Syracuse, NY – Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon is unable to drive.
You cannot send emails. The 40-year-old can’t even shovel his entrance.
McMahon, who has been a consistent, calm voice in response to a pandemic in central New York for nearly a year, began to see double when he woke up on February 6.
One night in the hospital, a battery of tests, and several follow-up visits with specialists have ruled out the most terrifying possibilities, including a stroke or brain tumor.
The leading candidate at this point: pandemic stress.
“I’m coming to the conclusion that it is related to the pandemic,” McMahon said. “When we see what this pandemic has done to the public and the community… the human side of things… it’s hard to disconnect. To turn it off. To be honest with you, I can’t turn it off. “
Nearly a year after Covid-19, the county executive’s front row seat to the loss of others, fear and frustration caught up with him, he said.
McMahon revealed to Syracuse.com that even while joking, the situation is dire. The nerve in his left eye is damaged, and so far medical teams have been unable to determine the cause. There is no treatment plan at this time.
For a moment he thought about keeping the crisis private, he said. But how could you do it? People saw him close his eyes in meetings. They would see him squint and stumble, he said. They would hear that he is not driving himself. Of course, they would wonder. They would come to their own conclusions.
McMahon has been a voice of reason, a delivery system of community despair when deaths skyrocketed and of hope when the vaccine went online. He had pledged to be transparent about responding to the pandemic. He also had to be transparent about the consequences of his life, he said.
“We’ve been a great family at this and families share this kind of information,” McMahon said.
In his briefings, he still reminds people that he is still struggling. I see two Ann Rooneys, she noted in a recent briefing, referring to a senior assistant. He made a joke and moved on.
Looking back, McMahon sees where it all started to get worse, he said. For him, the launch of the vaccine has been as stressful as the initial shutdown at the beginning of the pandemic, he said.
McMahon has no control over supply and little control over distribution. And you know that thousands more people want the vaccine than can get it. They call him and leave messages.
Every time new spaces open, your office is flooded with calls from people who didn’t show up. There are thousands of them. People who are desperate for vaccines. Some are angry, others are worried. Some are just frustrated. McMahon is powerless to help them.
“Despite how rewarding the vaccination process has been, it has been the most stressful. There are so many people who want it and there is no way it will reach everyone. And that triggers a public reaction or extreme frustration and despair, ”McMahon said. “We feel that. We are the face of this. “
Near the beginning of the vaccine launch, McMahon began to have back spasms. He couldn’t sleep. Usually sleeps five hours; became much less, he said.
When he was home at night, he often worked on the phone with state and federal authorities, trying to gain better access to vaccinations.
He was not feeling well when he went to work on February 5.
It was one of the last times he drove. The sun was shining on the snow and he narrowed his eyes as he drove down South Salina Street. His vision was funny after that, he said. He thought he couldn’t help looking.
He told himself that he was exhausted. He thought that he would go to bed and that his eyes would be normal when he woke up. He didn’t tell anyone how he felt.
But when he woke up, he didn’t just see that awkward look. He saw double. He knew that his brother, Tommy, had migraines. Maybe this was it, McMahon thought. He gave her a call. The brothers waited a bit to see if it turned into a headache or if their vision cleared. It didn’t happen either.
McMahon told his wife, Caitlin, when he returned from errands Saturday morning. He took him to see his sister-in-law, who is a specialist nurse.
She took his blood pressure, which registered 160 over 120.
McMahon had never seen his blood pressure so high. He has never had serious health problems, he said.
McMahon called his doctor, who told him to go to Crouse Hospital immediately. The doctor was concerned that he might be having a stroke.
Once there, McMahon lived his own version of the story that he has heard so many times. He was alone in the hospital. He was sick. And he was terrified.
They did a CT scan, an MRI, and a lumbar puncture.
“I am deathly afraid of needles. And I was a pincushion for a weekend, ”McMahon said, laughing.
The tests revealed that there is damage to the nerves in the left eye, making it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to move the eye. But there was no indication of what caused it, which is why doctors are considering stress as the reason.
McMahon has glasses that help focus everything, but give him a headache if he wears them for too long. Sometimes he reads with one eye. Your phone is easier to see than other screens, so you’ve been able to do a few things with it.
But most of all, he has to depend on others to do the things that he cannot. Justin Sayles, its communications director, has become its driver. McMahon used to respond to most of the emails that came to the “county executive’s inbox” because he liked doing it. Now your staff are doing that too.
He had planned to be polishing his county state address by now, but that needs to be postponed.
His vision has improved a little. He went out for a walk down his street and it went well, he said. But he can’t handle the forest he used to walk through to find some peace. The ground is too uneven for the way it looks now.
McMahon has been forced to work at a slower pace. If you try to read too much, you have to lie down until the headache passes.
He has found more time to play with Andrew, who is 4 years old. And more time to sit on the couch and enjoy a show or two with your older children, Maddie and Jack.
But what reassures him, what reminds him that everything is worth it, are the Oncenter vaccination clinics.
If you have a few minutes on those days, someone will accompany you. Then watch. He reminds himself this is what this is all about.
Streams of people who have lived in fear and isolation for months line up as if waiting for a concert.
Nurses who spent months chasing the trails of Covid-19 infections, instead, dispense a solution.
They are both smiling, McMahon said.
For now, he sees it double.
Marnie Eisenstadt writes about people, public affairs, and the Syracuse City School District. Contact her at any time E-mail | Twitter| cell 315-470-2246.