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Surviving COVID nightmare against all odds

I’m 63 and have lived through AIDS, malaria, and Typhoid fever

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On the evening of March 25, I found myself walking down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles past a homeless woman who had positioned her tent at the corner of a busy intersection. I was a bit irritated because her tent made it almost impossible for me to get across the street to the other side. To make matters even worse, I was extremely ill and could barely breathe.

While walking toward the hospital, I was somewhat disappointed because I couldn’t physically make it to the hospital I had initially wanted to go to. I was so ill that I decided to go to a medical center nearer to my home. When I finally reached the hospital I immediately noticed there were numerous tents set up outside to treat the hundreds of people who were infected with COVID-19.

Being that it was late at night, I was able to easily get into the emergency room without having to wait in a long line. Once at the front desk, I struggled to get my identification out of my wallet. Seeing how ill I was, the attendant quickly input the information and called an attending nurse to take me to an examining room.

I was greeted by another nurse who took my temperature and other vitals. After she left, an X-ray technician entered the room and took a few photos. When the technician was finished, a young doctor entered the room and I immediately picked up his negative attitude. I was startled that he was a physician due to his youthful appearance. He introduced himself and explained that he was one of the attending physicians at the hospital. He said to me, Mr. Mason, “I believe you have COVID-19, but there is nothing we can do to help you. You will have to go back home and quarantine.” After the doctor gave me blunt instructions, he abruptly left the room leaving me lying there on the examining table. When he exited, it was as though he left the door open for death to enter.

In despair, I began to put my clothes back on, only to be interrupted by another doctor whom I had not been introduced to. He said to me, “Where are you going?! I just reviewed your X-ray and it appears you may have pneumonia and a temperature (classic symptoms of COVID-19). I’ve arranged to admit you now and I’m sending you directly to the ICU.”

After reaching the ICU, nurses hurriedly hooked me up to a heart monitor and IVs that administered fluids and other needed medications.

Suddenly, I realized how ill I was. I’m a 63-year-old African-American male who has survived full-blown AIDS, malaria, and Typhoid fever (while teaching in Africa), cancer, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. Fear gripped me like an armed bandit and a sense of hopelessness came over me as I was forced to accept the fact that the odds were against me.

After being in that particular hospital for seven long days with substandard care, I knew I had to check myself out or I would die. But before I did, two ICU nurses — one male and one female — entered my room dressed in protective gear similar to what an astronaut would wear. I immediately expressed my dismay about being left unattended for what seemed like days on end. I complained about the cold food and the fact that I was connected to so many monitors and IVs, It was almost impossible to walk to the restroom and there was no one there to assist me. Their response was that the hospital was overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients and they simply could not provide me with quality care. What I did not know is something most people my age would never imagine and this is still true today: If a hospital is overwhelmed in the midst of a pandemic, they follow a preset protocol; that being to focus on the patients who are younger and stronger who may have a greater chance of survival. It is no secret that under these conditions some hospitals tend to give less attention to older COVID-19 patients who have pre-existing health issues that would make their recovery almost impossible.

To my dismay, newscasts have emphasized that as of today, nearly 4 million people in the United States are confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 and 160,000 have died. Astoundingly, it has been projected that by September, more than 200,000 will be dead. It is important for older people to be careful, the reason being, if you are in a high-risk category like me, the likelihood of getting out of the hospital is slim.

I slept for several hours in the same clothes I was wearing when I left the hospital, too weak to remove them. Hours later I was jarred out of sleep by a phone call from my brother-in-law who said, “Angel, I know what you’ve done (referring to checking myself out of the hospital) and you have to go back to the hospital! What he said made sense, though I was reluctant to do it. Nevertheless, I called the paramedics. When they arrived, I answered the door and saw there were four of them and I was relieved because I thought I was finally being rescued.

But my hopes were soon dashed when one of them said, “Sir, we cannot take you to the hospital.” “Well I’m still going,” was my reply. “How are you going to get there? And he reiterated, “We are not going to take you!”

I had already called my personal physician who called the hospital and I was given clearance to go there. I told them, I’m going and closed the door.

I boarded a city bus while wearing my face mask. The ride seemed as though it took forever. Once there, I walked several blocks to the hospital entrance and it seemed to be the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. I was literally at the point of collapsing by the time I got to the emergency room doors. To my dismay, the lobby was packed with people, but thankfully they took me ahead of everyone else. Since I already had a positive coronavirus diagnosis, I was taken immediately to ICU.

Days went by and my condition had declined to such a degree that they feared I would not make it through the night.

In spite of all of this, the doctors were furious with me because I refused intubation, which may have been the very thing that saved my life. Little did I know at the time that 89 percent of COVID-19 patients who are intubated eventually die. I went from ICU to a regular room four times. Eventually, they gave up on trying to intubate me and let me stay in a regular room.

I was grateful that my friends and family were diligent in calling to inquire about the status of my condition. I recommend everyone who has a loved one in the hospital do exactly the same because it not only keeps the staff on their toes, moreover, it encourages the patients as well.

During this time, my fiance Joel refused to let me die. Every day he would send me light-hearted videos to lift my spirits. Also, there were thousands of people all over the world diligently praying for me.

At that time, the Centers for Disease Control did not know as much as they know now about COVID-19. People were being told to stay at home and quarantine (and not go to the hospital).

I remember lying in my hospital bed watching President Donald Trump botch the whole thing as the numbers were increasing exponentially daily. He could have possibly saved thousands of lives had he acted promptly with leadership and integrity. Even today he continues to deny the facts about COVID-19 as countless Americans continue to die and become infected.

When I came home from the hospital, I did not realize the whole ordeal would cause me to have PTSD, which I still suffer from. I also had to learn to walk again, and I still had breathing problems because my lungs were damaged. That was the beginning of months of recovery. I liken my experience to a war where thousands of people died. It seemed as if even though I was wounded and stranded in the midst of a nightmarish dream, an angel picked me up, carried me off the battlefield, to give me another chance at life.

 

Terry Angel Mason is a Los Angeles resident.

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Support local businesses, please consider before canceling reservations

Our businesses must follow this protocol. This is not a choice for them – it is government mandated — the law

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Out zones in West Hollywood (Blade file photo)

By West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce | Our businesses are champions! They have managed to hire back their staff, have survived five government shutdowns and reopenings, prepared their space for a COVID-safe operation, and overcome unprecedented challenges.

Moreover, they are ensuring you, the consumer, a safe environment to visit – eat, shop, and play WeHo!  

The City of West Hollywood has put forth an emergency order dictating that only vaccinated public and employees may be allowed within the “indoor” sections of a restaurant, nightclub, bar, fitness center, or personal service business. This applies to any situation where you would need to remove a mask, such as eating, facials, working out, etc.

Our businesses must follow this protocol. This is not a choice for them – it is government mandated — the law.  

We understand that this may be welcomed by some and rejected by others; regardless of where you stand on that, the businesses need your understanding and support, not boycotting and blame. This vaccine mandate is not their choice.

We are imploring the public that disproves this City of West Hollywood Executive Order to please not take it out on the businesses – instead, come out to support these businesses who risk so much, and have given so much to survive this never-ending pandemic.

Boycotting our local small business owners, who are not at fault for this Executive Order and have no option other than to comply with it, will hurt them even more than they are currently suffering – at a time when they are sacrificing so much to help restabilize our community’s economy.

We have hundreds of beautiful outdoor spaces, rooftops, patios, and OutZones to enjoy that are not subject to the vaccination-only mandate. We have takeout and delivery options for those who want to stay put and binge-watch their favorite shows, or past City Council meetings. There are lots of safe options for dining out and working out outside in West Hollywood. 

Here is a link to our fabulous WeHo places: https://www.wehochamber.com/dinein

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What Does Marriage Have to Do With Whether You’re a Good Driver?

Insurers should only be allowed to use your data internally to determine if you are a safe driver- Nothing more, nothing less

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Photo Credit: State of California Department of Motor Vehicles

By Lilly Rocha | LOS ANGELES – Not every fight for equality receives national attention. But as everyone in the LGBTQ community knows, the push for respect and for dignity across every part of our lives is a constant battle. 

As an LGBTQ Latino business owner, I see firsthand how our economy often treats people like me differently, and often with less respect.

So when there are ways for California’s government to help economically disadvantaged communities be treated with fairness, our government should do what it can to right a wrong – particularly when the fix is so straightforward.

Car insurance is a prime example of this dynamic. Most Californians drive to work, and every driver in the state is required to buy a policy. But as it stands, the insurance market is tilted against LGBTQ Californians and other historically underserved communities. 

Specifically, car insurers are allowed to take into account what neighborhood you live in, your marital status, level of education, and other factors. That means traditional characteristics are used to determine whether someone is a responsible member of society and whether they are a safe driver.

It’s not difficult to imagine how this can have a particularly pernicious impact on California’s LGBTQ community.

For instance, a Gallup poll earlier this year reported that 10% of LGBTQ Americans are married to a same-sex spouse. This compares to nearly 50% of Americans in general who said they are married. At the same time, a separate study found that single drivers pay about $100 more annually for car insurance than married drivers.

For those among us living paycheck to paycheck, that’s real money we’re losing because of avoidable discrimination. Just ask the 20% of trangender Californians who have experienced homelessness since identifying as transgender.

California’s Department of Insurance (CDI) has the unilateral power to change this situation by updating Proposition 103, which governs car insurance rates. The law was passed in 1988 – a time when George Michael’s “Faith” was the top song in the country.

Obviously the law could not take into account technological innovation, or changing attitudes around equality. 

Now, insurers can actually evaluate your driving ability through an app on your phone or a dongle attached to your car. As a result, good drivers – no matter their race, gender or sexual orientation – are able to be treated fairly, and potentially save money as well.

Californians have shown they are ready for such a change. Shortly before the pandemic, the desire to be judged primarily on driving ability was made clear. A competition was held in Los Angeles to identify and name the safest driver. 11,500 Angelenos enrolled by downloading an app to judge their driving ability. Phone distraction, acceleration, and other driving characteristics were evaluated. A woman of color won the $20,000 prize.

No doubt, updating the law must also include better privacy protections for policyholders. California has done a lot to advance privacy protections for residents, but such efforts need to be extended. Recent news about how easy it is to buy data and out people against their will shows that insurers should be prohibited from selling or distributing driver data that could be used against our community. Insurers should only be allowed to use your data internally to determine whether you are a safe driver and what your premiums should be. Nothing more, nothing less.

After 30 years of an increasingly retrograde status quo, we gotta have faith our state government will do right by the LGTBQ community. Modernizing Prop 103 will help make sure our roads are paved with fairness.

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Lilly Rocha is an LGBTQ leader and the CEO of the Latino Restaurant Association which promotes, supports and educates restaurateurs and small business owners to ensure the equitable economic growth of the Latino restaurant sector.

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9-11: neighbors reached out to neighbors, strangers became instant friends

“No one talked about ideology or partisan politics. We all longed for and created community wherever we stood.”

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Ground Zero in the aftermath of the collapse of the Twin Towers on the afternoon of September 11, 2001

By Karen Ocamb | WEST HOLLYWOOD – Like many others around the world, I remember where I was on Sept. 11, 2001. I was at my desk, on deadline, TV off, but curious about this small photo on my Yahoo News front page showing smoke billowing out of one of the Twin Towers. That morning, New York City seemed planets away from West Hollywood. But deadline or not, my compulsive reporter’s curiosity was too hard to resist. I clicked on the image and the world changed. America was under attack.

I rushed to the TV. Planes with enough fuel to fly to California had been hijacked and turned into missiles. Chaos reigned. Oddly, the deliberately calm anchors calmed me enough to finish and file my story. With no other duties hanging over me, I gathered my two dogs close, surrendered to the TV and remained transfixed. Then I saw Rose Arce on CNN heading toward Ground Zero. I knew her from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. It struck me like a sudden thunderclap: are there gay people among the victims? Among the frontline responders – the cops and firefighters? Ordinary people helping however they could? If so, how would they be identified? Did it matter in such a terrorist catastrophe like this?

Rose Arce covering the September 11 attacks for CNN near Ground Zero (Screenshot via CNN)

Yes, it mattered. We just lost a generation of gay men to AIDS – an epidemic that could well have been prevented from become a global pandemic had Ronald Reagan, then President of the United States not turned a blind eye and cold hearted homophobia toward the outbreak of the new disease in June 1981.

Twenty years later, Republican George W. Bush was in the White House – thanks in part to having “former Texas governor” on his resume. But Bush won that job in part by painting scrappy incumbent Democratic Gov. Ann Richards as a lesbian. Like Reagan, Bush was indebted to anti-gay political evangelicals so even if gay heroes did emerge on 9/11 – they would likely be disparaged or erased and because of federal and state Defense of Marriage laws, their families would be denied recognition, help and compensation.

It was our job not to let that happen. A number of us attached rainbow pins or red ribbons to our shirts so there would be some identifying visibility as we joined with crowds of people rallying for support and to thank the frontline heroes. Activists would later push to have lesbian and gay couples and families recognized by the 911 Victims Compensation Fund.

But that first day, neighbors reached out to neighbors and strangers became instant friends. The less frightened comforted the terrified as we looked to the skies and wondered if a hit on L.A. was next. No one talked about ideology or partisan politics. We all longed for and created community wherever we stood.

Over the next week, we tried to find out who among our tribe might have been impacted. I’m so proud that LGBTQ journalists went into action to identify our fallen, bereaved, and those trying to help in the weeks — and years — that followed. Judy Wieder took on the task nationally for The Advocate but those of us who were community and allied reporters did our part, too.

Cover of the Advocate courtesy of Karen Ocamb

“It was September 12, 2001, a very dark day after a tragically dark day. The whole world was trying to understand what had happened and what to do next. The media world was no different. And the gay media world was in a frantic tailspin. We could not figure out what our specific angle on this catastrophe could be,” Wieder, then the Advocate’s editor-in-chief, told me for a story in the Los Angeles Blade. “We had a relatively small staff compared to major news magazines, news sites, and newspapers. We had emergency editorial meetings from dawn to dusk until we hit on something no other news service could provide. What would happen to all the partners and families of 9/11’s LGBT victims? What government agencies would take care of them?”

A satellite view of the wreckage of the Pentagon the day after the attacks on September 12, 2001.
Photograph by IKONOS satellite.

Learning about Father Mychal Judge was a miraculous retort to anti-gay evangelical Rev. Jerry Falwell who appeared on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club on Thursday, Sept. 13 and blamed gays and others for the attacks. “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularise America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.’ ” Falwell tried to apologize but we already knew the truth about him from his days creating the anti-gay backlash with singer Anita Bryant in 1997.

Franciscan friar Mychal Judge, a 68-year old chaplain for the NYC Fire Department affectionately known as “Father Mike,” was one of those civilians who ran toward danger to be of service. Headquartered at St. Francis of Assisi across from Ladder Company 24 and Engine Company 1 on West 31st Street, not far from the World Trade Center, he jumped into a car and drove toward the site right after another priest heard the first low-flying plane.

He was met by Mayor Rudy Giuliani who asked him to pray for the city and the victims. Judge prayed over bodies of those who had jumped from the towers then headed into the lobby of the North Tower where firefighters had set up an emergency command post. French filmmaking brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet captured video of Judge ministering to firefighters and standing in the lobby praying for their famous “9/11” documentary. Apparently Judge removed his helmet to administer last rites when the South Tower collapsed and he was struck in the head with concrete debris that flew into the North Lobby.

The filmmakers also captured the moment his body was discovered and five responders determined to move him before the second tower fell. The Reuters photo of five men carrying Judge outside was “an America Pieta” by the Philadelphia Weekly. His body was lovingly placed on the alter of St. Peter’s Catholic Church and he would eventually be designated as “Victim 0001” as the first to be taken to the medical examiner. An estimated 3,000 people attended his Sept. 15 funeral, including former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton.

Peter Cassels wrote in Boston-based Bay Windows about how news of Judge’s sexual orientation was revealed by friends. As a Catholic priest, he never officially come out but he did declare his opposition to Cardinal John O’Connor’s expulsion of the lesbian and gay group Dignity in 1986 and offered them a home at St. Francis of Assisi. He also marched in the gay St Patrick’s Day parade in Queens, ministered to people with AIDS, donated clothes to the Out of the Closet Thrift Shop, and apparently, we learned through the grapevine, was a humorous hit with his fellow 12 Step travelers.

Cassels wrote: “The Village Voice reported that friends said the chaplain was known as a gay man who appreciated the Gay USA show and celebrated the city’s ‘gorgeous men’ by saying, ‘Isn’t God wonderful?’”

Take THAT, Jerry Falwell!

Like me, Ed Walsh also happened to be on deadline for the Bay Area Reporter the night before the world changed. He writes about trying to find the “gay angle” to 9/11. Station KGO was on in the background when he heard Mark Bingham’s mother, Alice Hoagland, talk about her son. “I was still half-listening until I heard her say her son was ‘sensitive.’ There was something about how she said it, possibly the tone in her voice, that I just kind of knew she was saying her son was gay without saying it,” Walsh wrote.

He did an internet search and found that Bingham was a proud out member of a gay rugby team. He lucked out when Bingham’s teammate Bryce Eberhart was up late and responded to Walsh’s email. “The story of Bingham’s flight, United Flight 93, touched a chord among Americans because it represented the only victory, albeit a bittersweet one, against al-Qaeda on September 11. More reports and more stories came out about Bingham and the other passengers’ heroism,” he wrote.

Front page of the Bay Area Reporter, cover story by Ed Walsh

Later, in July 2011, I met Alice Hoagland when a documentary about Bingham, “With You, was screening at Outfest. It turned out that, aside from being a remarkable rugby player, he was a gay PR executive who helped organize the handful of young men who tried to retake the plane and prevent the terrorists from crashing United Flight 93 into the U.S. Capitol. He also supported Republican Sen. John McCain for president in 2000.

According to Bay Windows, McCain was moved to tears, saying: “I love my country and I take pride in my service but I cannot say I love it more or as well as Mark Bingham did or the other heroes on Flight 93….It is now believed that the terrorists on Flight 93 intended to fly the plane into the United States Capitol where I work, the great house of democracy where I was that day. I very well may owe my life to Mark Bingham and the others who summoned the enormous amount of courage and love necessary to deny those depraved hateful men their terrible triumph. Such a debt we will incur for life. I will try very hard to discharge my public duties in a manner that honors their memory.”

McCain called Bingham a personal hero: “He supported me and his support is now among the greatest honors of my life. I wish I had known before Sept. 11 just how great an honor his trust in me was. I wish I could have thanked him more profusely as time and circumstances allowed but I do now and I thank him by the only means I possess, by being as good of an American as he was.”

It was confusing, then, that despite McCain personally grasping that gay men can be courageous fighters, McCain still helped lead the charge opposing the repeal of the anti-gay military policy Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

I asked Hoagland about that. Hoagland told me, “I think Sen. McCain – like Mark and like me and like many people – is on a journey, he’s on a quest and he is evolving in his attitudes and his convictions, just as we all are. I think Sen. McCain will – I hope – ultimately come to embrace the gay community and realize that people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender deserve every freedom and right and privilege that the straight community has enjoyed all these decades.”

Alice died Dec. 2020 at age 71 – but she never stopped talking about her son and advocating for LGBTQ people.

I wrote about Ronald Gamboa and Dan Brandhorst, co-founders of the Pop Luck Club in West Hollywood, for Frontiers and my blog LGBT POV. Brandhorst, 42, was a lawyer and partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and Gamboa, 33, managed three Gap stores in Santa Monica. The couple had been together for 14 years and were absolutely devoted to their adopted 3-year old son David, who they pushed in a strolling as part of the Pop Luck contingent during the annual Christopher Street West Pride Parades.

Ronald Gamboa and Dan Brandhorst with their son David

The family was returning home after a visit with family in Cape Cod. They boarded the United Airlines Flight 175 at Logan Airport in Boston that crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.I covered a moving memorial for them at West Hollywood Park Auditorium on Sept. 13, 2011 organized by the City of West Hollywood and The Pop Luck Club. The anguish was still evident.

“Ten years later and it’s still difficult to comprehend,” said Rich Valenza, co-President of the Pop Luck Club, choking up. Screams of children playing outside punctuated the moments of silence, though no one inside was perturbed. “Things were different ten years ago and very different for prospective gay fathers….Creating our families is revolutionary.” The Pop Luck Club was renamed Raise A Child, when it became a national organization helping LGBT people foster and adopt children.

The 9/11 Memorial & Museum says David Reed Gamboa Brandhorst “was one of the youngest victims of the 2001 terror attacks.”

My deadlines and my duties are different today and I’m grateful for the progress that we’ve made. But without the Equality Act and its enforcement, folks like me and others who care that LGBTQ people are not rendered invisible and erased will still have to search for and find members of our tribe who we refuse to remain lost in time.

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Karen Ocamb is a veteran journalist who has chronicled the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Southern California for over 30 plus years.

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