Road trip: In Mississippi, love in the time of coronavirus

  • Mike Bishop poses for a portrait in his home in Byram, Miss., on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. In early July, Bishop was hit by COVID-19. He was exhausted and achy, but never had to be hospitalized. But for Bonnie Bishop, his wife, coronavirus hit like a tsunami.

    Mike Bishop poses for a portrait in his home in Byram, Miss., on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. In early July, Bishop was hit by COVID-19. He was exhausted and achy, but never had to be hospitalized. But for Bonnie Bishop, his wife, coronavirus hit like a tsunami. Associated Press

  • Mike Bishop video chats in Byram, Miss., with his wife, Bonnie Bishop, who is hospitalized 40 miles away, on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. He's hoping she'll be back by Thanksgiving.

    Mike Bishop video chats in Byram, Miss., with his wife, Bonnie Bishop, who is hospitalized 40 miles away, on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. He's hoping she'll be back by Thanksgiving. Associated Press

  • Mike Bishop sits in his bedroom on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, in Byram, Miss. In early July, Bishop was hit by COVID-19. Bishop was living alone at home, in a big suburban house. He'd wake up confused at 2 a.m. when Bonnie Bishop, his wife, wasn't beside him.

    Mike Bishop sits in his bedroom on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020, in Byram, Miss. In early July, Bishop was hit by COVID-19. Bishop was living alone at home, in a big suburban house. He'd wake up confused at 2 a.m. when Bonnie Bishop, his wife, wasn't beside him. Associated Press

  • Mike Bishop closes his Bible after reading a passage from the Book of Psalms in Byram, Miss., on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. In early July, Bishop was hit by COVID-19. He was exhausted and achy, but never had to be hospitalized. But for Bonnie Bishop, his wife, coronavirus hit like a tsunami.

    Mike Bishop closes his Bible after reading a passage from the Book of Psalms in Byram, Miss., on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. In early July, Bishop was hit by COVID-19. He was exhausted and achy, but never had to be hospitalized. But for Bonnie Bishop, his wife, coronavirus hit like a tsunami. Associated Press

  • Bonnie Bishop's purse sits on a table in her bedroom in Byram, Miss., on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. Since Bonnie was hospitalized, her husband, Mike Bishop, has left her belongings as she last left them, waiting for her to return home.

    Bonnie Bishop's purse sits on a table in her bedroom in Byram, Miss., on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. Since Bonnie was hospitalized, her husband, Mike Bishop, has left her belongings as she last left them, waiting for her to return home. Associated Press

  • Mike Bishop prays before his dinner in front of the television in his living room in Byram, Miss., on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. He's hoping his wife, Bonnie Bishop, will be back by Thanksgiving.

    Mike Bishop prays before his dinner in front of the television in his living room in Byram, Miss., on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. He's hoping his wife, Bonnie Bishop, will be back by Thanksgiving. Associated Press

  • Mike Bishop sits alone with his dinner while watching television in his living room in Byram, Miss., on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. In early July, Bishop was hit by COVID-19. The virus ripped through Mississippi's Black community early in the pandemic. About 60% of infections and deaths were among African Americans, who make up 38% of the state's population.

    Mike Bishop sits alone with his dinner while watching television in his living room in Byram, Miss., on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. In early July, Bishop was hit by COVID-19. The virus ripped through Mississippi's Black community early in the pandemic. About 60% of infections and deaths were among African Americans, who make up 38% of the state's population. Associated Press

  • The house of Mike and Bonnie Bishop is reflected in a puddle, Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, in Byram, Miss. They met more than 25 years ago when she was organizing a basketball game to support an adopt-a-school program run by AT&T. She worked there until retiring a couple years ago. He still works there as a digital technician.

    The house of Mike and Bonnie Bishop is reflected in a puddle, Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, in Byram, Miss. They met more than 25 years ago when she was organizing a basketball game to support an adopt-a-school program run by AT&T. She worked there until retiring a couple years ago. He still works there as a digital technician. Associated Press

  • Ka'miyah Buck, 9, cheers while watching a pig race at the Mississippi State Fair, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. The virus ripped through Mississippi's Black community early in the pandemic. About 60% of infections and deaths were among African Americans, who make up 38% of the state's population.

    Ka'miyah Buck, 9, cheers while watching a pig race at the Mississippi State Fair, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. The virus ripped through Mississippi's Black community early in the pandemic. About 60% of infections and deaths were among African Americans, who make up 38% of the state's population. Associated Press

  • Children watch a pig race at the Mississippi State Fair, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. At the fair, which is held every year in October and attracts people from across the racial spectrum, the vast majority of Black people are wearing masks. Most white people do not.

    Children watch a pig race at the Mississippi State Fair, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. At the fair, which is held every year in October and attracts people from across the racial spectrum, the vast majority of Black people are wearing masks. Most white people do not. Associated Press

  • People wear face masks at the New Horizon International Church, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there are carefully enforced mask mandates, multiple disinfectant stations, parishioners who sit 2 or 3 pews apart, cameras to broadcast sermons to people who want to stay at home and pastors who don't let anyone forget the disease is serious.

    People wear face masks at the New Horizon International Church, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there are carefully enforced mask mandates, multiple disinfectant stations, parishioners who sit 2 or 3 pews apart, cameras to broadcast sermons to people who want to stay at home and pastors who don't let anyone forget the disease is serious. Associated Press

  • Visitors walk among illuminated booths at the Mississippi State Fair, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. At the fair, which is held every year in October and attracts people from across the racial spectrum, the vast majority of Black people are wearing masks. Most white people do not.

    Visitors walk among illuminated booths at the Mississippi State Fair, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. At the fair, which is held every year in October and attracts people from across the racial spectrum, the vast majority of Black people are wearing masks. Most white people do not. Associated Press

  • Bishop Ronnie Crudup listens to his granddaughter at a church service at the New Horizon International Church, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. "I don't agree with Donald Trump. I don't agree with his politics. I've already said so," Crudup said. "But that doesn't mean we can't pray for his life."

    Bishop Ronnie Crudup listens to his granddaughter at a church service at the New Horizon International Church, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. "I don't agree with Donald Trump. I don't agree with his politics. I've already said so," Crudup said. "But that doesn't mean we can't pray for his life." Associated Press

  • A girl wears a face mask while walking through the Mississippi State Fair, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. At the fair, which is held every year in October and attracts people from across the racial spectrum, the vast majority of Black people are wearing masks. Most white people do not.

    A girl wears a face mask while walking through the Mississippi State Fair, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. At the fair, which is held every year in October and attracts people from across the racial spectrum, the vast majority of Black people are wearing masks. Most white people do not. Associated Press

  • A woman wearing a face mask prays during a church service at the New Horizon International Church, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there are carefully enforced mask mandates, multiple disinfectant stations, parishioners who sit 2 or 3 pews apart, cameras to broadcast sermons to people who want to stay at home and pastors who don't let anyone forget the disease is serious.

    A woman wearing a face mask prays during a church service at the New Horizon International Church, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, there are carefully enforced mask mandates, multiple disinfectant stations, parishioners who sit 2 or 3 pews apart, cameras to broadcast sermons to people who want to stay at home and pastors who don't let anyone forget the disease is serious. Associated Press

  • A couple, one wearing a mask, sit in a ride at the Mississippi State Fair in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020.

    A couple, one wearing a mask, sit in a ride at the Mississippi State Fair in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Associated Press

  • A women wearing a face mask attends a church service at the New Horizon International Church, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. The virus ripped through Mississippi's Black community early in the pandemic. About 60% of infections and deaths were among African Americans, who make up 38% of the state's population.

    A women wearing a face mask attends a church service at the New Horizon International Church, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. The virus ripped through Mississippi's Black community early in the pandemic. About 60% of infections and deaths were among African Americans, who make up 38% of the state's population. Associated Press

  • People watch a pig race at the Mississippi State Fair, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. At the fair, which is held every year in October and attracts people from across the racial spectrum, the vast majority of Black people are wearing masks. Most white people do not.

    People watch a pig race at the Mississippi State Fair, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. At the fair, which is held every year in October and attracts people from across the racial spectrum, the vast majority of Black people are wearing masks. Most white people do not. Associated Press

  • A man wears a mask on an amusement ride at the Mississippi State Fair, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. At the fair, which is held every year in October and attracts people from across the racial spectrum, the vast majority of Black people are wearing masks. Most white people do not.

    A man wears a mask on an amusement ride at the Mississippi State Fair, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. At the fair, which is held every year in October and attracts people from across the racial spectrum, the vast majority of Black people are wearing masks. Most white people do not. Associated Press

  • Musicians play their instruments during a church service at the New Horizon International Church, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. The virus ripped through Mississippi's Black community early in the pandemic. About 60% of infections and deaths were among African Americans, who make up 38% of the state's population.

    Musicians play their instruments during a church service at the New Horizon International Church, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. The virus ripped through Mississippi's Black community early in the pandemic. About 60% of infections and deaths were among African Americans, who make up 38% of the state's population. Associated Press

  • Women wearing face masks leave after a church service at the New Horizon International Church, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. Across the country, racial minorities, especially Black people, have been hit hard by COVID-19.

    Women wearing face masks leave after a church service at the New Horizon International Church, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. Across the country, racial minorities, especially Black people, have been hit hard by COVID-19. Associated Press

  • A sign advertises face masks for sale along a major road, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. Across the country, racial minorities, especially Black people, have been hit hard by COVID-19. They are more likely to live in crowded housing and work essential jobs, whether in grocery stores or hospitals, and have a long history of second-rate health care. African Americans have also long struggled with chronic health problems that can cause more deaths from COVID-19.

    A sign advertises face masks for sale along a major road, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. Across the country, racial minorities, especially Black people, have been hit hard by COVID-19. They are more likely to live in crowded housing and work essential jobs, whether in grocery stores or hospitals, and have a long history of second-rate health care. African Americans have also long struggled with chronic health problems that can cause more deaths from COVID-19. Associated Press

  • People walk between illuminated booths at the Mississippi State Fair on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. At the fair, which is held every year in October and attracts people from across the racial spectrum, the vast majority of Black people are wearing masks. Most white people do not.

    People walk between illuminated booths at the Mississippi State Fair on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in Jackson, Miss. At the fair, which is held every year in October and attracts people from across the racial spectrum, the vast majority of Black people are wearing masks. Most white people do not. Associated Press

 
 
Posted10/29/2020 7:00 AM

JACKSON, Miss. -- Her voice cracked as she spoke from her hospital bed. 'I want to go home,' she said.

More than 40 miles away, her husband sat in their living room, looking intently into his phone as they spoke on a video call, trying to soothe her. Bonnie Bishop had been in the hospital since early July. She'd been on a ventilator. She'd had surgery to put a tube down her throat. She'd been in a coma for six weeks. On this October evening, she started to weep silently.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

'You are coming home,' Mike Bishop, 63, said firmly. He seemed to be speaking as much to himself as to his wife. 'You know you are.'

This is a love story.

It's a love story about coronavirus, the people it strikes down, and a big quiet house outside of Jackson, Mississippi. It's about those who take COVID-19 seriously, those who don't, and how that divide breaks uncomfortably along racial lines.

Mostly it's about Bonnie and Mike Bishop, an African American couple who met more than 25 years ago when she was organizing a basketball game to support an adopt-a-school program run by AT&T. She worked there until retiring a couple years ago. He still works there as a technician.

---

This story was produced with the support of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

_____

We met Mike on an Associated Press road trip across America that three of us are taking to try to make sense of a year like no other, with a global illness, protests over race and virulent politics.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Mike is tall and handsome, with a beard going grey and a gentle voice that's almost musical. He radiates decency.

For him, Bonnie is everything. She's the woman in oversized sunglasses who hates to have her picture taken. She can be quiet, Mike says, but once she knows you she's a talker.

When they met, they'd both been married and divorced. Neither had kids. They've been married now for a quarter-century.

'I am so empty and lost without her being here,' Mike said. 'The most alone I've felt in all my life.'

But in his own gentle, self-controlled way, he's also angry.

'When I see people say that it's a hoax? This is real!' said Mike. 'I washed my hands so much I joked to the guys at work: 'Pretty soon I'm going to be as white as y'all.''

Early in the pandemic, about 60% of infections and deaths in Mississippi were among African Americans, who make up 38% of the state's population. At Black churches there are often carefully enforced mask mandates, multiple disinfectant stations, parishioners sitting far apart, and pastors who don't let anyone forget the disease is serious.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But masks remain a rarity in many white neighborhoods. At the annual Mississippi State Fair, the vast majority of Black people were wearing masks on an October evening. Most white people were not.

'Big parts of the white community, especially in areas that weren't as hard affected, have not been as compliant or engaged actively with social distancing and masking,' Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the Mississippi state health officer, recently told reporters.

Mike pauses repeatedly as he talks about how race plays into the response to the virus.

'I think that if it had hit the white community like it hit the African-American community, it'd be a whole different ballgame,' he said.

In early July, Mike began to feel run down. It was just a minor dry cough, but he took a coronavirus test and it came back positive.

Soon, Bonnie also tested positive.

A couple days later, she woke him up at 3 a.m. 'I cannot breathe,' she gasped. '911.'

Mike, who couldn't go with her to the hospital because he was positive for the virus, helped strap her onto a stretcher. He held her hand as they walked to the ambulance. Then he watched it disappear into the night.

'I was empty. Scared. Terrified,' he said. 'And I was praying.'

Doctors quickly put Bonnie on a ventilator. Then into a medically induced coma.

For weeks, Mike called the hospital continually: 6 a.m.; mid-morning, early afternoon; mid-afternoon; dinnertime; just before bed.

After about six weeks, doctors took Bonnie out of the coma. She awoke disoriented and scared, with a breathing tube down her throat. They sedated her again and cut a hole in her windpipe for the tube.

Back home, Mike was living alone, in their big suburban house with pillars out front and a perfectly kept lawn. At night, he would sleep with the TV on. He'd wake up confused at 2 a.m. when she wasn't beside him.

'If I don't have the TV on I hear the clock all night. I hear the 'tick-tock, tick-tock.' If it rains, I can hear the rain dripping," he said.

He couldn't imagine losing Bonnie, even if he always believed she'd survive.

'There were nights that I just prayed and prayed that she'd just make it to the next day,' he said.

After she was brought out of the coma, she needed regular dialysis. Fevers would spike. She was disoriented and sleepy from all the drugs.

At home, Mike still spoke to her, speaking aloud into the silence.

'I would talk to her at night,' he said. 'I'd have these conversations just like I'm talking to you.'

Slowly - very slowly - she started to get better. She couldn't feed herself for weeks because she was so weak. The breathing tube meant she could only speak with a small electronic voicebox.

There were sparks of hope: when she could hold a conversation; when she first spoke without the voicebox.

But it was not until late September, maybe early October, when Mike's fears subsided. After more than three months in bed, she'd be going into a rehab facility soon. In mid-October, he hoped she'd be back by Thanksgiving.

This week, he got even better news. Bonnie's recovery was going far faster than expected. The weeks of rehabilitation could be done at home, doctors said.

She'll be home this weekend. Mike is almost giddy.

'I love that woman.'

___

Follow Sullivan on Twitter at @ByTimSullivan

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.