Dead Skunks, Flashbacks, and COVID-19

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by Helen Baldwin |

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Last Friday was a full moon, Friday the 13th kind of day, although officially it was neither. The stink bugs in the house and the dead skunk in the road summed it up perfectly. The day stank.

But let me back up.

The rental cabin my husband, Randy, and I own was inaccessible during most of January, thanks to brutal winter weather. A power outage knocked out both the cabin heater and the lights underneath to protect the pipes, so we summoned our plumber, Harold, to check things out under the cabin.

Harold asked his helper to retrieve the rubber seals for the leaky kitchen faucet. He unfolded the rollup case on the kitchen counter, flashing the countless seal options, flashing me back to a nightmare.

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Our baby Jeffrey was diagnosed with SMA in July 1997, and SMA’s wrath continued into October. With an unexpected and brief lull in the downhill slide, we made an appointment with a pulmonologist who was experimentally treating another little boy with SMA with gabapentin.

It was our last card.

On the day of the appointment, Jeffrey needed suctioning less than 2 miles from the house. The suction machine’s weak battery forced us back home for suctioning before we could forge ahead on the three-hour journey. We stopped on the way to purchase a new battery.

Oblivious to my explanation for the consultation, the pulmonologist left the room and returned with an ominous looking machine: the in-exsufflator. Alarmed, I promptly mentioned I’d read that it was for those old enough to follow directions.

“It helps,” he responded, as he proceeded to force a mechanical cough into our sweet, unsuspecting guinea pig.

At the conclusion of the surreal experiment, Jeffrey went into respiratory failure in the office. Learning the office had no suction machine, Randy frantically sprinted to our car for ours. He had forgotten we’d removed the cannula to get the battery, so the nurse produced a large rollup case of cannulas. I thought I’d faint at the number of options. How could they possibly find the right size in time?

They did find one that worked until the paramedics arrived to take us to the ER.

And Harold eventually found a seal for the faucet.


My 89-year-old mother felt sick enough last Friday for me to call 911. One of the first things the medics did was to put a pulse oximeter on her finger.

Another flashback — this time to a hospital room at Brenner Children’s Hospital. Referred by the pediatrician, Randy and I took Jeffrey for a consultation with a pediatric neurologist.

One of the first things the nurse hooked up was an oximeter to Jeffrey’s big toe. It glowed red and was dubbed “E.T.,” the movie creature who had a glowing, “healing” finger. We were Extra Terrified.

I followed the medics and Mom to the ER. Other patients came and went. I waited. Mom has only a tiny bit of foggy vision, and her hearing is declining. Add masks muffling everyone’s speech, and the vice grip on my head tightened. Was she comfortable? Was someone with her? Could she understand them?

Hours later, I learned she had tested positive for COVID-19. I wouldn’t be able to see her. My head throbbed more. To my credit, the tears waited until I reached the car.

Flashback of a different kind.


The pediatric neurologist slapped us with the probable SMA diagnosis and the devastating prognosis. I thought I’d run out of tears, but I was wrong.

The next day’s horrific tests confirming SMA — from the chest X-ray and needle draw from Jeffrey’s forehead for the new SMA blood test to the excruciating electromyogram — unleashed buckets of tears. The sledgehammers on my head gathered steam.


As I write this, Mom has been in the hospital for three nights. My brother, Paul, and I have talked to her. She is comfortable.

So, back to that dead skunk in the middle of the road. On Friday, Randy and a beekeeper friend left at 3 a.m. for a long day mission. On their way back, traffic was stalled for three hours while a deadly wreck was cleared.

Randy called me to report the significant delay as I had just picked up our granddaughter, Clara, from school. In the other car seat sat her little brother, James, full of spunk. He irritated “Sissy” to the point that she covered her ears.

To distract them and give me a break from the theatrics in the cramped car, I told them that I had run over a skunk earlier.

“Get your noses ready!”

Clara, premier drama queen, uncovered her ears and hollered incredulously, “DID YOU REALLY RUN OVER A SKUNK?!” I assured her I meant I had just driven over it, and that it was very smelly.

Less than 15 minutes after we arrived back at their house, I was calling 911 for my mother.

A stink day for sure.

And that unofficial full moon? It’s official today.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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