Syracuse, New York – Onondaga County Executive Director Ryan McMahon cannot drive.
He cannot send email. The 40-year-old can’t even shovel his alley.
McMahon, who has been a steady, calm voice of pandemic response in Central New York for nearly a year, began to double when he awoke on February 6th.
A night in the hospital, numerous tests and several follow-up visits to specialists ruled out the most frightening possibilities, including a stroke or a brain tumor.
The leading candidate at the moment: pandemic stress.
“I conclude more that it is related to a pandemic,”
Nearly a year after Covid-19, the county administration’s top spot over the losses, fear and frustration of others caught up with him, he said.
McMahon revealed to Syracuse.com that although he is joking, the situation is serious. The nerve in his left eye is damaged and so far teams of doctors have not been able to find a cause. There is currently no treatment plan.
For a moment, he considered keeping the crisis private, he said. But how could he? People would see him close his eyes to meetings. They will see him narrow his eyes and stumble, he said. They would hear that he does not fight alone. Of course, they would wonder. They would come to their own conclusions.
McMahon is the voice of reason, a system for delivering communal despair when deaths increase, and for hope when the vaccine appears online. He was committed to being transparent about the pandemic response. He also had to be transparent about the consequences of his life, he said.
“We were a big family in this and the families share that kind of information,” McMahon said.
During his briefings, he reminds people he is still struggling with. I see two Anne Rooney, he said at a recent briefing, citing a top aide. He joked and moved on.
Looking back, McMahon sees where things have started to get worse, he said. For him, the spread of the vaccine is as stressful as the initial halt at the start of the pandemic, he said.
McMahon has no control over supply and little control over distribution. And he knows that thousands more people want the vaccine than they can get. They call him and leave messages.
Every time new slots open, his office is flooded with calls from people who didn’t show up. There are thousands of them. People desperate for shots. Some are angry, others worried. Some are just disappointed. McMahon is powerless to help them.
“As rewarding as the vaccination process was, it was the most stressful. You have so many people who want it and there is no way to get it to everyone. And that causes a reaction from the public or extreme frustration and despair, “McMahon said. “We feel it. We are the face of this. “
Near the start of the vaccine, McMahon began to have back cramps. He couldn’t sleep. He usually sleeps for five hours; it has become much less, he said.
When he was home at night, he often worked on telephones with state and federal authorities, trying to gain better access to vaccines.
He did not feel well when he went to work on February 5.
This was one of the last times he drove. The sun shone from the snow, and he squinted as he drove down South Salina Street. His vision was amusing afterwards, he said. He thought he just couldn’t shake the glare.
He told himself he was just defeated. He decided that he would go to bed and 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 uneasy glare. He saw twice. He knew his brother Tommy had a migraine. Maybe that was it, McMahon thought. He called him. The brothers waited a moment to see if he would turn into a headache or if his vision cleared. Nor did it happen.
McMahon told his wife, Caitlin, when she returned from Saturday’s orders. She took him to his daughter-in-law, who is a nurse.
She measured his blood pressure, which reached 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 Krause Hospital immediately. The doctor was worried he might have a stroke.
Once there, McMahon experienced his own version of the story he had heard so many times. He was alone in the hospital. He was ill. And he was terrible.
He had a CT scan, MRI and a spinal tap.
“I’m afraid of needles. And I was a pinchuk for a weekend, ”McMahon said, laughing.
Tests reveal that there is damage to the nerves in his left eye, making it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for his eye to move. But there was no indication of what caused it, which is why doctors see stress as the cause.
McMahon has glasses that help focus everything, but they give him a headache if he wears them for a long time. Sometimes he reads with only one eye. His phone is easier to see than other screens, so he was able to do some things about it.
But most of all, he has to rely on others to do the things he can’t. Justin Sales, his communications director, became his driver. McMahon responded to most of the emails that came in the county office inbox because he liked to do so. Now his staff is doing the same.
He had planned to iron out his address in the county, but that had to be postponed.
His vision improved a little. He went for a walk on his street and did well, he said. But he could not manage the forest he was walking in to find some peace. The earth is too uneven for the way it sees now.
McMahon is forced to work at a slower pace. If he tries to read too much, he should lie down until the headache goes away.
He 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 his older children, Maddie and Jack.
But what makes him calm, which reminds him that everything is worth it, are the vaccination clinics in Oncenter.
If there are a few minutes these days, he has someone to go with him. Then he watches. He reminds himself that this is what it is about.
Streams of people who have been living in fear and isolation for months line up as if waiting for a concert.
Instead, nurses who have spent months chasing down Covid-19 infections are making a decision.
They’re both smiling, McMahon said.
For now, he sees this twice.
Marnie Eisenstadt writes about the people, public affairs and the school district in Syracuse. Contact her at any time Email | Twitter| cell 315-470-2246.