For the first time since the beginning of England’s first national lockdown, I saw my mother sit by my grandmother’s bed to take her hand and comfort her. It was March 8, the first day regulations were loosened to allow children to return to schools and allow residents of nursing homes to be visited by loved ones. The rules allow only one visitor, so I looked through his window.
Covid-19 has taken a brutal toll on nursing homes: between mid-March and mid-June 2020 there were 19,286 deaths in which the virus was mentioned on death certificates. But the effects are not only seen in statistics. Nursing home residents have been isolated from the world: the lucky ones live on lower floors where they might have visitors at their windows, but many are isolated a story or two higher. Not only have health workers been performing their usual care, but they have also filled the void of absent family and friends while still paying close attention to hygiene and personal protective equipment. Then, for people like me, the grandchildren, sons, daughters, nephews and friends of those locked up in care, it has been heartbreaking to feel so distant, unable to help in any way.
I have been one of the lucky relatives to see my grandmother through her window, but communicating with her was difficult and exhausting. There were periods when you weren’t allowed to open the window at all, but even when it was, the safety latch only allowed a couple of inches. I saw my grandmother’s ability to communicate declining as she dreamed of being on the other side of the mirror.
A couple of hours before my mother arrived for her visit to Green gables I met Sally Rigby, who was sitting in her car waiting for the results of her lateral flow test. “Mom arrived on January 20, 2020 after a month in the hospital. After falling down and losing the use of his legs, it was like he just gave up, “he said. “They tried to make her walk with a lot of physical therapist, but it didn’t work, so she had to come here. He is 93 years old. Before this, she lived alone with caregivers that she herself classified; knit and sew every day.
“My last visit was early March 2020 and she had only been here for six or seven weeks, and then we couldn’t go back until late May or early June. Mom didn’t know who I was, she asked me if I was the gardener. It breaks your heart. You see the staff pass by and their little eyes light up when they see them. It’s great to know that they are taking good care of her, but I give you my word that it breaks your heart. “
I asked Sally if she thought the past year had affected her mother. “Oh hugely, it could have happened either way, but if you take away the familiarity from the people they are used to seeing once or twice a day [that can speed it up]. Even though it is in a house, it is isolated. “
One of the caretakers came around the corner to pick up Sally after a negative test result. After his visit, he said: “There is not much left, he did not ask questions, he does not seem to understand. And it is not the fault of the house, she does not understand that there has been a virus and we do not. He didn’t think to ask why we haven’t been. We just sat there in silence. Before she came in, she was the one telling me what was going on with the economy and Brexit. It’s amazing how quickly it has gone. “
I asked her how often she would return and if she thought the visits would help her. “I will be back every week, but I don’t know, I suspect there isn’t much coming back from this. You can’t lose a year at 93 and hope to come back. I think this is what we will have left. I don’t think she wanted her grandchildren to come to see her like this. They don’t ask to come because they see me when I come back from a visit. It’s just hard. ‘
Belinda Long arrived for her visit in the afternoon. “I am here to see my mom, she has been here for 13 years. This is only the second time I’ve been able to see her face to face since it all started. They closed the nursing home in February last year. “Belinda then traveled to Australia for two weeks, unaware that the country would be blocked. She had only managed to see her mother once since then, when regulations were relaxed.
“It has been very difficult, but I have spoken with her through the window and the staff has done everything possible to make everything go well. This week I was on annual vacation, so I made the most of the opportunity. However, it is difficult, you still have to wear PPE and dress, so there is still that barrier. I think they said that we can hold hands but not hug.
“My mother is quite positive as a person, I think if she sees you at the window and waves at you, that’s fine. He has been here a long time due to his physical disabilities. It is on and has capacity, it understands what is happening. We have been able to chat through the window, but of course when the weather has been very cold, not only are you freezing, but you are also chilling everyone else. “
When Belinda was called, I asked her how she was feeling. “Oh, I’m so excited, really wanting to do it.”
“I’ll have to help him a bit because in the last year my father’s health has deteriorated,” Elizabeth Wardlaw told me before repeating my question to her father, Alec Burton. He had asked Alec who he was here to see. “My wife, have you been here for how many years? Three years, ”he said.
“I think Dad was able to go see her in October,” Elizabeth added. “He couldn’t get in during the first block and then it was difficult to do so during the second. But he has actually been in Mom’s company four times since the beginning, although each time he has not been allowed to touch her. He stood at her window every night for a year and spoke to her through the window, even when it was closed. “
“It has been agony,” he added. “I haven’t touched mom in a year. And having to deal with daddy’s heartbreak is hard enough. Although I fully understand, as a nurse, I do understand the issues that staff face. But being forbidden to touch your wife or see your mother is a shame. The repercussions have been enormous, my father’s health has worsened as a result. In fact, she experienced a pulmonary embolism while standing by her window. We put him in an ambulance, which I was not allowed to go to. I thought: is that the last time I see my dad?
“We are very excited to bring daddy today, however he will be allowed to hold her hand but not kiss it. The girls here have been wonderful. We have driven home from here crying because we can’t help Mom. It really is a terrible business that you can stop seeing your mother. “
I bumped into Christine Percival and her mother, Rachel, through the visiting room window. “The last time I saw her was with a window visit in December, we just said hello. Mom has only been here since November, so this is the first time I’ve seen her since she arrived.
“Not seeing her has been annoying. It was awful. We make Zoom calls, but it’s not the same as holding your hand and being in the same room. Mom has found it very difficult at times, she doesn’t really know where she is. We still need to explain that you are in a nursing home, that you are in Green Gables, not your home. He lived in the town of Marton for most of his life. She has been very disoriented. However, the staff have been fantastic, really reassuring and supportive. ”
We chatted after her visit and I asked her how it had been, Christine said it was wonderful, wiping a tear from her eye and apologizing. “Taking his hand and giving him the assurance that we will be visiting was incredible. He will continue to see us. Hopefully everything will work out the way it is supposed to. Fingers crossed.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism