The banner stretched over Key Center announcing the annual scarecrow contest, along with a fresh crop of scarecrows lining the road, brought a big smile to my face. For an instant I wanted to close my eyes and remember what life was like in the before times. I felt almost normal.
The day before I had received a text message from a veteran first-responder and family friend who works on the other side of the Narrows Bridge:
“Heads up guys. You’ve got to be really careful. Don’t take unnecessary risks or get hurt doing something stupid. Emergency rooms are overflowing. We are at the point there is nowhere to take injured people. I’ve never seen anything like this.”
The idea that critical medical care may not be available when things go wrong was outside my life experience until now. The reality of it terrifies me. And for good reason.
My sister, my very best friend in all the world, was left clinging to life by a thread following a freak accident a few summers ago. Had she not been immediately rushed into the emergency room, put on life support and moved upstairs into ICU, she would be dead. Accidents aren’t planned; they happen.
The alarming rise in hospitalizations in Washington state is a direct result of unvaccinated people becoming ill from COVID-19 and seeking treatment for something that could have been prevented. It is painful to watch the rise in cases in the unvaccinated and its very real and direct consequences for my family and friends.
A few months into the pandemic, I watched an ambulance pull out of our driveway with my husband stretched out on a gurney in the back, headed to St. Anthony Hospital. I followed a few minutes behind in my car. It wasn’t the first time. I knew the drill. I parked my car and pulled out my identification. I was prepared to walk into the hospital entrance, head straight toward the security station to acquire my stick-on visitor badge. The officer would give me the room number, flip a switch and the doors would be opened.
Instead, I was met by a tough linebacker armed with a thermometer scanning my forehead. She asked, “Are you here as an ER patient? There are no visitors allowed in the hospital at this time.”
“I’m not a visitor. My husband was brought into ER by ambulance. You don’t understand. I handle all his medical care. Please, get out of my way.” I pushed passed her to the reception desk, where it was confirmed just how powerless I was against the fortress St. Anthony had become.
Those were the early days of medical care during COVID-19, when we were being introduced to a whole new ball game.
Now we are all weary, frustrated, quick to anger and simultaneously prone to tears. Civility is at an all-time low in public meetings, the checkout aisle, the roundabouts. Just the other day I received some hate mail for this newspaper’s lack of coverage of Santa Claus.
Civic engagement is one of the things that makes the Key Peninsula stand out in Pierce County. The willingness to become involved, to listen and learn, to work together to make life better — or at least more interesting — is a point of pride for those who live here.
Maybe it’s the geography of being mostly surrounded by water — or having grown tired of forever driving on the way to somewhere else — but what COVID-19 reaffirmed is that together we can consciously choose to do amazing, transformative things together right here, in our own backyards.
For example, now in its 15th year, the 2021 Key Peninsula Farm Tour gets underway the first weekend in October. Undaunted by the risks inherent in planning public gatherings in the pandemic, farm council organizers plowed ahead after a one-year COVID-19 hiatus. Along with the Fiber Arts Show at the Longbranch Improvement Club, this year’s farm tour is shaping up to be the largest community-wide event to take place on the KP since the pandemic began.
There have been a few narrow windows of good fortune and events that went off as planned, like the Two Waters Arts Alliance Art Walk in early August. The KP Civic Center Family Fun Day boasted over 300 people who enjoyed a great time together Sept. 11.
With a multiple event in the works this summer and the delta variant predominant in Pierce County, The Longbranch Improvement Club postponed its 100th birthday centennial celebration by one year, something even more interesting for the history books.
And then there are all the ongoing activities that bring us together with their own momentum: the food drives at our markets and giveaways at the civic center; the new garden at the LIC growing vegetables for donation; the growing scholarhip program of the Longbranch Foundation; the competing crews of neighbors picking litter up off our roadways, “Key Pen It Clean.”
At the same time, the peninsula will be saying goodbye to someone who exemplified community service, Janice McMillan, at a 3 p.m. memorial at the civic center Oct. 3. Janice set the standard for volunteering out here for decades, including writing for the KP News.
We may have a long way to go to get through this pandemic. Maybe we’ll never get back to the normal of the before times. But helping each other and our community, in whatever way we can, in small ways or large, in public settings or personal choices, is the only way we will get through it together.
UNDERWRITTEN BY NEWSMATCH/MIAMI FOUNDATION, THE ANGEL GUILD, ROTARY CLUB OF GIG HARBOR, ADVERTISERS, DONORS AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT LOCAL, INDEPENDENT NONPROFIT NEWS