Separated from family by a national crisis – and a pane of glass
Imagine that you are a resident of a nursing home. Your mind is still clear, but physically you just can’t live on your own. Until the COVID-19 virus crisis, each day began by being awakened by an aide to get ready for the day. By 7:20 you are in the dining room sitting at a table with your friend and fellow resident. You also eat lunch and dinner with this same friend. At each meal, you visit about your families, old times and news of other residents.
Between meals, you use your walker or wheelchair to “walk” the hallways for exercise and to socialize with other residents. Most mornings an activity like kickball, bingo, puzzles or wheelchair dancing makes the time pass pleasantly. The nursing home employs an activities director, knowing that residents who are kept busy and active feel better physically and mentally.
Afternoons find you with your friends playing dominoes. Sometime during the day one or more of your children come to visit. Most days there are other visitors who stop by to chat.
On Sunday afternoons, a local church arrives to have a service. A couple of times a month someone comes to play music. When there’s nothing else to do, you watch TV in your room. You are also allowed to leave the facility with your child to attend church, eat at a restaurant, see your favorite beautician and go to doctor’s appointments.
This has been my mother Dorcas Rackley’s life for two years now. Her friend and fellow resident, Delphia Holmes, has lived there a little longer.
Out of concern for the lives of the residents, all nursing homes were advised by the Centers for Disease Control to stop all outside visitors. It has now been three weeks since she has seen any of her children or any other visitor. She hasn’t been allowed to leave the facility for any reason.
For the first week, everything including activities, continued as normal. Then, on March 15, Mom called to tell me they were now on lockdown in their rooms. There is no communal dining—food is delivered to each room, and it now consists of more prepackaged items. There are no more morning bingo games or afternoon domino games.
Because of diminished eyesight, my mother can no longer see to read. All she can do is watch TV in her room and take phone calls. If she receives cards in the mail, she waits for us to read them to her.
I understand the need for limiting outside visitors to protect the residents. All employees are screened as they enter daily. Besides checking vitals on the residents twice a day, their temperatures are checked three or four times daily.
Mom said that, starting a few days ago, she and another female resident on the same hallway can now go to a dining area on their hall to eat their meals, but they must stay 6 feet apart. They are also allowed to go to the edge of the main dining room to get a cup of coffee to take back to their rooms. Residents who smoke are still allowed to go outside several times a day, but they must stay the required 6 feet apart. I jokingly asked Mom if she was going to start smoking just so she could go outside.
Mom understands that all these precautions are for her own welfare, but that doesn’t make them any easier to accept. It’s lonely, and the days are long when all you have are the routine checks by nurses or aides … and TV. She has a new great-grandbaby she hasn’t seen. She has a grandson leaving for the Army soon that she may not see before he leaves. Her friend Delphia’s 98-year old sister died this past week, and Delphia can’t be with her family for comfort.
The nursing home is now offering video chats with residents, so we will check that out this week. If it’s on a phone, it won’t work for Mom because the screen would be too small for her to see. But GHCC administrator Sherri Beasley said they’re working on getting a tablet or laptop with a bigger screen to use soon.
As hard as it is for our family, it’s even more difficult for residents who have dementia and their family members. Trying to explain why you aren’t visiting is impossible. In fact, even having a phone conversation with many residents is not feasible because most of those residents have forgotten how to use a phone. You worry that your loved one may not even remember you when you finally get to see them again. Person-to-person visiting allows you to see if this awful disease has progressed. The not knowing is agonizing. You worry constantly.
I appreciate all the staff at the nursing home and the care they give the residents. I am sure they are stressed even more with all these restrictions. Hopefully, this virus situation will not last much longer, and we can go back to normal.