Local View: Please, let us be there during loved ones' final moments

From the column: "We could don the necessary personal protective equipment like medical staff members do. Just let family assume the risk. We know what the risks are."

Linda and Tom Vukelich vacationed in Alaska in 2008. Linda's multiple sclerosis was progressing. Tom retired early so they could travel and see as much as possible while Linda was still able to walk.

My wife of 48 years and I lived at home with MS, and I was the primary caregiver. I did it all for her.

On the morning of Dec. 26, Linda was having an MS flare up, and it was severe enough that I called 911 for a trip to the hospital. She left our home at 11 a.m., and I was told I would not be able to follow the ambulance. I was told to wait at home for a call. That call didn’t come until 5 p.m. I was told my wife was stable and would be kept in the hospital overnight for IV antibiotics and observation. All her vitals were normal. She tested negative for COVID-19, so she was moved to the COVID-safe part of the medical center. I was relieved.

The next day, Sunday the 27th, I received a call from the nurse with an update. She reported that my wife was comfortable and doing well. I was allowed to speak to Linda by phone for a couple of minutes. That day she had told the staff all about her kids and husband (in glowing terms, I was later told). She had a bath and lunch and was doing better.

I still was not allowed to visit, and I had no further communication that day with the staff or Linda.

On Monday morning, I was awoken by the worst call a husband and caregiver could receive: “Mr Vukelich, your wife has coded, and we are doing our best to get her back.”


But they could not. She passed away at 11 a.m. In that call, I asked to come see her and was told I could not. After pleading and demanding, our son and I were finally allowed to be with my wife, his mother, at 2 p.m., three hours after she had passed.

I’m writing this after reading Doris Rauschenbach’s March 22 “Local View” column in the News Tribune, headlined, “ Left powerless by COVID-19, we're watching our loved ones fade away .” I’m not writing to share any disparaging words about my wife’s care. The doctors and nurses who are overworked, stressed, and “sent from God as angels on earth” did their level best for Linda.

I would only say to our officials, government or otherwise: please let family take the risk to be with family who are about to leave this world. We could don the necessary personal protective equipment like medical staff members do. Just let family assume the risk. We know what the risks are. Many of us would be willing to take those risks in the final hours or minutes that our loved ones are here on earth.

I’m a former volunteer at the Solvay Hospice House here in Duluth. Its mission includes that no one should die alone. Sadly, during this pandemic, many, many are doing just that. I know I am not the only person, caregiver, family member, husband, wife, or partner to have this experience. I am not the only one who is here with the grief.

Tom Vukelich lives in Duluth. His wife Linda died Dec. 28 of multiple sclerosis. She “is now enjoying chocolate and resting peacefully in heaven,” as her obituary stated.

Related Topics: CORONAVIRUS
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