This column is a snapshot the pain and tragedy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As I write it on Wednesday, Sept. 30, I mark the 200th day since I have been able to visit my daughter at the wonderful place she has lived for 22 years, The Virginia Home in Richmond. Dawn is severely physically and intellectually disabled with cerebral palsy, unable to speak clearly, walk or use her hands much or understand this deadly virus. She is as helpless as a newborn baby.
I was with her in one of my weekly visits when the federal government shut down nursing facilities nationwide, and I was told I had to leave.
Dawn looked up at me where she was resting in bed.
I said, “I have to go now, but I’ll be back when I can.”
She looked up at me with her big hazel eyes and said, “Mom?” She was asking when her grandmother, her favorite person, would be coming.
“I don’t know, Dawn,” I said. “We’ll be back as soon as we can.”
Then I cried most of the way home. But I had no idea that 200 days later I would still be waiting and still be crying. I thought it might be six weeks, which is the longest I’ve ever been away from her before during a flu outbreak a few years ago.
Yet here we are, as we still squabble about wearing masks and balance, unevenly at times, our desire get life “back to normal” against the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities.
The Virginia Home has done an outstanding job of protecting its approximately 130 residents. No one has died, and not one resident has tested positive in more than six months. That’s amazing. The staff coming in contact with the community is still the greatest threat, so they are tested weekly as the Home gently moves into Phase 2.
During Phase 3, limited visits with masks, social distancing and no physical contact might be allowed. One positive test for a resident will push them back into Phase 1.
But the protection has come at the cost of residents being kept in their rooms most of the time and with no physical family contact. There are “through-the-glass” visits, but those can be frustrating and upsetting, at least to me.
The staff has worked hard to keep residents occupied and entertained during the confinement.
Dawn has been worse off than most of the others because she developed a pressure sore and was on bed rest for eight weeks until it healed. She started getting up in her wheelchair two weeks ago on a limited basis. Then the wound opened up again and she is back on bed rest under the care of wound specialists. She seems happy when I video her, even saying “no” when I ask her if she wants to get up.
I find the situation excruciating.
As we struggle with the virus, the nursing home situation across the nation is one of mostly unreported heartache. I know my situation and pain is repeated for many of the 1.4 million people in nursing homes and their families nationwide.
I have a friend whose wife had back surgery and was admitted to a nursing home for rehab right before an outbreak at the facility. Over the next few months, her husband, in his early 80s couldn’t visit her, except for an occasional visit at a window or when the hospital opened to visitors briefly. I asked if I could interview him for a story I was doing about nursing homes and he declined.
“I’ll just cry,” he said.
Repeat surgeries for infections, followed by the nursing home again, wore on her until she stopped eating. Eventually, she was transferred to a long-term hospital in North Carolina. Her family was scheduled for a “compassion visit,” which can mean impending death, for 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon.
As her husband listened on the phone to attempts to revive her, she died at 6:30 that morning. Such a lonely ending for a long, devoted marriage. His belief he will see her again sustains him now.
Another friend has a sister with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home. She calls her sister in the middle of night, crying and asking why no one is coming to see her.
So we’re at 200 days and counting. For how long? I know we’re tired of this. I certainly am tired of crying, tired of worrying, tired of long, sad days.
I’m also tired of seeing people in stores without masks, seeing crowds of people on the evening news congregating without masks or social distancing, tired of the politicization of vaccines and data.