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“I’m horrified,” Oprah Winfrey says of the pandemic. “I don’t recognize a country where you’ve lost almost a million people and there hasn’t been some form of commemoration that’s meaningful.”

Oprah Where Are They Now

The TV icon voraciously devoured news about COVID-19 and people losing their jobs or dying from the deadly virus. But seeing Fowler’s face in USA Today, along with the story of his experience going to multiple Detroit hospitals to get help for COVID-19 before giving up, stuck with Winfrey. What haunts her most is that he sat in his favorite chair when he returned home and wrote before he died that he could not breathe. She said she realizes it’s something she would do too.

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“I would have wanted people to know at the last moment what I was feeling, what I was thinking, so I probably would have kept a journal of what those feelings were so that my family would have an idea of ​​exactly what happened,” Winfrey said.

Fowler’s story is what inspired her to produce The Color of Care, a documentary focusing on how COVID-19 has exposed racial disparities in the health care system. The film, from the Smithsonian Channel and Winfrey’s Harpo Productions and directed by award-winning filmmaker Jance Ford, interviews families of color who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 and the harrowing experiences their family members face trying to access care before to die.

In addition to the film, there is also a campaign to reach out to future medical professionals as well as affected communities and policy makers at all levels of government to start thinking about solutions for health equity.

Premiering Sunday on Smithsonian Channel, “The Color of Care” will also be available for free on Smithsonian Channel’s Facebook and YouTube through May 31. Winfrey spoke with The Times about how she’s been dealing with the pandemic, the biggest misconception she’s had about racial disparities in health, and a reflection on how her privilege has shaped her health care experience for better and worse. The following has been edited for clarity and length.

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Marissa Evans’ dad started 2022 by eating apple pie and feeling like it was going to be their family’s year. He died of COVID-19 before the end of January.

The Story of Your Father [Gary Evans]. I thought you would be someone who really understood what we were trying to talk about. Not just talking but what we are trying to offer here. I look at everything as a gift. Because Beloved was so quickly rejected by the world, I learned to do all my work as an offer that could either be received or not. And you do the work and then you let go of any attachment to how it’s going to be received or what people are going to say or whether they’re going to like it or not. You just do the work with the intention. I had read this article at the time it came out because I’m just one of those people who reads all the stories about COVID I can get my hands on.

One of the reasons I read all these stories is because I’m horrified, I’m stunned. I don’t know of a country where you’ve lost almost a million people and there hasn’t been some form of commemoration that’s meaningful. Not at the opening speech or when mentioned in the State of the Union. I mean there was no general gathering to acknowledge that this had happened to us. Who are we that there is no deep acknowledgment in our society that we have lost our loved ones? And sometimes we are not even able to bury our dead. Who are we not to realize the significance of this recognition?

I haven’t lost anyone in my family, so I’ve been very lucky. My coping with it comes from hearing from other friends and other people who have been through it. My empathy and understanding of what it must be like to go through this is how I relate. I was so careful with myself that my own friends made fun of me. I didn’t leave my house for 322 days – I literally didn’t leave the house. So it wasn’t a heavy burden for me personally.

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It wasn’t until the second half of 2021 that it started to feel like, “Okay, I’ve had enough of this.” But I still felt for all the people who were losing people, and also for the people who couldn’t get the appointments they needed just for regular illnesses or checkups because the hospitals were full. I’ve been living this “celebrity” life since I was 19 years old in Nashville, Tennessee. And that has only expanded over the years. But in Nashville [when] people first started recognizing me at the Kroger store, I noticed that things change for you when you’re someone who’s famous. You get a doctor’s appointment. You don’t have to wait in line. You don’t have to deal with a lot of unnecessary delays that other people have. So, I lived this life of privilege and perk, and then I was exposed to the best of healthcare. I don’t usually get headaches, but if I do, I immediately think I have brain cancer. So now I’m getting an MRI to check it out. And I can always get an MRI. Being exposed to what these kinds of celebrities do when it comes to accessing what you need, I have a particularly strong empathy for people who can’t get it and don’t have it.

What surprised me the most is how well I’ve adjusted to being isolated and not being around other people. I remember [Gail King] saying, “Don’t you miss being around other people?” I’m like, “Eh, not really.” And I think that’s because every day I was in an audience of 350 people twice a day, so I had handshakes and autographs and selfies, a lot of attention and exposure to being in a lot of people. I was able to be alone with myself in a way I haven’t been able to in years, because usually, even if I take a break for myself, I’m thinking about what’s next.

Overall, I’ve been able to adjust because I have the ability [and] a really strong sense of being in this present moment and living this moment without having to worry about the next one. You can do this when you don’t have to worry about where your next paycheck is coming from. I didn’t have to worry about “Will I have rent? Will I be able to get food? Will I be able to keep the lights on and take care of my kids?

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And I make no apologies for that. Because I worked to earn it. Nobody gave it to me, I had no father to take over the business, no husband to leave me money, no uncles to help me. I feel completely responsible for creating the life I have, and equally grateful and blessed for it. But I understand that it’s a very blessed and privileged life that gives you access to health care, access to everything you need in a way that a lot of people don’t.

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It would be like everyone else’s. It would be like all the things I hear from people who aren’t me. Waiting in line, being ignored, people not taking you seriously, telling people that “Yes, I’m in pain” as well as people telling you that it’s all in your imagination.

Let me tell you, if you’re ever going to use your celebrity status, you want to use it when it comes to a medical emergency. Forget the restaurants, forget the freebies. All the other attention you get as a person who is famous in the world doesn’t even compare to what it means to have all eyes on you when something goes wrong. This is a real advantage. And it may be a drawback.

There was a time in 2007 when my heart was racing for a whole year. I had palpitations for a year and went to five different doctors. And each doctor just gave me a different medicine. No one ever tested my blood until I went to the Cleveland Clinic and they knew it wasn’t a heart problem. It was a thyroid problem that was causing palpitations. So at that point, being a celebrity was working against me. I remember going back to a doctor who had actually done an angiogram and said it wasn’t a heart problem but

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