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COVID-19: Unexpected Moments of the Heart

Annie Dyer, Executive Director

Richmont Terrace

May 13, 2020

During a pandemic…who types that? Who, on any given day, might have thought about a pandemic? In mid-February, MJ Senior Housing became aware of the need to develop and implement protocol for the coronavirus. Richmont Terrace Assisted Living and Memory Care began immediate extra sanitation, and measures were started to protect against infection. We thought of surface cleaning, disinfectants and inventories for PPE.

In senior healthcare, we started to document temperatures and symptoms. Staff began screening and documentation, too. Communication to family and support members included phone, email and snail mail. The term “essential” entered our vocabulary as we determined who could and who could not enter. We are doing all things possible to keep our residents and team members safe.

As days turned into weeks and then months, isolation and ‘social distancing’ meant more than six feet apart and wearing a mask. Our attention has turned to the collateral effects of COVID-19. The fun ‘I’ll just stay in my pajamas’ has become ‘I really miss my family’. Social distancing (I prefer physical distancing) has negatively affected residents, family members and staff. How do we, as care personnel, stand in the gap?

FaceTime and Zoom appointments are regularly scheduled. And all available team members have adopted a resident with daily extended visits. Cards, photo albums, puzzle time and music are helping. Emails to family with a ‘Mom Selfie’. Even so, what are those unexpected moments and measures that make a difference?

On May 6, Miss Del’s beloved cat, Goldie, passed away. Grief and anxiousness were overwhelming her. By 11:30am Nicole, Life Enrichment Coordinator, was on the phone with NALA (Nebraska Animal Loving Advocates), and Ernie was adopted and with Del at 2:30pm. Remarkably, Ernie looks almost exactly like Ginger. His loving disposition eased the pain and warmed her. They are becoming fast friends.

One evening as I began to leave for the day, weary and tired after twelve hours, I heard my inner voice telling me to visit a resident’s apartment. As I entered, I was greeted with tears. A husband and wife had been separated through this transition and unable to see or communicate with one another for a time. Seventy-one years of marriage only increased the pain of transition. And memory care could not assure their first virtual reunion would go well. Even so, as I companioned her in the moment, I promised her we would facilitate the Zoom as quickly as possible.

What if he doesn’t even recognize me?” she asked. I assured her that she would remain familiar; while at the same time delicately preparing her that he may not remember her name. When the iPad screens opened, three floors apart, she was met with, “Oh, it is my beautiful wife, Donna Lee. I’m so glad to see you.” Nothing could have prepared us for that moment. Nothing. And, I think that is the answer: faith and preparedness. The knowledge that whatever happens, we are in this together.

During Friday afternoon progressive Bible study, Pursuing Prayer, residents remarked being grateful in times of stress and disappointment. They spoke further about a new normal, which includes more hugs and family time. Spending moments and feeling our feelings along the way. On any given day, a neighborhood family unexpectedly shows up with a big and glorious bubble machine and dances in the parking lot. Beautiful flowers will suddenly appear planted in the front entry way pots. Grandchildren draw pictures and words of love with sidewalk chalk. Cards are delivered, reminding us that we are loved and missed.

COVID-19 can be a pandemic. The coronavirus is serious and can cause stress; especially in senior healthcare. In times of the unknown, we have love and matters of the heart to sustain us.