People loved my brother, Peter. He was a people’s person. He had worked in the restaurant industry most of his life, and he knew a lot of people. I hadn’t realized how many lives he had touched until he was gone.
In the early part of March, my brother developed an ear infection. We both got ear infections pretty frequently from the time we were little kids. We would self-diagnose them and quickly start treating them with remedies we knew would work – ear candles, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, and other home remedies we would find online. The night of March 12th was no different from any other Thursday night. Peter and I had talked and texted about the craziness of people hoarding toilet paper. But around 11:30pm that night, his roommates heard him making weird noises in his bedroom. One of his roommates is a nurse and went to check on him. She said he just ‘looked wrong.’ His temperature had spiked to 104°F so they took him to the Emergency Room. He was in and out of consciousness while he was there. They said he was speaking gibberish, but he thought he was speaking clear English. The doctors decided to sedate and intubate him. He went through countless tests on Friday and that afternoon they did a spinal tap and found that his spinal fluid was clouded with infection. They believe that the ear infection got into his bone which led to an infection into his brain stem. He was pronounced dead two days after he went into the hospital but continued to be cared for in the hospital for another two days because he was an organ donor. He would have been 41 years old in June.
It’s hard to believe that a prescription for an antibiotic might have saved my brother’s life. But, in all honesty, Peter’s fear stood between him and the antibiotic. He didn’t have a phobia of hospitals or doctors. Instead, Peter was afraid that the hospital staff would refuse to treat him because he had an outstanding hospital bill. Back in September he’d fallen and broke his shoulder which led to emergency surgery. He didn’t have health insurance at the time, so he had to pay for the surgery out of pocket, to the tune of $40,000. He was afraid that if he showed up at the Emergency Room, the hospital would demand that he make a payment, before treating him for his current condition. He was scared to even go to the Urgent Care centers because he thought they were connected to the hospital. He thought they would run his name in their system, see that he owed money, and deny treatment. That was legitimately his fear.
Peter had insurance on and off depending on the restaurant he worked at and what his position was. When he lost insurance the last time, he talked about applying for insurance through the Marketplace, but the plans were not affordable. Peter lived day to day, not even paycheck to paycheck. He paid his bills using the tips he made. The Marketplace plans he qualified for were expensive and did not offer good coverage. He would have paid a lot of money for a high deductible plan. On top of that, Peter would have only gone to the doctor when he had a serious problem and he would have paid for the visit out of his pocket. In the end, he felt it was worth it to just pay the penalty.
Peter’s last ear infection occurred around the same time hospitals were starting to deal with COVID-19. To the best of our knowledge they tested him, and he was negative for generic Coronavirus. Of course, they ran a series of tests on his organs before they were donated. When he got sick, he wasn’t coughing and didn’t have any of the other COVID-19 symptoms, besides a fever. He was only complaining of his ear and wasn’t sick in any different way than his previous ear infections. Somehow the infection got into his brain. The attending doctor said that this was a once in a lifetime occurrence. He’d never seen anything like it – instead of handling the infection, his body pushed the infection further in which led to his death.
I know that if my brother had known the extent of his illness, he would have borrowed money to see a doctor. We have a very close-knit family and live within five minutes of each other. I know that my parents are devastated but grieving right now is weird. Nothing is normal. I’m not sure how to process his death, because the whole world is different. Over 10,000 people have died. The whole world is in a state of grief. My family and I are grieving for one person and for everything, at the same time. It’s very strange. I can’t miss him in my everyday life because there is no everyday life. I wouldn’t be seeing him now because we’re all quarantined. My parents and I are wondering, when this is all over, will six months of grief hit us all at once?
We’re waiting until after the pandemic has passed before we have Peter’s funeral service. About 50 people came to the hospital to see my parents and pay their respects. We didn’t know all of them, yet they all raved about how special Peter was to them. One person said, ‘Peter always remembered my birthday.’ Another shared, ‘he’d give me a free drink if I was having a bad day.’ His obituary has been shared over 3,700 times online and over 500 people have reached out to us in one way or another. Sharing my story is the only way I can think to process Peter’s death. I’m upset because he didn’t have to die. So, I chose to use that anger to urge people to get involved. I don’t want anyone to have to feel this way. We’re the richest country in the world and he shouldn’t have died from an ear infection.
Visit Peter's obituary here: https://mullinsmemorial.com/obituaries/peter-michael-obrien/
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