When COVID-19 hits too close to home

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Richard Weber (left) and Glenn Townes
By Glenn Townes
Glenn.townes@njurbannews.com

On Sunday evening March 15th I received a telephone call from my long time buddy from elementary school and prominent New York City attorney, Richard (Ricky) Weber.

He dropped a bomb on me. He said, “I want you know that I've tested positive for the coronavirus and I'm in isolation at Mt. Sinai hospital in New York. I sent you a text message a few days ago.”

However, in a short time--2 days--things were different. The severity and immediacy of his situation---and ferocity of the virus globally and in the metro area--had indeed changed—and not for the better. In the past, when sources shared vital pieces of information with me, I immediately went into tough and hard-nosed journalist mode—devoid of any emotion and laser focused on obtaining the details of the story and publishing it–sometimes--with a vengeance. However, this time, that didn't happen.

In one of the few times in my 30-year journalism career, I found myself unfocused, confused and stilted. I remember babbling something about Italy and Spain, drive thru testing centers and asking if he would be going back to work at his law firm in April.

As I mentioned, Rick and I have known each other for 50 years and have shared countless personal and professional stories. He knew me well. He could easily tell that what he had just shared with me had completely thrown me off my robotic and usually on-point journalistic groove. However, I snapped back to the grim reality at hand when he said, albeit with a sharp and taut edge in his voice, “Glenn, I have coronavirus! I want to tell you my story so you can write about it. You're a good journalist. I know you'll tell my story about dealing with this thing the way it should be!”

For the next 30 minutes, he shared the horror of dealing with COVID-19. He had been in isolation for about 5 days. This meant no family, friends or visitors for someone who was frequently surrounded and embraced by people. Doctors and nurses draped in full Hazmat gear from head to toe nervously and regularly entered his room to poke and prod him. He had trouble breathing and was on oxygen. “Even if you only have mild symptoms, it takes about 7 or 8 days for respiratory symptoms to develop,” he said.

“It feels like you are getting better and then bam you get slammed with severe breathing problems.” He concluded, “My doctor thinks the virus may have gone through my body and I'll be OK.” I got this! I'm focusing on living.” Rick succumbed to complications from the virus just 3 days after the story was published. He was 57.

As I look back, I know why I initially had difficulty focusing and concentrating on interviewing him and writing the story. Rick was a lot more than just a reliable and valuable news source and contact, he was a genuine and lifelong friend. Despite battling a serious and fatal illness, he never forgot about my passion and commitment to a profession I talked about since we were in second grade. He chose to share his exclusive and final story with me to tell the world. I did! RIP my friend!

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