Pulse oximeter Beep beep, beep beep, beep beep. A staccato tune of a pulse oximeter is a constant in the Ahmed family.
Shafi Ahmed lived with a looming end of life for years after being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that damages and scarring the lungs.
“The pulse oximeter is more a part of the family than some family members because it has to be there all the time,” said his son Asrar Ahmed. “The battery always had to be fully charged, and before he got up, before he ate, before he sat down, we had to put it on and it got to the point where oxygen testing became second nature to us.”
Asrar’s father was an avid reader, interested in talking about international politics and telling stories about his childhood in India. He has a strong Muslim faith and a strong love for his descendants.
Shafi’s youngest daughter is getting married soon and the family has considered whether it is safe enough for him to attend. He was Immunosuppressive and taking steroids, making him more susceptible to Covid-19.
“If I miss my daughter’s wedding, what’s left to live for?” he asks.
The whole family attended the Christmas wedding ceremony. Everyone is vaccinated and healthy; Shafi wears a mask and lives for that day. Before long, however, he began to feel nauseous.
Nearly the whole family tested positive for Covid-19. Shafi wasn’t doing well and his pulse oximeter “wouldn’t shut down,” Asrar said.
“It’s like this beep that drives me crazy because it keeps telling me he’s sick, he’s sick, he’s sick.”
Shafi never returned home. The pulse oximeter is on his nightstand. The family doesn’t want to touch it; Asrar swore it still smelled of his father.
He holds it dear, even as it haunts him.
“I have never hated and loved an item as much as I do, his pulse oximeter,” he wrote.
Morton Grove, Illinois
September 3, 1951 – January 4, 2022