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COVID Caregiving

Updated: Jan 29

It’s good to be back after a long writing absence. (It may not have been obvious as submit a few articles at a time, but a lot has transpired since I wrote my last article.) I have been busy with home renovations; I made positive changes in my house and the outside! But with the good comes the bad: I lost Moka, and became a care giver, again. My nine-year-old Doberman, Moka passed away. I had a feeling we would have our last Christmas in 2021. Unfortunately, I was correct. No matter if you know or it’s sudden, it is a difficult heartbreaking loss. I am sure I will write about that loss sometime and share it, but it’s still too fresh and my grief is deep despite getting a new puppy, Bear.

I also became a “quasi”-caregiver again. My uncle, who is like my father, had a cerebral hemorrhage. It’s basically a brain bleed due to hypertension (high blood pressure) that falls under the category of a bleeding stroke. I received a crash course on the condition plus I did my own research, so I could make sure to ask many questions of the specialists and doctors. I say “quasi” as I was not full-time caregiving. My uncle’s friend was the one who took on the daily tasks of cooking, cleaning, and monitoring my uncle. I was the person who spoke to medical staff and professionals while he was in the hospital, I accompanied and chauffeured him to his various appointments, physiotherapy, and medical tests that were required once he was discharged. While he was in the hospital it was my task to inform our family of his condition, and keep them informed of his progress, and making sure that all the restrictions that he had were followed upon his release from hospital.

My previous caregiving experience was going to the family doctor with symptoms that were then referred to a specialist, with the various testing that led to a diagnosis. That process was gradual, learning about what the issue could be, what tests were done and why, what they would reveal, and once we could ask questions and do research throughout the process. It was a gradual acknowledgement of the disease, and my caregiving escalated as the need grew, meaning I did more as my grandparents became weaker and their condition worsened.

This time was totally different!

I spoke to my uncle midmorning, noticed he was slurring his words, was repeating what he said and complained a number of times of having a bad headache. He did not answer my questions, nor did he seem to hear what I was saying. If you would have heard him talking, you probably would have thought he was under the influence of some substance or hadn’t slept for days. I knew and felt something was not right. He just wasn’t himself. His speech pattern, lack of focus to answer my questions, repeating everything, was not normal. I asked my uncle to call his girlfriend, so I could speak to her, and have her check his smile, see if his face was drooping, lift his hands, the standard stroke testing. He had trouble repeating a simple phrase, and as I did not think to video call him, I needed her to see his reactions. I wanted to call the ambulance immediately, I very strongly suspected he had or was having a stroke. Both my uncle and his girlfriend believed he was fine and did not want me to call an ambulance.

I felt something was wrong and was going to go and see him in person. As Bear was around three months old, I got ready, packed him and his things, and had just picked him up to carry him downstairs to leave, when I got the phone call… “Call the ambulance, I think you are right! I think Michael had a stroke and you speak better on the phone and can explain better than me,” said his girlfriend. I called the ambulance and left for my uncle’s house. By the time I arrived, less than 20 minutes later, he was loaded on the gurney. Although he was sitting upright, and his eyes were open, there was no indication that he heard or saw me or even felt me give him a kiss. He was catatonic. I was terrified of what the outcome could be.

With the pandemic many people were separated from loved ones who were in the hospital. Many families and friends did not have the ability to sit by the side of a patient, holding their hand, offering comfort, love, support, and strength. Too many people have died without the ability to say goodbye, give the last hug and or kiss; many people were not able to see their loved ones one last time. Too many people are hurting with the grief that they were not able to be there for loved ones because of the pandemic. Some people were lucky enough to be able to video call or talk on the phone, but if you have lost a loved one, you know it’s not the same as being face-to-face in person, being able to touch them. It’s even worse not to have a phone or video call and lose a loved one.

I knew my uncle’s health better than anyone else in the family, I had a puppy that was not yet three months old, and a few other reasons, I was not able to be one of two people who would be permitted to visit the ICU of the stroke floor. The hospital allowed two people to visit. Only one of these two was allowed one hour per day to visit, and it had to be scheduled by appointment. Not being able to visit was not just frustrating but there were logistic issues. My uncle’s girlfriend was considered by the hospital to be the equivalent of a spouse, which was fine, but she was worried as English is not her first language, that she could possibly misunderstand or miscommunicate something that could cause greater issues. She wished me to be the person of contact but not having Power of Attorney for Health and Wellbeing, was a messy complication, as the hospital had its rules. I strongly advise people to have this set up as one never knows what tragedies could happen or when.

Covid offered more complications, my uncle’s siblings; nieces and nephews, great nieces and nephew, cousins and friends were not allowed to visit. I would text and or group text everyone information, there were still many phone calls as more details were asked, and sometimes it was easier and quicker to verbally explain and answer questions. Plus, there were calls to and from the hospital to books visits, give medical information and get updates on his condition. I was exhausted with phone calls on my home phone, cell phone and texts, plus a puppy, a cat, my work, my emotions, and fear of what could happen! I was blessed as my oldest nephew came to help watch Bear, did what he could to help and support me by staying with me for a few days and nights.

Even when my uncle came home, everyone wanted to visit, but he was restricted to one visitor per day and no children as the doctors wanted to make sure his blood pressure remained low. As excited as everyone was to visit, I was tasked with arranging one person per day, again for a limited time, but I was the mean gate keeper. I also had to make sure that everyone was super healthy, that they were aware of their Covid risks, not just them being sick, but possibly being a carrier. Masks and everything was done in greater measures than before Covid. Obviously, hand washing was also more stringent.

As I was to accompany him to various appointments, I needed to carry vaccination proof with me everywhere we went. We also were more diligent in protecting our health and wore masks when out in public, even when it wasn’t required. At many appointments I was questioned if I really needed to be present. I had to be very assertive. Yes, my uncle wished me to be there as his second set of ears, and to ask questions for home care, long term effects and also be able to remember everything. Though he is fine now, it was overwhelming, and he still likes for me to be present during all and any medical appointments. He came very close to death, and I am sure that created a plethora of thoughts and emotions for him. But then again it could also be for the ice cream cones I treat him to on our way home!

This time as a caregiver I didn’t have as many duties, but I was still overwhelmed at the beginning. With a sudden onset of a condition that means life and death, you jump into the situation at a full run; there is no warmup; no warning. You don’t have the time to process or think. You react and go on reflexes, instincts, and adrenaline. You are thrown into the situation and do everything possible to help. It is instant chaos. There are no symptoms that you go to the doctor with; you are thrown into a health crisis!

In 2003, while I was caregiver to my grandfather, SARS hit. Comparing SARS and the Coronavirus/Covid 19 Pandemic is simply not possible. First off, hospital and medical appointments did not require masks or hand sanitization, there were not hospital visit restrictions for caregivers, family, or friends. If it were not for the news, I would not have even known about SARS. I was aware there were some concerns about traveling because of The World Health organization, and company coming from Germany. Perhaps I was in a bubble and too caught up in being a caregiver to the point of not being aware, but I do not recall any caution or concerns going to medical appointments or into the hospital. The fact that I saw my grandfather everyday he was in hospital during SARS shows how different the times were. Everything ran like pre-Covid times. I am also thankful no pandemic happened while I was my grandmother’s caregiver!

I should also mention that during SARS I never was questioned or had to fill out questionnaires in attending doctor visits with my grandfather, I was never restricted from accompanying him at any time. During Covid as I said, I had to have vaccination proof with me at all times, and I was often asked if I my presence was required. I had to be very assertive and advocate on my uncle’s behalf and state very firmly that he does wish me to be present; he too had to confirm his wishes. Because his cerebral hemorrhage happened near the tail end of Covid, and due to his condition, we had most appointments in person. I always carried extra N-95 masks, and sanitizer, but we always had to add the provided masks on top of ours, which made it challenging to breathe, and for my uncle to understand what some personnel were saying.

We were very lucky and blessed that my uncle showed great improvement within days of being hospitalized. We arranged for him to have his mobile phone. At first the ICU stroke nurses had to assist him to call or answer his cell phone, as well as help send and receive video calls when possible. Even after he improved, he needed assistance as he was not always able to answer, not just because of what he suffered but because my uncle was not used to his phone. He is so much better now, not just health wise but also in mobile phone technology!

PLEASE NOTE: I am not blaming, accusing nor wishing to make any negative comments on the hospital, healthcare rules and regulations. I am merely stating that situations the pandemic caused resulted in emotional trauma for everyone. Healthcare workers, first responders, front line workers, all were stressed. I know they empathized and did their best for patients, the patients’ family and ease their stresses, while keeping their main focus on patients, doing their jobs while putting their health, wellbeing as well as their families in possible jeopardy. Many times, they have assisted patients to video call, call and speak to family and friends. I have heard of Nurses, PSWs and other hospital staff sitting comforting patients, holding hands, giving hugs, love and support that family and friends could not. The Pandemic caused much stress, trauma and caused strong emotions of patients, their support group, loved ones and also medical staff and all affiliated personnel and workers. The pandemic was a difficult time all around for any and all who needed medical attention.

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