Inside Story: Coronavirus

It might seem like the coronavirus is nearing an end. I wish it were. If I judged simply by the reaction of the public, it does seem to be waning. However, my reality is different, as the virus is still front and center in my life. No, I don’t have the virus and never have had it, but if it were a thing of the past, I would not still be visiting my parents through a window of their assisted living facility. The doors are still locked and nothing much has changed in three months since the pandemic seemed to erupt. The fact is that nothing much seems to be changing for the elderly population in this COVID world. 

I understand the reasoning behind keeping the doors locked to visitors, mainly since the elderly are such a vulnerable population. I am keenly aware of all the horrible nursing home outbreaks and deaths and the various surges and spikes that are being reported. It goes without saying that we need to keep the elderly safe, but we need some communication as to where we are going with this. As dramatic as it sounds, I am just not confident that the doors will be open to visitors again in the foreseeable future. 

With that in mind, I had to review my own situation with my elderly parents. My 94-year-old father was languishing alone in a senior living apartment, in a downhill spiral of utter depression. My 96-year-old mother was already in assisted living, having lived apart from my father for more than two years. Married 69 years and used to visiting for a few hours every day, the coronavirus kept my parents separated for about eight weeks. If there was any hope of them seeing each other alive again, I decided to move my father to the assisted living facility. It was imperative for their emotional health even with a fourteen-day quarantine looming overhead and knowing that they could not come out of the facility for a long time. 

Moving for anyone can be a huge hassle, but moving a 94-year-old out of an apartment filled with memorabilia and comfort items is even more stressful. Add the coronavirus restrictions and the result can be devastating. 

When we were finally able to get everything arranged, we hired a couple of strong guys with a truck. We dismantled my father’s one-bedroom apartment as quickly as we could get things packed. The movers wore masks, gloves and entered and exited through the back door to get to their truck. It seemed like an elaborate undercover government operation as we finished without causing too much-unwanted attention.  

The movers were not allowed in the building once they arrived and were required to leave the furniture and boxes at the front door. It was up to one family member to take it from there. Although the facility maintenance worker helped a bit, overall, it was up to one person to figure out how to quickly get everything set up. As soon as my father was moved in, he was left to adjust to his new surroundings without further help from us. Then, they both faced a fourteen-day quarantine since my father had come in from the outside.  Thankfully, their room was close enough to an outside courtyard area, and they were allowed to sit outside for a few minutes a day to get some fresh air. 

I am well aware that even though facilities try to be accommodating to family members, their hands are tied because of state regulations. Facilities will be the last in any planned phased opening so the doors will remain locked for visitors. It is frustrating because there does not seem to be an end in sight. It has even been said that these facilities won’t open to visitors until January 2021 or even later, perhaps not until there is a vaccine. If that is the case, then it seems like these facilities are just warehouses for old people. That sounds harsh and it is.

The elderly are weary, depressed and their lack of understanding of the situation is taking a toll on them. Some family members don’t even visit through the glass as visiting makes their loved ones even more upset. The confinement and constant threat of a fourteen-day quarantine make family members like me cancel necessary out-of-facility doctor and healthcare visits. While telehealth is the next option for the elderly, it is not the same. And of course, since in-facility beauty shops are not open, even the length of their hair makes their patience run thin. 

 I am weary too. It has been a long three months of navigating elder care in this age of COVID-19. Window visits have lost their luster and frankly, like everyone else, I have coronavirus fatigue as it has gone on so long. I know I have to be an adult with this and not whine. I try to explain that things will get better even if I have no clue if they actually will and no matter how tired I am of this situation. As my parents’ age into their mid-90s, they occasionally mention the burden of all this on me. No one ever would have imagined that the end of their lives would look like this. 

The frustration for visitors is also the disparity between who is allowed into the facilities as an essential person. Phone repairmen who have been all over are allowed in but not family, off-duty staff members and potential new employees can go in but again not family. Vendors can come in and so can visiting nurses and therapists. As regulations evolve, workers must undergo mandatory testing every two weeks. 

So where do we go from here? Even if assisted living facilities and nursing homes start plans to go into a phased opening for visitors, it seems certain that it won’t be the easy in and out that it used to be. Will there be routine yet mandatory temperature readings and testing for visitors? Will visitors have to show proof of antibodies, negative test results or vaccine? Could visits be limited not only in the length of time in the facility but how often you are allowed to visit? And finally, will these new measures significantly increase the already high cost of facilities?

Of course, no one knows the answers to these particular questions and even though I am frustrated and worn out, I do wish there was more communication of what the near future might look like. So I will continue to trudge through the dirt, dust and shrubs and stand in the summer heat to get to the window until there is a better solution.

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