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A special series by WUWM's Maayan Silver. Maayan's stories air each Tuesday, beginning September 21, during Morning Edition 6:45 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.

What A Milwaukee Municipal Judge Learned From His Battle With COVID-19

Derek Mosley (L) and his nurse Christin Lissmann (R) in May 2020, after Mosley was discharged from a 12-day ICU stay due to COVID-19.
Courtesy of Froedtert Hospital
Derek Mosley (L) and his nurse Christin Lissmann (R) in May 2020, after Mosley was discharged from a 12-day ICU stay due to COVID-19.

A year and a half after the coronavirus shut down schools, businesses, and daily life, we’re still figuring out how to deal with it – individually and collectively. But stories of growth and resilience come through adversity. WUWM is asking people to share their experiences getting through it all in a series called “Pandemic Reflections.”

The hope is that individual takeaways resonate and perhaps impart wisdom in difficult times.

Milwaukee Municipal Judge Derek Mosley is a kidney transplant recipient who faced a 12-day battle with COVID-19 last year in the ICU at Froedtert Hospital. He vividly remembers a crucial moment in the ICU when a doctor called him from inside the hospital and told him his health had hit a precarious stage.

"And he said, 'We don't know why, but some people just completely bottom out at this point. So, you're at this stage, we're gonna watch you,'"Mosley said. "And so he left, he hung up the phone, and it's dark, and you hear the beeps, and it all sunk in for me at that moment."

Family members weren’t allowed to visit Mosley. So, a nurse brought him an iPad so he could talk to family and friends, knowing he could die.

"Then she left with the iPad, and I was alone again, and you're just with your thoughts all alone," he recounted. "And I just said to myself, you know, just preparing myself that if this was my time, this is my time, right. And I just wanted to make sure that my family was okay, and my family was alright."

Mosley said his recovery was rough – it's an understatement to call it an intense struggle. However, he now appreciates what many take for granted, like the simple act of breathing.

"You don't think about that, you know; I only think about breathing heavily when I'm running or exercising. But I was doing nothing. I was just sitting, lying in bed, and couldn't breathe. And so, it felt as if you were actually running a marathon or just ran a marathon the way you're gasping like that, trying to get your lungs back into shape," Mosley recalled. "But you're just sitting in a bed. And so, it makes you appreciate breaths. In fact, to this day, I will just stop and just take a series of deep breaths because I was unable to do it then."

Maayan Silver's full conversation with Judge Derek Mosley.

Mosley said to this day, he keeps a blood oxygen meter on him. "And I will put my finger in it," he said. "And just to make sure because when you see that number decrease before your eyes, it's quite frightening."

Mosley said the experience was mentally and emotionally challenging. But, as a judge, he's used to finding answers.

“Problems are what I solve every single day,” he said. “And so, someone presents a problem, I try to come up with a solution. And so that's what made [battling COVID-19] so hard for me and so difficult to comprehend is there was no solution that I could come up with because it was completely out of my hands. And that's what made it even more frightening.”

Mosley said, as a judge, you go into a courtroom, and everybody listens to you. In the ICU, he felt helpless.

“You go from that environment, going into an environment where you control nothing,” he said. “When you're laying in the ICU, and the doctors aren't even coming into the room because of how precarious the situation is, they're calling you on the phone in the room to talk – you realize you control nothing.”

Mosley said he learned something about being powerless during his COVID-19 struggle which has changed how he conducts himself in the courtroom.

“You better believe it,” he said. “It put it in perspective for me, that person standing in front of me, whose life is in the balance based on what I do. It made me realize just how – not only how important the job is, but how important it is for that person – for that person is a dad, that person is a brother, that person is an uncle, and it affects their whole family, not just that one person. And so, it gave me another perspective.”

The pandemic affected Mosley in another way. As it’s progressed, he’s been paying attention to how misfortune can snowball. For instance, for someone who’s become unemployed.

“You lose your job. So now you can't make your mortgage,” Mosley said. “So now you're worried about being evicted. And now you have, you have a family trying to find a place for your kids to stay maybe with relatives while you work this out."

Mosley thinks about all of this when assessing punishment for the violations of those who come before him in court.

Maayan Silver is a WUWM news reporter.
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