For months, Katelyn Palmer was certain she’d never get the COVID-19 vaccine.
Then she got a text from her mother.
“They’re moving me to ICU. I’m so sorry. I just can’t breathe. I will text you later. I love you.”
Palmer’s mother passed away in early February, concluding a rough, near two-month battle with COVID-19.
Jane Osgood Stewart Palmer — lovingly referred to as “Gran” — had no notable health issues that made people more susceptible to the deadly virus, but nonetheless it slowly ate away at her until she passed at the age of 52.
A lifelong resident of Denham Springs, Jane is one of more than 200 Livingston Parish residents who have died from COVID-19 since the first reported death in April 2020.
In the months since her mother’s passing, Katelyn grappled with getting the vaccine, though she recalled her mother saying she would’ve been “first in line” had they been available to her at the end of last year.
After much internal debate, Katelyn took the first step toward full vaccination on Thursday, when she received her first shot of the Moderna vaccine. She took to social media afterward to share her story and urge others to get vaccinated against “this very awful, very REAL virus.”
“If two of the tiniest pricks in my arm can save even one person from visiting the ICU floor to see their mama or daddy like that, then roll my sleeves up,” she concluded in her post. “One down, one to go.”
Katelyn’s story of hesitancy toward the COVID-19 vaccine is not unlike many across Livingston Parish, which is below the state average in overall vaccinations rates.
Currently, one-third of the parish’s population has initiated a vaccine series while 27.5 percent has completed one. That’s markedly lower than the statewide averages of 44.3 percent and 37.8 percent, respectively.
But with the state experiencing its worst surge of new cases and hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic, local vaccinations are slowly but surely rising, according to data from the Louisiana Department of Health.
In the week of July 26 - Aug. 1, approximately 2,897 people in Livingston Parish began a vaccine series, the most since March 15-21 and the most since vaccines were made available to everyone 16 and older in late March.
That represents a 479-percent increase from the number of people who initiated a series during the second week of July.
On Thursday, the Department of Health reported that another 1,423 residents in Livingston Parish had started a vaccine series so far this week, putting the parish on pace to nearly match the previous week’s total.
And Katelyn is hoping it doesn’t stop growing.
“If my post helps one person, then that’s good,” she told The News in a recent phone interview. “I just want people to get the vaccine before it’s their family member being taken away.”
Katelyn and her family’s experience with COVID-19 began last December, when her “whole house” got the virus. Though she and her husband had mild symptoms, her mother, who had lived with her for about five years, had it much worse.
After being placed on oxygen at home, Jane was eventually admitted to Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge in January, where she’d spend the next month. A little more than a week later, she was placed on a ventilator.
“They let me Facetime her and tell her I love her before she went on a ventilator,” Katelyn said.
A few days later, Katelyn was allowed to visit her on the COVID floor. She said her heart broke for the other patients that were in there, “just laying there on ventilators with no family.”
“It was the saddest thing to see,” she said.
Katelyn was allowed to spend more time with her mother when she was transferred to the regular intensive care unit, all while taking care of a newborn baby. She eventually learned things she’d never imagined learning, such as what terms such as “prone” and “supine” meant or ventilator settings.
But the hospital stay eventually showed up on her mother, who all of a sudden “looked 20 years older.” And with Jane heavily sedated, Katelyn could only sit and watch as her mother slowly lost control.
“She didn’t even know I was there,” Katelyn recalled of her mother. “When you can’t breathe, the doctors say you get extremely anxious and paranoid. My mom had the worst anxiety during that time, even though she was the strongest person I ever knew. She just was not there.”
Jane passed away on Tuesday, Feb. 9, at Our Lady of the Lake. In her obituary, she was described as “a loving and devoted Mother, Grandmother and friend” who “will be missed dearly by all who knew and loved her.”
News of Jane’s passing spread quickly through social media, which is where Katelyn kept people regularly updated on her mother’s battle. Katelyn said she received “countless” messages from loved ones and well-wishers sharing their condolences and favorite memories, including some people she never met.
Katelyn recalled her mother’s jovial personality during her conversation with The News, detailing her love for her family and love for her community, saying she was always someone who constantly helped others.
“If she only had $5, she’d find a way to give you $10,” Katelyn said. “She was always trying to help other people.”
Jane was also a chatterbox, her daughter jokingly recalled.
“Anytime we went to Walmart, she’d find someone to talk to,” Katelyn said with a laugh. “It got to the point where I had to stop going with her because we’d be there for so long. She just never met a stranger.”
For months after her mother’s passing, Katelyn said she questioned whether or not to get vaccinated. Though she felt it was the right thing to do, she said she couldn’t get past “all the negative stuff on social media,” which was flooded with “only the negative side” of the vaccine, “and not the positive.”
Katelyn said she eventually spoke with an OLOL nurse, a friend of her mother’s who was actually in the room when she passed away and who held a sobbing Katelyn when she got the news. The woman encouraged her to get the vaccine, detailing its safety and putting Katelyn’s mind at ease.
On Thursday, Katelyn went to a nearby pharmacy to see her first of two shots. She was encouraged when she saw the long waiting line.
“That was a good sign,” she said. “Hopefully it continues.”
Below is what Katelyn Palmer wrote on social media regarding vaccines:
“You can form your own opinions/conspiracies and you can remind me that I once said that I would “never get that vaccine”, but until you get a text from your mom that says ‘they’re moving me to icu. I’m so sorry. I just can’t breathe. I will text you later. I love you.’
“Until you beg nurses and doctors to let you see her all to break down when you walk in her room and her chest is mechanically rising and falling and she all of a sudden looks 20 years older.
“Until you see your mama lifeless in the prone position - and until you even have to learn what prone and supine even means.
“Until you’ve taught yourself what ventilator settings are and what ‘okay’ o2 range is.
“Until you’re having to spread yourself thin trying to be at home with your family and newborn baby and also be at the hospital and advocate for your mom that can’t speak and isn’t in her right mind due to the sedation.
“Until you’ve had to encourage your 52 year old mom to stay calm while respiratory therapists try to reposition the tube in her throat.
“Until you’ve held your mom’s hand while nurses are trying to push you back because she’s ‘coding,’ you’re in the way of the ‘crash cart’ and they need you to leave.
“Until a doctor walks up to you and has to tell you that he’s sorry but she’s shutting down. ‘Would you be okay signing a DNR, Miss Palmer?’
“Until you’re running to a nurse to cry in their arms even though you ‘aren’t a crier,’ because the doctor just told you ‘she’s ready.’
“Until you’ve held your shaking hands on your mama’s chest until her beautiful, BIG, loving, kind, once AMAZINGLY healthy heart beats its final beat because of a respiratory virus.
“Until you sat in a hospital for nearly 30 days, watching the doctors and nurses work tirelessly, around the clock for weeks and weeks on end..
“you may not understand why I would want to do everything in my power to protect not only myself and my family, but you and yours from this very awful, very REAL virus, but if two of the tiniest pricks in my arm can save even one person from visiting the ICU floor to see their mama or daddy like that, then roll my sleeves up.
“One down, one to go.”