More than 100,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States may go uncounted, with many of them being black or Latino.
This article was written in collaboration with Capital & Main.
Denny Gilliam was compelled to assist when he learned from his agency in April of last year that New York City was facing critical nursing staff shortages due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. The former Army and Air Force veteran had witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall from the front lines of Germany, and as a long-time acute-care travel nurse, he had opted to answer the call once more. The healthy 53-year-old left his family in Pelham, Tennessee, and headed north within days. He provided audio of applause echoing from the roofs from a city in great need. Denny told his wife, Amanda, that he felt “more alive than ever.”
The mood of the messages changed after weeks of grueling hours at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. Denny provided videos of the never-ending ambulance lines he encountered at the start of his shift. He referred to the hospital as a “battle zone.” He expressed his eagerness to return home to Amanda. Amanda couldn’t wait either; she’d been concerned about the assignment’s risk from the start.
Denny and Amanda Gilliam with two of their three kids.
She was also looking forward to spending time with his family, as they had “finally gotten [their relationship]right” after some ups and downs, she claimed. Fishing for crappies and bluegill in Chickamauga Lake, ginseng hunting on Monteagle Mountain, blasting Simon and Garfunkel around the house, or piling into bed with their three young children for a movie night complete with chips and a jug of Heluva Good! are just a few of the activities on the agenda. French Onion Dip.
“We had so many plans,” she said.
Then there was silence. Two nights passed without a word from Denny. Amanda began to panic. She called 35 hotels across Brooklyn. Finally, at 12:13 a.m. on a Thursday in May, her phone rang. It was an investigator with the medical examiner’s office: Her husband had been found dead in his room. “I was in shock,” she said.
As shock melted into confusion, grief and anger, Amanda began seeking answers. She didn’t know how it had happened; the investigator had provided little detail. Denny did not receive a test for COVID-19, the investigator told her. Around the time of his death, even. This is a brief summary.