Statistics Miss Victim’s Stories – Like Thom Parrotti’s
By MICHAEL FORSTER ROTHBART • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Alicia Chase wants you to know about her best friend, a man she calls her “work husband” after the years they spent employed together at Bassett Hospital.
Thomas Parrotti worked as an interpreter and manager at the hospital for nearly 20 years. One month ago, he was enjoying semi-retirement, raising goats with his husband Brett Miller on their small farm in Hamden – 38 acres of hilltop woods and pasture.
Parrotti ran his own interpreting business and judged dog competitions until COVID put a hold on both. Lately he’d been employed part-time as a coronavirus contact tracer for the state of New York.
This month he returned to Bassett – as a patient critically ill from COVID-19.
Thom Parrotti spent January as many of us did, working from home, watching the news, commenting about it on Facebook. “Stop being Democratic or Republican. Be honest, have
morals, show empathy, value, integrity. Be a GOOD HUMAN,” he posted on Jan. 21.
The next day, Parrotti started to feel sick and lethargic. He couldn’t figure out why he was so tired. Although relatively healthy, he’s a cancer survivor, with one kidney removed in 2016. At first he worried that the cancer had returned, Chase says. By Jan. 28, Thom Parrotti finds he’s having trouble staying awake. “He was very tired for several days, so then he decided to go get a COVID test.”
Parrotti shares his results two days later. “Well I tested positive for COVID-19. Never been so sick,” he posts on Facebook. Over 200 friends send well wishes in response, but none sound overly concerned. “Omg lots of fluids. Take care and lots of Vitamin C. Hope you feel better soon. Lots of rest,” writes a dog breeder friend.
A nurse friend from Missouri asks “Do you have any idea where you picked it up?”
Parrotti has no idea. “I used to joke with him that he probably drinks sanitizer! He was the most careful because he knew he was high risk,” Chase says. “His husband blames himself, because he’s a truck driver in a shared truck. Brett has not had any symptoms of COVID, so it’s unlikely. Anyone can get it – it’s everywhere.”
Brett Miller answers his phone from the road. He disagrees with Alicia Chase: he thinks he knows exactly how his husband caught COVID. Miller drives a tractor trailer from Syracuse to Columbus, Ohio. Slip seat: one day out, next day back. “We share the same truck, three guys… I come back Saturday, and then another guy goes out Sunday. And the guy that we meet on the other end goes from Ohio to Indy and back” overnight, while he sleeps.
Weeks earlier, the Sunday driver called in sick with bronchitis. Miller took his run, but by the time he returned, he also fell sick for four days. “I didn’t have any of the symptoms. I thought it was just like a regular cold,” Miller says. “I went back to work not thinking anything of it, and Tuesday… Thom went to get tested. That Friday we got the results, he was positive.”
A manager later told Miller the other driver had pneumonia. “That guy ended up being out for a month, and when I finally got the answer back from that guy, he told me – I got it out of him, that he and his wife were positive for COVID.”
Feb. 1, the news in Parrotti’s next Facebook post is worse: “Admitted to AO Fox hospital with Covid Pneumonia. Never felt so sick,” he writes, posting the words over a background of blue silhouetted mountains. His friends start to get more concerned. In response to his post, 91 send their prayers. 83 send cheerful emoticons – hearts and smiles and clasped hands.
Lying in an Oneonta hospital bed, getting five liters of oxygen per minute through a nasal tube, Parrotti reads this outpouring of support but only replies twice. “Hope you get the very best of care,” a dog show friend from Indiana writes. “I am in great hands,” Parrotti writes back.
Nevertheless, he continues to get sicker. “By Tuesday night, his oxygen levels dropped too low and he had to be intubated,” Chase shares. “They don’t take intubated patients at Fox. Somewhere in the wee hours” an ambulance drives Parrotti through the falling snow – a 5-inch storm – to Cooperstown.
Severe illness in COVID-19 typically occurs approximately one week after the onset of symptoms. The most common symptom is dyspnea – difficulty breathing – often accompanied by hypoxemia, low blood oxygen, reports the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Kai Mebust, a hospitalist at Bassett, explains that atmospheric oxygen contains 21 percent oxygen. “In illness like COVID, the lungs malfunction; inflammatory fluid builds up and this impairs oxygen diffusion. To get enough oxygen to diffuse into the bloodstream, we need to deliver more oxygen to the lungs.”
Alicia Chase starts a GoFundMe campaign. “Thom has Medicare, which covers only 80 percent of someone’s health insurance. He could potentially have some pretty astronomical bills,” Chase explains. Donations start coming in from across the country—friends from the American Kennel Club circuit, and former co-workers at Bassett. Chase has run fundraisers before; she set an initial goal of $6,000 but doesn’t expect to reach half. Instead, gifts blow past her first goal in just over 24 hours. It’s evidence, she says, of “the number of lives and people he has touched over his years.”
Alicia Chase’s birthday is Feb. 8. For three days, Parrotti has been steadily improving. “Thom is currently down to 70-percent oxygen from 100 percent yesterday. He has no fever! He is on antibiotics and steroids,” Chase writes. Slowly the doctors wean his ventilator down to 50 percent, then 30 percent. “We had a little group chat, with the people closest to him, and everyone was like ‘oh Alicia, you’re going to get your birthday wish, he’s going to get better on your birthday’ And then the next morning it all went downhill.”
Later, Miller describes the visit over the phone while he drives to Walmart in Oneonta. “The way they had him intubated, it just felt like he wasn’t there. The tubes and everything, all the lines—it was very hard. I was holding his hand and his hand was ice cold, just a body laying there. And I was hoping that he could hear me, and I believe he could hear me, just talking to him.”
Every day the bulletins from Alicia Chase get worse. Feb. 9: “He had trouble breathing so they had to increase the oxygen back up to 100 percent and the vent settings are now maxed.” Feb 10: “They had to start bedside dialysis, because his kidney stopped functioning, and he only has one.” Feb. 11: “In the overnight hours they had to jumpstart his heart, because his heart rate went down too low.” As she speaks her voice sounds rough, constricted. “He’s kind of filling with fluids, which will eventually put him in congestive heart failure.”
Brett Miller signs a do-not-resuscitate order. “I was completely shocked. I thought he was going to be coming home until that point,” he says. “He taught me to be a realist. Even though I was praying and praying that he would walk in that door, coming back home, I knew once he was septic that it probably’s not going to happen.”
“I wrote his obituary today, in the event of his passing,” Chase says the next afternoon. “Thom was born on May 12, 1948 and raised in Binghamton NY, the only child of Dorothy and Dominic Parrotti,” her first draft starts. The text isn’t fully organized yet. It hopscotches around his life – owning a clothing store, assisting the mayor of Binghamton. Chickens and goats, gardens and travels to Scotland. Chase is trying to figure out how to capture his kindness and generosity in a few paragraphs. “Many have shared that Thom was a teacher, a leader and always there to help the underdog,” she writes near the end of her first draft. “He’s touched more people than I ever will. I hope that Thom wakes up and laughs at us for being so prepared,” she adds in a text later that evening.
Saturday night, Alicia Chase is up late. Shortly before midnight, she posts a request on Thom’s Facebook page: “Let’s all comment one thing Thom taught you or your best memory! We all need some positive thoughts!”
Three hours later, Sunday morning, Valentine’s Day. Miller is awake. He doesn’t bother to correct spellings before posting his message: “ I Love You My Husband I Love You Thom !!!! xoxo”
At 3:08 a.m., Brett Miller presses send. Thirty-one miles north, on the 5th floor of Bassett hospital, across the courtyard from the office he once shared with Alicia Chase, Thom Parrotti lays in the intensive care ward, still sedated and unconscious on 100-percent oxygen.
Thomas Dominic Parrotti, 72, passed away at 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021.