Like so many of us who have elderly parents living in senior residential facilities, my 89-year-old mother Ginny has been on lockdown since mid-March because of the Corona virus. This status has remained unchanged for an unprecedented 19 weeks. Since I have shared many of her stories here, I thought I would give an inside account on life during lockdown.
Ginny had only moved into the Independent living area of this facility in late October, so she passed the beginning weeks locating all three libraries in the two buildings and learning the checkout system. She enjoys reporting to me her newest “find” from the bookshelves. She also discovered that she likes walking out to the pool area and sitting, although she won’t go in the water. I am grateful that she has some freedom to take these daily walks. She is required to wear a mask.
Once management created a safe system for family and friends to “drop-off” items, my sister Hailey started to arrive every ten days or so with a load of groceries, and Ginny loves that. She stands in the lobby, waving madly while the guard sprays the exterior of the bags Hailey has placed on a table just outside the entrance. If Ginny gets too close, the guard gently extends his arm out as a reminder. During a recent phone call, she and I shared a good laugh when I joked “what would they do if you tried to make a run for it?” After the bags have moved through “customs”, mom is given a shopping cart and takes her delivery upstairs.
With no communal dining (they deliver food directly to the residents twice a day) mom has missed that social interaction. Sometimes she will walk to the front desk to “ask” a question, but we suspect it’s a way to get a conversation started. The staff is always polite. They probably receive a lot of “questions” a day. Sadly, one day a woman approached requesting if a staff car could please take her to her hair salon, her hair was “a mess”, and when she was kindly told “no”, she burst into tears. Interestingly, not long after that, they cautiously opened up the beauty salon for one day and took appointments.
Clearly, management is fighting a conflict on two fronts which is daunting. They must keep the virus out of their buildings and they must keep up the spirits of their residents. In terms of the virus, additional measures include checking the temperatures of their staff and screening them for symptoms before each shift. All employees must wear masks and gloves. As mandated by the state, their staff is tested for COVID every two weeks.
It was after one of these tests recently that a result came back positive. The staff member works in the Memory Care section of the facility. Appropriately, they moved forward to test every resident in that section. So far, all results have been negative. Some of the tests for staff are still pending.
I feel their safety protocols have been effective. To me, 19 weeks is an extraordinary amount of time in keeping the contagious COVID out of such a large complex. But I do have fears. I have heard the stories of nursing homes where once the virus arrives, it can spread quickly in a closed environment. And I would be naïve to think that another case won’t appear inside the retirement home, especially since cases have been rising exponentially in Florida. It is reassuring that they just completed a deep cleaning of the facility because of that one positive test result.
And as the start of week 20 approaches, how does the company keep up the spirits of their residents? First, they continue to provide small, frequent surprises. For instance, mom may hear a knock on the door, and someone is delivering a small chocolate treat or a pastry. Or, she may open the door to someone with a cart asking whether she would like a cocktail. Or, she may find a cheery note stuck on her door when she opens it. And of course, they are always willing to set up the popular “tablet virtual visit” between a resident and a family member.
They have also allowed a certain number of doctor visits. Ginny needed her Prolia shot (for osteoporosis) which is administered every six months. This is a two-step process where she needs a blood test first and then she returns a week later for the shot. Hailey was able to schedule “rides” for Ginny where the resident is driven by a staff member. Mom was almost giddy after those outings, so a side benefit is the psychological boost they experience when they get to leave, if only for a while.
During my last phone call, she told me that a supervisor had distributed a sheet of paper with the heading What I will Do When Things Return to Normal. Residents are encouraged to write down the things they want to see and do. Maybe they will read off some of the responses on their intercom system as a “group” activity. As Ginny and I discussed how much she misses her own hairdresser, she said “Oh, I’m writing that down” and she did. She’s listening. She’s engaging.
Mom has been phenomenal in this trying time. She just seems to roll with it which amazes me. Unfortunately, she is showing some naivete (or maybe just wishful thinking) in regards to her upcoming birthday. She thinks they may let her go to her hairdresser because it is a for a “special occasion.” Per their protocols, this won’t happen because they need 30 days of no new cases before they even consider moving to their “Recovering” step. She forgets, I think, that family members won’t see her hair up close on her special day.
And it is special. She is turning 90! I am very disappointed that my altered chemotherapy schedule now has me having my next round three days before her birthday. I won’t be able to drive the couple of hours to wave and show my support from a distance. But we will only delay the celebration just long enough so we can do it safely. Maybe she will add “celebrating 90” on her sheet of paper. What a long, strange 19 weeks it’s been.