Hospitalized for a month with COVID-19, man returns to apologize to ICU staff for being unvaccinated

Hospitalized for a month with COVID-19, man returns to apologize to ICU staff for being unvaccinated

One of the hardest things to do in life is to admit you’ve made a mistake. Admitting mistakes strikes directly at our notions of identity and self-worth; it’s why people double down when faced with irrefutable evidence that they’re wrong, and it’s why telling people they’re wrong will render futile most efforts to change their minds about something. It’s one of the reasons Donald Trump received so many votes in 2020 even after his dismal performance in office: Millions of people didn’t want to admit they’d made a mistake.

So when someone does acknowledge that they’ve made a grievous error, it ought to be something that’s commended, if not necessarily celebrated. Such a person should be held in regard because they’ve demonstrated what seems to be an increasingly rare attribute: the ability to grow and learn from a prior mistake, whether that error was due to misunderstanding or outright ignorance.

Consider a 54-year-old gentleman named Richard Soliz, who contracted the COVID-19 virus in August. Soliz had remained unvaccinated during the pendency of the pandemic. According to the reporting of Gina Harkins, writing for The Washington Post, Soliz, a graphic artist from the Seattle area, said “[h]e’d see one thing in the news … only to have it negated by something he saw on social media or heard in the grocery store checkout line.” In other words, his experience was a microcosm of what countless Americans have experienced to one degree or another during this unprecedented pandemic.

Upon entering Seattle’s Harborview Hospital, Mr. Soliz was provided with some stark news: He had multiple blood clots in his lungs, and doctors were afraid those clots might migrate to his heart or brain.

The 54-year-old was on a heart-rate monitor, oxygen tank and eventually a ventilator. After being admitted to the hospital in late August, he spent 28 days at Harborview Medical Center, including two stints in the intensive care unit. His life, Soliz told The Washington Post, was “literally hanging on a thread.”

Unlike many people placed on a ventilator after contracting COVID-19, Soliz was ultimately discharged in September. Afterward, he couldn’t stop thinking about the hospital workers who had kept him alive. 

“I knew in my heart, in my mind and my consciousness, that it all could’ve been avoided,” Soliz says. So in October, he did something rather extraordinary: He went back to the hospital and apologized to his doctors.

As originally reported by Noah Shiedlower and Christina Zdanowicz for CNN, Soliz’s experience in the hospital underscored the severity of what he was facing and put his initial doubts in a different light.

Soliz told CNN that he struggled to breathe and felt as though he could have died at any moment. But he wanted to say sorry to those who cared for him, thanking everyone he saw at the facility who played a role in saving his life.

“I was literally on my deathbed and hanging from a string, and [doctors and nurses] tended to me as perfect strangers,” Soliz said. He added, when “you’re in a position that I was in, it resonates differently, and I just had to say something.”

Dr. James Town is the pulmonologist at Harborview and the head of its ICU unit. He told CNN that “99 out of 100” patients admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 were unvaccinated. Speaking about Soliz’s expressed regrets to the hospital staff, he noted that this was something of an anomaly among COVID-19 patients; he said that “despite your hard work, the most vocal people are still telling you that you’re trying to harm them and their families.” Thus, Dr. Town says, what Soliz did was highly appreciated.

“I knew that the spirits in our hospital and our unit had been down because of how hard things have been lately and difficulty with staffing shortages and things like that,” Town said. “I just felt like that was the kind of message that our staff needed to hear that people really did appreciate them.”

Soliz, who is now fully vaccinated, is still living with the effects of the virus. His lungs are scarred, and he gets winded easily. His thoughts are sometimes foggy, a common effect of those who have had a severe bout of COVID-19. He calls it the “scariest and most vulnerable” experience of his lifetime, and his most fervent wish is that no one else should have to experience it.

The reporting done on this story strongly suggests that Soliz really did not know what he should do with regard to vaccination. While we can and may fault him for that, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the ultimate fault and blame must lie in the sources of disinformation that made those doubts tenable in his mind.

Let’s wish him well in his recovery.

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