When Mommy becomes a grade…9 April, 2020
Lavinia, Tuesday 7 April, 2020
Corona has come closer than ever. But not in the way people have been worried about us lately. Spain seems to become pretty much the doomsday device where real horror stories emerge. That’s the impression I get here. Apparently people keep hammering figures, and trends in the figures are not communicated to the same extent to the countries outside Spain. In the last week we have seen a clearly positive evolution in the number of infections, hospital admissions and deaths. But alas if there are bad figures again for one day. We also see the news in Belgian newspapers, and that one bad day in a good series of 5 days is again widely spread in the press releases. We also notice it in the worried messages from friends, guests and family. This morning I received a message from a cousin who lives in Canada. He was extremely worried by the messages he heard about Spain. Wim follows the statistics very closely via the Ministry of Health (*) -he is the man of the figures, right? 😉 – and they are really going in the right direction. The curve is starting to decrease. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t hear me say that it’s not dramatic, here in Spain. But believe me, also elsewhere. Also in Belgium. Unfortunately…
Yesterday I received the disturbing news that in the care home where my mama is staying, Corona strikes very hard. It was even the headline in the TV news. We knew that there had been infections there since last week, and that everything was being done to isolate people as well as possible. Of course it is impossible to apply isolation measures perfectly in a nursing home where a lot of people with dementia are living. How can you explain to a searching and wandering resident – for the thousandth time – that he has to stay in his room. And that while you’re completely dressed in an ‘astronaut suit’, you keep contaminating yourself because those people are touching you.
It is already a very strange and incomprehensible situation for us, not to mention for people suffering from dementia. Believe me, I know, I worked in a hospital for 23 years in the geriatrics department, and I’m glad I never had to go through this in my career. Demented people, and in general older people in an care home ultimately live in a safe environment, where there is structure and certainties. At this time, those are disappearing. The grip is completely lost. They no longer eat together at their fixed place at the table at 5 p.m. sharp. For some, this is their certainty they can hold on to. Dinner times, for which everything must make way. Just because it gives them security, gives them peace. Because a lot of other things are beyond their control. They are a plaything of their inner world, which is very limited, and is now totally restricted for reasons that nobody can control or get a grip on. I get stories from residents there who say it’s insusceptible. That they don’t see or hear anyone. That they only see personnel in space suits, unrecognizable. That couples are ‘torn apart’ because one of them is sick. And that they can’t see each other. How distressing is that? Can you imagine? Nor is it the choice of management or staff, far from it. It’s the Virus’ choice.
I thought I was prepared for this, because from the very beginning of the outcome of corona, I took into account that my parents are one of the biggest at-risk groups because of their age. So I tried in my mind – and I thought emotionally too – to prepare for what might happen. Facing reality is what it’s called. Indeed, my mind was prepared for this, but my emotions weren’t at all. When yesterday I received an e-mail from the nursing home with the current state of affairs, and the press release that was to be sent out, it was only really clear what was happening at the moment. The figures were communicated. The figures that made me feel worse, because it seems so impersonal. But it was just those numbers that knocked me out, that made me feel like I don’t know what to do with myself. Since last week almost half of the residents (I thought 45) had become ill. And hold on; 8 people died. And that in a few days time. This afternoon I read that two more residents had died this morning. My brain can’t handle this, or at least my emotions. No matter how prepared I am, and no matter how much you hear it on the news. It’s always somewhere else, far away, always just a figure. And now Mommy may soon be a cipher too. My mommy can never be a number to me. She can never be a number! She’s the woman who raised 7 children, who made me a mummy, who made me a woman, who was my best friend, who loves me, unconditionally.
Mommy doesn’t have any symptoms at this time of writing. But that may be a matter of days. Only today (!!!) after weeks of searching for test material the retirement home would finally get test material. They had to buy their own protective clothing! Surely this may not be possible in this society. Also a lot of staff is infected. And may have transferred it further. Is this a gross shortcoming of the government (which isn’t even there?), could this have been avoided if material had been available? Or has Covid-19 hacked everyone in its haste? Was it at all possible to escape it, because it was a virus of which the real scope could not be estimated? The contagiousness of it? Corona is a devil! A devil with no face, false and dishonest. Mean, hard. It spares no one. And I know it’s premature, because Mommy isn’t sick yet. But let’s be realistic, what are the chances she’s not already infected or at least she won’t be? I can only hope she doesn’t die or get seriously ill. But in my head, I’m certainly keeping it in mind. Worst of all is the knowledge that no one will be with her. Not Daddy, not my brothers, not her grandchildren, not me, her only daughter. We are kept perfectly informed from the care home by mailing, and every now and then a phone call, but it is not really justified to burden the staff who are already in overdrive, with ‘selfish’ questions to know what it is like with mummy. It’s double because you want to know, you have a right to know, you want to know what’s going on in mom’s head and how she experiences it. But you really don’t want to burden the staff with it, because it’s caring for them in times of war. Mommy was always a silent woman, and that is now becoming even clearer. A phone call with her doesn’t make us any wiser. One thing I know for sure : that she is surrounded with the best care by people who give everything of themselves, despite the heavy toll it takes for them as well. It is more than their job. They may not have a choice, but it’s in their genes that they take ‘caring for’ very seriously, in spite of everything. Respect, only respect!
I’m here in my paradise, an empty paradise though. And I’m stuck. I can’t take the plane and go. Fortunately, I can take comfort in the fact that this situation is the same for everyone. This is not because I am almost 2000 km away in Spain. No, my brother and dad who live nearby can’t go either. It is so incredibly frustrating. Maybe I have the advantage that every time I go home from Belgium, I actually say ‘conscious’ goodbye to everyone as if it could be the last time. Maybe a strange trait, a bit lugubrious, very pessimistic maybe. But it does give me the consolation that I really say goodbye to everyone. And when fate strikes, I know in my heart that I said goodbye in love and gratitude.
I’ll wait anxiously and see.
I don’t know whether someone thinks my writing is an added value, so I hesitated to post it. It’s my therapy, my way of sorting things out. Unfortunately, a dark cloud comes over Paradise Lavinia every now and then. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn into a heavy storm….
Annemie or Ana
(*) based at Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center
24 hours later…
Yesterday I had a lovely video conversation with Mommy. She also looked very good. It had been a long time since we laughed and had fun together like that. From time to time I also thought I recognized the ‘hanky-panky’ of olddays. We were able to talk for over an hour, even though I had to keep the conversation going. But that didn’t bother me, on the contrary. A lot of tears have flowed from emotion because we saw each other again, I noticed the longing for each other. Because in the end, I am her only daughter, she told me several times. She resigned herself to the whole bizarre situation of the past week, but hoped that it would be over very soon… During our conversation, I could not possibly turn my black thoughts away from me, that this might be the last time I would speak to her and see her laughing. Maybe after our conversation the virus struck and she got sick too, just like so many other residents… Like crazy I took pictures every time she laughed, because I will cherish this moment so much, whatever the outcome of this story will be.
I am so thankful for the staff who also take this for granted; going to the residents with the tablet to make it possible to keep in touch with their loved ones. And what’s more, with an unimaginable serenity and friendliness! Thank you Sarah, for this beautiful memory ! I can only admire the fact that people in care -and that is not only there- despite the enormous stress and workload, still remain friendly and motivated. It has to be their second nature.
Because of the fact that this WZC has been so badly affected, it has been ‘chosen’ to receive test material so that everyone – residents and staff – can be tested. Presumably they are currently working on it. The results will normally follow tomorrow. Whatever it will be, it will not bring me any peace, because this afternoon I read that again 3 people have died in the last 24 hours. That makes the total at 17, and that in a period of a bit more than a week… That is already almost 15 percent of the residents… I only make myself crazy by going on with numbers. But even though mommy isn’t sick yet, and even though she wouldn’t get sick, there are already 15 families who had to say goodbye and are suffering an enormous loss. And that number will only increase.
With mixed emotions
Annemie or Ana
Maybe you like to read “The power of Corona” as well?