have been the king of getting those kind of things, right? There would have been a host of people reaching out to him. And they'd say, well, how can I be helping?

He was like, well, you can do these three things, right? He'd say, I've got this organization that is doing this work. You can donate. Your business could hire more Black people. You can do these things.

And I think people are now willing to say that Black Lives Matter. What they aren't willing to say is how much they value them, right? How much do they matter? He would have been uniquely situated to have those conversations with people.

Aaron Foley

James Feagin IV is another one of those connectors in Detroit who I know knows everybody. Anytime I see him out, he's in a blazer and a button-up shirt. But now--

James Feagin Iv

Do I have to be in "sound bite, I'm on the air" mode? Or can I just talk?

Aaron Foley

Just talk.

James Feagin Iv

All right. Because yeah, I'm in gym shorts on my patio right now. I'm not on right now.

Aaron Foley

That's fine.

Both James and Marlowe are around 40. They both grew up on the East Side during that chaotic time in Detroit when crack started to ravage the city. They both built their careers in Detroit, dedicated to Detroit.

Aaron Foley

Where is Marlowe missing right now?

James Feagin Iv

[EXHALES] You know, this was a question I started thinking about the other day. And it was tough, because I'm still mourning. And a lot of us are. But the sad irony that Marlowe's last act was at a Police and Pancakes breakfast on the Far East Side, trying to foster positive-- I'm sorry. [SOBS] Positive relations with young black males and the police. That's what's missing right now, you know? [SOBS]

There's a lot of us who may have had negative experiences with police, but we also got police in our family, friends. If we could create more forums like that, then it would help everybody. Because our goal is that everybody, number one, stays alive, and number two, has a chance to contribute to a better Detroit and a better Black community. And I can just see him right now being that person that would be as angry as we all are about what happened to George Floyd, but also have some real relationships to point to and lean on.

Aaron Foley

When I talked to Marlowe's wife, Valencia, she didn't want to discuss the final days of her husband's life and says their two children are still adjusting to life without their dad. But she told me this story about an overseas trip they took just this past fall.

Valencia Stoudamire

We went to Rome in October. And literally, we saw the Colosseum. And he was, like, tearing up. And I'm like, oh, babe, you know, what's wrong? And he's like, you just don't understand. I'm not supposed to be here. This was what I saw in textbooks. This was not real.

And here's what had me to believe that it wasn't. (VOICE BREAKING) It wasn't real for me as a Black male. It wouldn't be my reality to see it. And it was overwhelming to him. I'm so glad we got to have that experience.

But he just-- it was very important for him that he beat the odds. And it was important to him that not only did he beat them, but all of the young men that looked like him behind him had an opportunity to do the same. And I think that was the most important thing to him.

Aaron Foley

Last year, Marlowe did this thing for 50 days straight where, each day, he'd write a Facebook post about two Black people in Detroit he saw potential in, which he later turned into a website called Roster Detroit. This came after a Chamber of Commerce official said that Amazon didn't choose Detroit for its new headquarters partly because the city didn't have enough talent. Marlowe's response was this list to say, here's what you missed out on.

Right now, the list of people we've lost to COVID is too long. So, too, is the list of people we've lost to police brutality. These lists are about Black death. But at this moment, I like to think about Roster Detroit, Marlowe's list of Black talent-- a list that's about Black people, living.

Ira Glass

Aaron Foley. He's about to become the head of the Black Media Initiative at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.

Marlowe Stoudamire

I'm looking at this sign in the window. I don't know if y'all can see it. It says, "Nothing stops Detroit." Nothing stops the people of Detroit, is what I would say. And the point that I'm making is, y'all, look-- if not us, then who? You got to make a decision about who you're going to be, right? And the city has to make a decision about what it's going to be and who it's going to be.

And I will tell you right now, it's tough. But the last time I checked, this was the D. And so I will just say, stay motivated, stay connected, and help people. Help people, help people, help people. I'll help you. Hit me up. All right, D. Holla.

Credits

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Miki Meek and Emanuele Barry. The people who put together our show today includes Bim Adewunmi, Susan Burton, Ben Calhoun, Dana Chivvis, Sean Cole, Aviva DeKornfeld, Hilary Elkins, Noor Gill, Damien Graef, Michelle Harris, Lina Misitzis, Stowe Nelson, and Katharine Mae Mondo, Lisa Pollock, Nadia Reiman, Brian Reed, Robyn Semien, Christopher Swetala, and Matt Tierney. Our managing editors are Diane Wheeler and Sarah Abdurrahman. Our executive editor is David Kestenbaum.

Special thanks today to Michael Eichenhorn, Sara Hegab, Jackie Pflaum, Kristen Chasteen, Kim North Shine, Patrick Bradley, Brittni Brown, Lamont Jones, Tatiana Grant, Melinda Madrigal, Imani Mixon, John Raniszewski, Jeffrey Rowe, Sonia Russell, Marcus Thirkill, Angela Wicks, Sarah Alvarez, Todd Bettison, Pamela Chen, Toni Davis, Gillian Grafton, Emily Ioco, Scott Kaatz, Toson Knight, Ricardo Marble, Carrie Morgan, Betty Morris, Varidhi Nauriyal, John Roach, Driadonna Rowland, Steve Poloni, Stacey Prantera, Zachary Smith, Jeff Wattrick, and Stateline, a journalism project funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Our website, thisamericanlife.org. This American Life is delivered to public radio stations by PRX, the Public Radio Exchange. Thanks, as always, to our program's co-founder Mr. Torey Malatia. You know, he actually met Donald Trump once. This was years ago. Kind of a weird story.

Jocelyn

He literally asked me, did I need any money?

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with more stories of This American Life.