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In a pandemic, the rich and the powerful go to the front of the line

The Keefe family (fromleft), Brian, Mary, and Michael.
The Keefe family (fromleft), Brian, Mary, and Michael.

As each day passed, and he waited for the results from a test for COVID-19, Brian Keefe had to stay away from his dying son, Michael.

“Dad,” Michael, a special needs teacher, would say, trying to hold onto a sense of humor and humanity, “when are you going to be out of your ‘time out?’ "

But a week dragged by, with no results.

A dying son pining for his father in one room. The father, dying a little bit himself every day, in another.

“I haven’t been able to hug him or kiss him for a week, and I don’t how many more days I’ll have him,” Brian Keefe told me over the phone, from the condo in Salem where he lives with his wife, Mary, and Michael. “Hospice was supposed to start for Michael on Tuesday, but they won’t come as long as I am in quarantine.”

Michael Keefe is 30 years old. He has cholangiocarcinoma, commonly known as bile duct cancer, and it is killing him, slowly, cruelly.

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Just as cruelly, the coronavirus pandemic and all the chaos and system failures that came with it have made his last days immeasurably more painful.

Last Thursday, Brian Keefe was admitted to the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, suffering from symptoms that turned out to be pneumonia. But, to be safe, the medical staff tested him for COVID-19, shipping the swabs to a lab in Utah. Keefe said the medical staff at Lahey, for whom he has nothing but the highest praise, learned the test was subsequently sent from Utah to another lab in California, delaying the results even further.

That was bad enough. But what really burned Brian Keefe was watching TV as a Utah congressman, Ben McAdams, described how he got his positive test results back in a single day. Keefe also read stories about how NBA players and other celebrities have received preferential treatment, not only in getting tested but getting their results back promptly.

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Keefe was so peeved he went on McAdams’s congressional website and e-mailed him a rocket.

“Basically, I asked him if he thought it was right or fair that politicians and professional athletes get treated one way, and the rest of us get treated another,” he said.

So far, he hasn’t heard back from the congressman.

He has, however, heard back from his state rep, Paul Tucker.

“Paul Tucker doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall,” Keefe said. “But he dropped everything and has tried to help us. I can’t tell you what that means."

Michael was diagnosed in 2018, and, as his health deteriorated, his father began reading to him. Michael is a big fan of the writer TJ Payne. Wearing a mask, and sitting 10 feet away, Brian used his Kindle to read Payne’s first two books to Michael.

Brian messaged Payne on Facebook, asking when his next book was coming out, and Payne told him April 7. As Michael’s condition worsened, Brian sent Payne a message, saying, “I don’t know if my son will be around in April.” Payne sent Brian a digital version of the book, so he could read it to Michael before it’s formally released.

“This has been a very hard time for my family,” Brian Keefe said, “and it has been torture, waiting for the test results so we can have hospice for Michael’s last days. But there are good people who have tried to help us.”

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His doctor told Brian Keefe he’s pretty sure he does not have COVID-19. So, on Thursday morning, he finally said the hell with it.

He disinfected himself, put on a mask, and went over and gave his son a big hug.

Later he went and took another COVID-19 test at the Lahey that Tucker helped arrange. They’ve given up waiting on the first test.

He hopes to get the second test back in 24 hours, the same turnaround for a congressman or a millionaire who can dunk a basketball.

UPDATE: Brian Keefe says his second test came back, in 24 hours, negative. The first test remains parts unknown.


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.