Lynne called me to video chat because she was bored. Her caregiver was standing by.
”I’ll be back in a little while to see what you want to watch on TV.”
That was encouraging to know. I suggested we dance to music from her Alexa dot. She liked that idea. Then a resident slowly walked behind Lynne to sort through Lynne’s bedding. Lynne turned around to see her. She said hello and called her by name, “What are you doing here?”
She silently continued browsing. I suggested Lynne help her leave the room. Instead of walking over to guide her out, Lynne walked out of the Portal camera view toward her door. Meanwhile her friend continued sorting through the bedding until she found two books. She lifted them up to eye level with one hand and shuffled away toward the door. I heard no sound. I waited and hung up.
I felt helpless. I couldn’t help her help another resident. I couldn’t help her protect her books. I couldn’t talk with her. I couldn’t help her dance.
I decided to believe in hope. Lynne was no longer bored. And she was helping a resident; and she found her caregiver to help her; and they convinced the bargain hunter to return Lynne’s books; and Lynne could browse through other residents rooms to replace her books; and by this time she was watching her favorite TV show; and we’ll dance another time.
I also decided we need to keep sending her paperbacks because we’re stocking Lynne’s whole floor.
At least I cared for me as her caregiver under Lynne’s COVID-19 quarantine.
Lynne summoned the courage to suffer one for the team to contain the COVID virus.
Thursday she dressed up to return to exercising in the Aegis gym with weights. She’s walked city streets every day, as much as twice a day from what I hear. Her high-tech friends have called me with reports from their chats, such as Lynne misses her sister. Her boys dropped in for video chats on their Facebook portals since they now have their own Portals. Connections are not without glitches because staff leave before making sure Lynne is set up in a chair in front of the Portal with a lamp on so we can see her face. We’ll improve on that.
Saturday Lynne and a caregiver connected with me. She said, “I’m not sure I can take this.”
“Of course, it’s hard. But remember you don’t have to stay in your room now. You can walk your floor. You can go outside to the patio.”
“Can I go down to the concierge? Some of these people …”
“No, because your floor still has a COVID lockdown from the rest of the facility. Aegis is protecting the other residents from infections from your residents and protecting the very frail people on your floor. You’ve got to protect other people. You’ve got to take one for the team right now.”
She took a deep breath. “OK, I can do that.”
“Let’s call your sister. She’s having a tough time with hazardous smoke from wildfires that kicked up an asthma attack.”
We added Pam to the call. I said I had to go and let my daughters chat.
Aegis living reported COVID-19 invaded Lynne’ secure memory care floor. They are “managing four cases of Covid-19. Three of the residents are completely asymptomatic. One is showing mild symptoms and is recovering nicely. We have placed the four residents who tested positive under full droplet precaution,” [which requires the residents isolate in a room and everyone in the room wears a mask and PPE]. “Dedicated staff care for only those four residents. All caregivers who work in that comfort care unit only work in that unit.” Three caregivers were also infected and are quarantined at home.
I believe this partially explains her anxiety and inability to handle the video chats we tried yesterday. I dropped in on Lynne on her Echo dot which doesn’t allow me to see her. Her first words were, “Dad, I’m not in my room. I’m supposed to be in my room.” I assured she was and phoned her Facebook Portal. It rang and rang. “Answer it honey.” “I’m afraid to touch it.” “You can’t hurt it. Go ahead.” “I guess I’m not doing it right.” “Keep trying.” It didn’t connect. We talked briefly. Her flip flops are comfortable. They’re fancy. Pause … “I’m afraid I’m going to be in trouble. I have to go.” She walked away. My frustration skyrocketed. Why can’t she press the face of the Portal? She has before. It’s infuriating to be unable to visualize what she doing and give basic help like using her finger to touch the Portal. Then I remembererd she was anxious, believing she wasn’t in her room and had to get back to it. She can’t be losing all her mental capabilities this rapidly. Or is she? I get torn by two impulses: the shorter her end stage, the better – get her suffering over; and, we must make her better now, somehow. It feels like it’s getting harder daily. Nothing works for very long. And nothing works when I can’t understand what is happening, when I can’t sit beside her. After a while I dropped in again. She was there and seemed more cheerful. I asked if she wanted a video chat. She paused. “No, I better not. I got too anxious.”
A caregiver was infected with the coronavirus when they worked in Lynne’s Life Neighborhood memory care floor on June 22. The caregiver tested positive on June 24. Today, June 30, a test team arrived to test every resident, caregiver and visitor on the floor who might be infected. We do NOT know either how long it will take to get results for all the tests, or how long Lynne might be quarantined based on the results of everyone on the floor. Nor do we know what would be done if residents on the floor or caregivers are infected.
We wait and are thankful. We are thankful that Aegis follows strict health protocols to limit the spread of the virus and Lynne follows them. Weeks ago this floor had a resident infected by Covid-19 and no one else became infected. We are thankful health care workers are continuously reducing the severity and length of symptoms and improving recovery rates. We are thankful for your prayers and concerns.
Maybe I began to get hopeless because I stayed inside on Saturday morning when Lynne and her exercise trainer went outside and I missed her. Maybe it was Sunday when I slept in until 10 am and missed her again. Maybe that’s why I felt handcuffed to my apartment. Her comfort care in assisted living felt like it was going well before the Covid-19 confinement, but now it doesn’t feel like it’s working well enough. I’m feeling hopeless, helpless. I cannot sit with her and absorb what she’s experiencing. I want to see her with Schmitty nesting, purring, petting, grooming, brushing. I want to check on his food supplies, kitty litter, sleeping blanket, hideouts. Would he come to see me? Do other caregivers like him? Or, we could run through her Facebook to see who sent her messages. For example, someone sent her a message and I found out she is from our hometown of Eugene. Liz in marketing at Aegis said she fixed Lynne’s necklace and I’m jealous. I could have at least fixed that. I’m glad it happened, but are there other times, other necklaces, clothing, shoes that need fixing? My video chats are too often hit or miss. Someone can help set her up, but she’ll click it off at times. I’ll wait for her scheduled call and it won’t come. Is her phone charged? I bought a stand for her phone, but staff say it doesn’t work. Why? I can’t figure it out until I get it back. There are Zoom meetings she could join if we could reliably schedule them. It’s all too uncertain. Staff are trying hard. They’re busy. Am I too patient? Should I get agitated? I feel useless. Not in control. It’s not working well enough. If I was there we could watch her favorite TV crime mysteries on channel 103 like we used to enjoy. I ask her if she watches TV and she says that’s an idea. She never remembers watching it. She can’t find the channels. I bug staff to turn it on, and worry about bugging them too much for something that Lynne isn’t interested in. I hate the helplessness. It’s not working well enough. Friends who Video Chat with her give me suggestions from their conversations, such as “Lynne says her feet hurt.” I hadn’t heard that and passed it on to the medical director and the care director. They hadn’t heard it either, but would check it out. I wonder if they remember. Lynne doesn’t mention it.. She reads. I’m grateful staff say she’s always reading. I could read to her. They recommend a book case to store her books scattered around her apartment. They worry about her safety. That doesn’t worry me. I like them spread around so she runs into them, sits on them, touches them, opens them and gets pulled into another orbit beyond her loneliness. The worst part haunting me is her loneliness when she’s not reading, or outside, or chatting. I get her calls when she’s so lonely she breaks confinement and shows up at the concierge desk in the evening or early mornings. The concierge calls me and I cheer her up with good news and jokes. She says I always cheer her up, but that never opens her up to share with me what she’s wrestling with, thinking about, feeling, remembering. Auto-biographical memoirs of people living with dementia talk about their confusion, or feel like they’re rambling. They regret what they have lost. They like writing and sharing their thoughts. Lynne wrote about those thoughts in a journal in 2014-2015. She was failing at her job teaching special education students. She had never felt continual failure at anything. She solved her problems and decided a journal would help. It was her last journal. She gave it to me. It contained prayers. Her first entry on January 5, 2014 was, I want to know that everything that needs to happen is already in process. I want a cease fire in my war with time. I want to move through my day with grace and ease. She didn’t write again that year, during a time she quit in frustration and the District convinced her to transfer to another school. Exactly a year later on January 5, 2015, she wrote a hopeful note about a cease fire with time: I am grateful to remember that I have enough time—time is only a figment of my imagination. The cease fire didn’t last, but she fought on until July 14, 2016, when she agreed to see a neurologist. I went with her. He gave her the one-page Cognitive Assessment of Minnesota and she admitted she had problems with it. He was “concerned” and scheduled an MRI. Karen wrote this email to family the next day: “After the appointment, I asked Jim to bring Lynne here and she agreed she didn’t want to be alone so she’s here now. Lynne is now accepting that she may have some serious problems and she’s frightened and very sad. She’s been able to talk about her fears with us.” That’s over six years since her first journal entry! What thoughts does she wrestle with now? When I’m with her she will ponder something and begin to respond with an introductory phrase like, “That’s what we did at ….” And pauses. She searches for the noun that fits, and, given time, she may find it, or we may help with suggestions, or she’ll get distracted, or give up. Care giving advisors say, “Join them in their reality.” That’s not much help when you can’t find her reality sitting beside her, let alone from another apartment. The isolation from the Covid-19 virus combined with her stage of acuity has disrupted her care and it’s not working well. I keep rebelling against it, but I can’t come up with anything else to dramatically improve the care we’re giving her. It’s not working well enough. I feel helpless. Hopeless.