“When President Trump got sick, I had this moment of deja vu back to when I first woke up in the hospital,” Eli Saslow writes in a conversation condensed from an interview with a Covid patient at The Washington Post, part of an oral history series called “Voices from the Pandemic.” “I know what it’s like to be humiliated by this virus. I used to call it the ‘scamdemic.’ I thought it was an overblown media hoax. I made fun of people for wearing masks. I went all the way down the rabbit hole and fell hard on my own sword, so if you want to hate me or blame me, that’s fine. I’m doing plenty of that myself. The party was my idea. … Well, I mean, it wasn’t even a party — more like a get-together. There were just six of us, okay? My parents, my partner, and my partner’s parents. We’d been locked down for months at that point in Texas, and the governor had just come out and said small gatherings were probably okay. We’re a close family, and we hadn’t been together in forever. It was finally summer. I thought the worst was behind us. I was like: ‘Hell, let’s get on with our lives. What are we so afraid of?’ Some people in my family didn’t necessarily share all of my views, but I pushed it. I’ve always been out front with my opinions. I’m gay and I’m conservative, so either way I’m used to going against the grain. I stopped trusting the media for my information when it went hard against Trump in 2016. I got rid of my cable. It’s all opinion anyway, so I’d rather come up with my own. … I have about 4,000 people in my personal network, and not one of them had gotten sick. Not one. You start to hear jokes about, you know, a skydiver jumps out of a plane without a parachute and dies of covid-19. You start to think: ‘Something’s really fishy here.’ You start dismissing and denying. I told my family: ‘Come on. Enough already. Let’s get together and enjoy life for once.’ They all came for the weekend. We agreed not to do any of the distancing or worry much about it. I mean, I haven’t seen my mother in months, and I’m not supposed to go up and hug her? Come on. We have a two-story house, so there was room for us to all stay here together. We all came on our own free will. It felt like something we needed. It had been months of doing nothing, feeling nothing, seeing no one. … My partner had been sent home from his work. I’d been at the finish line of raising $3.5 million for a new project, and that all evaporated overnight. I’d been feeling depressed and angry, and then it was like: ‘Okay! I can breathe.’ We cooked nice meals. We watched a few movies. I played a few songs on my baby grand piano. We drove to a lake about 60 miles outside of Dallas and talked and talked. It was nothing all that special. It was great. It was normal.” Eli Saslow, “A man’s journey from dismissing to getting sick and spreading coronavirus,” The Washington Post.
Jeanne Pinder is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded ClearHealthCosts.
She was previously a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University School of Journalism. ClearHealthCosts has won grants from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York; the International Women’s Media Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC in Los Angeles; the Lenfest Foundation in Philadelphia for a partnership with The Philadelphia Inquirer; and the New York State Health Foundation for a partnership with WNYC public radio/Gothamist in New York; and other honors.
Her TED talk about fixing health costs has surpassed 2 million views.