A big red heart fashioned with five dozen Post-its was in one of the windows of the intensive care unit at Utah Valley Hospital when the conspiracy theorists pulled into a parking lot that they found to be suspiciously empty.
The heart was placed there by nurses to mark the room where one of their own died on Oct. 30. Neonatal intensive care nurse Patrice Grossman, who was born at the same hospital where she worked, had predicted when COVID-19 first arrived in America that she would be among the fatalities. She and seven other family members, beginning with her baby grandson, contracted it at home from out-of-state house guests who believed the virus is no big deal.
That belief is shared by the conspiracy theorists who made repeated visits to the hospital in recent weeks. They decided that the small number of cars outside the Provo facility was evidence that the pandemic is a hoax. They entered the hospital with video cameras seeking to film what they believed would be an equally empty ICU.
“We have an inordinate amount of phone calls that we’re receiving every day from the community wanting to know: Is your ICU really full?”
— Utah Valley Hospital administrator Kyle Hansen
“It’s conspiracy theorists that believe what they’re being told is not accurate,” hospital administrator Kyle Hansen told the Provo city council last week. “They’re determined to videotape and capture the proof of that by accessing our facilities. We’ve had some people get really creative in how they’ve lied about coming in for an appointment or other things.”
None of the intruders seem to have gained entry to the ICU. But had they succeeded, they would have only been able to document it was in fact at full capacity, with a brave and dedicated staff under great physical and emotional strain. Had the intruders been less deluded they might have understood that the small number cars in the parking lot is explained by posted restrictions on visitors that are standard at hospitals during the pandemic. COVID-19 is not some minor illness where you might drive yourself to the hospital and leave your car outside for a few hours.
But a delusion begun by President Trump out of political self-interest when he in fact knew better persisted despite his defeat on Nov. 3. And so the intruders kept on attempting to enter Utah Valley despite being warned away by cops. A dispiriting number of deniers also telephoned the hospital.
“We have an inordinate amount of phone calls that we’re receiving every day from the community wanting to know: ‘Is your ICU really full?’” Hansen told the council.
Meanwhile, reality took the form of the red heart of Post-its in the ICU window. Patrice Grossman’s husband summed up with a single simple sentence his view of the conspiracy theorists who fail to see that the empty parking lot is in fact proof that the hospital is inundated with COVID-19 patients.
“They’re trying to protect the president.”
— Widower Bryan Grossman
“They’re idiots,” Bryan Grossman told The Daily Beast on Tuesday, adding, “The hospital is filled with COVID people. COVID patients who don’t have cars… I just don’t understand people sometimes.”
He also said, “The big thing I think is so silly about all this is how could this possibly be fake? The whole world would have to be faking it.”
One explanation that comes to him is that the deniers are trying to protect the person who got the delusion going in the first place.
“They’re trying to protect the president,” he said. “They want to make this all fake. It’s not fake. Talk to your nearest nurse or doctor. They’ll tell you this is real.”
Grossman recalled that his wife had immediately recognized COVID-19 as a deadly threat when it arrived in America at the start of the year.
“My wife predicted she was going to die from this when it first popped up,” he said.
The family took the recommended precautions. But among the deniers were people they know who live in Arizona and wanted to visit.
“They didn’t think COVID was such a big deal,” Bryan said.
The Grossmans had misgiving but agreed.
“It was kind of, ‘OK, I guess so,’” Bryan remembered.
The visitors stayed with them for only one day and for the rest of the time with a nearby relative.
“It was a great visit,” Bryan recalled. “Then they went back and about a week later we started getting sick… Of the eight people living in our house, every single one of us got COVID. We called them and asked, ‘Hey, are any of you guys sick?” They said, ‘Oh yeah, one of us did have COVID by the way.’”
Bryan added, “They didn’t think to call us and say, ‘Oh by the way, one of us showed up positive for COVID.’”
The baby grandson, Leo, was the first to get ill. Patrice and Bryan and their five children followed. But they all managed to ride it out and emerged seemingly unscathed after a month of quarantine.
Byran remembered telling himself, “Oh my gosh, we totally ducked the bullet.”
Patrice figured she had disproved her prediction. Bryan remembered her saying, “Boy, it’s a good thing I got through this. I just wish people would listen. This is a real thing.”
Patrice went back to work at the NICU and continued caring for newborns in the hospital where she herself had been born.
But two weeks later, she began experiencing a sore throat and a runny nose. Her eyes burned.
“She said, ‘Oh man, I don’t feel good,’” Bryan remembered.
“Pray for me. Pray for me.”
— Patrice Grossman, shortly before her death
Patrice initially decided she did not need to go to a doctor, insisting she was fine. She then changed her mind, and Bryan drove her to the hospital. Neither of them were greatly concerned on the evening of Oct. 29 when she strode into the emergency room where visitors were not allowed. He would be left with a regret.
“I didn’t give her a hug,” he told The Daily Beast.
After a short while, she texted him.
“I don’t feel so good, but I think it’ll be OK.”
Her messages then suddenly turned urgent.
“Pray for me. Pray for me.”
He got a call from a social worker, who explained the doctor was busy with an influx of patients. The social worker reported that Patrice had gone into cardiac arrest.
But the medical team managed to stabilize her, and she was responding to antibiotics.
“Everything looks like it’s going to be OK,” Bryan recalled.
Bryan went to bed that night feeling he had reason to be optimistic. He was awakened by another call from the social worker. A doctor came on the line.
“I’m sorry, I’ve been working on your wife for half an hour…” the doctor began.
The doctor seemed about to say there was nothing more to be done when Brayn heard a shout in the background.
“Wait, we have a heartbeat!”
The doctor said he would call back. Bryan stood in a hallway at home with his family, waiting until the phone rang again.
“OK, we’ve stabilized her, but she’s in a coma,” the doctor reported.
Not long afterward, at 1:21 a.m., Patrice was pronounced dead. The virus that the deniers say is no worse than the flu had killed her just two days after she had last been on duty as a nurse.
“It struck her down that fast,” Bryan said.
“She was taken away from us too soon, by a virus that never should have gotten to the point that it did.”
— Natassja French, daughter of Patrice Grossman
The same rules that keep the parking lot empty prevented the family from being with her in her final moments. They were now told they could come see her.
“We can go and see her after she’s dead, but we can’t go in when she’s dying,” Bryan later told The Daily Beast.
Other rules, these involving patient privacy, had precluded the nurses in the ICU from keeping anybody but those in the family apprised of Patrice’s fight for her life there. That included the nurses who had worked with her in the NICU.
But as it happens, the windows of the ICU face those of the NICU. And the ICU nurses communicated more than they perhaps would have been able to convey with words by fashioning the big red heart with Post-its in the room where she had desperately struggled to her untimely end, all her considerable, love-powered strength against what the deniers deny.
Her fellow nurses in the NICU responded by putting up a big yellow heart of Post-its in the window.
Soon, photos of the red Post-it heart began appearing online, possibly destined to become a symbol of solidarity among nurses on the front lines of the heartbreaking reality that is the pandemic. One of the nurses in the Utah Valley ICU had fallen ill with COVID-19 and was said online by a co-worker to be fighting for her life.
At the Grossman house, the family faced a life without its center. The family’s obituary describes Patrice as a “dance mom,” full of life and fun and love. They also said she had fought fiercely to the end.
“She was taken away from us too soon, by a virus that never should have gotten to the point that it did,” her daughter, Natassja French, wrote on a GoFundMe page.
And if the deniers were still denying and if the intruders were still not yet convinced, that red Post-it heart kept appearing online, shared from nurse to nurse.
“I think we are going to put it on her gravestone,” Bryan said.