Local View: Left powerless by COVID-19, we're watching our loved ones fade away
From the column: "It sickened me to think that my mother’s last years may be spent in an almost prison-like environment."
My 92-year-old mother is only three blocks away, a resident in a nursing home, and it is crazy to think that it has been a year since I have been able to sit with her. It has been difficult.
When the in-person visits were no longer allowed because of COVID-19, my sisters Laurie and Michelle and I started Zooming with Mom once a week. With the country shut down, my sisters and I had no problems finding the time. We were always available.
But even then, there were some weeks that our meetings did not go as planned. I had trouble with the sound on my laptop a few times, so I could not interact with the group as well. Or on Mom’s end, she would sometimes blank out like she was watching a television screen. “Mom,” we would shout. When Mom did not respond, looking bored as can be, we would get scared. It was distressing to not be able to touch her and say, “Hey, Mom, are you OK?” Instead, we would message the nurse to see if she would check on Mom.
The first time it happened, we wondered if Mom was having a stroke. We watched on the screen as nurse Karen, our friend, whisked into the room and said, “Gram?” She put her arm on Mom’s shoulder. “Are you doing OK?” When Mom smiled and responded, “Yeah, I’m good,” my sisters and I sighed with relief. And of course, we playfully scolded our mother for not paying attention to us.
It was February when, finally, we got the notice that the nursing home staff and residents were getting scheduled for their COVID-19 vaccinations. Just knowing that brought on a vast sigh of relief. I felt like Mom just had to stay strong a little longer so we could sit, visit, care, and love — like our family was intended to do — once again.
It was that same week that I learned I was next in line for the vaccination. I became eligible because of my status as a caregiver for my adult, special-needs daughter. I was ecstatic. Mom was getting vaccinated. I was getting vaccinated. I thought that, for sure, there would be no reason we could not visit.
I was wrong.
Although the COVID-19 vaccine was the best way to protect us from catching the disease, it would take weeks post-injection for us to reach full immunity, we were told. And in determination to keep residents of nursing homes safe, and even though the two-week period had passed, I was told the lockdown would continue until further notice.
What little patience I had was running thin. When I thought of all that precious time I had already lost with my mother, it made my anger soar, followed by a deep sense of sorrow.
By the end of February, the nursing home got approved to handle visitors. One to two family members, once every two weeks, for 30 minutes, in a plexiglass environment, during daytime hours, by appointment only.
I was disgusted. Not at the nursing home staff; they were and are doing their best. I did not know who exactly to be mad at, which made it even more frustrating. It sickened me to think that my mother’s last years may be spent in an almost prison-like environment.
I started the paperwork to have Mom put under a comfort-care program. What that would mean for Mom was she’d have fewer medical restrictions. We could bring her food from home that we knew she enjoyed. Any need for X-rays could be performed in-house versus sending Mom to the hospital. Unfortunately, I learned that the comfort-care status would not give us any more privileged visitation rights over any other resident; Mom was too healthy for that. I also learned the state was mandating the restrictions. There was little the nursing home could do.
Health-wise, I do not think it would be in Mom’s best interest to bring her home, even if we paid for around-the-clock supportive home care. Mom has made friends. She has caregivers who have become like family to her. The daily activities offered at the nursing home make the days more interesting and even fun.
But Mom also needs her family by her side. And for us kids, it is like watching the sand fall through the hourglass; we are powerless to do anything about it.
Doris Rauschenbach is a writer in Ashland and a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page. Her website is doriswrites.com. She can be followed at facebook.com/DorisWrites and contacted at email@example.com.