My Mother Was COVID19 Collateral and So Am I (by Maxine Margo Rubin)
On March 9th 2020, I visited my mom, which turned out would be the last
time I would see her in person, kiss her, hug her. She wasn’t ill, had some
dementia, but she still had that amazing will to live, to keep pushing on at
the age of 100, which to her, was a fictitious number. She never believed that
she was that old, and since I thought the same way, I believed she would
live to 120. On that sunny, March winter’s day, it was warm enough to take
her out into the sun. I played her favorite Dean Martin tunes, Amore,
Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime, and others.
But that day was different, I could not bring her back to her room, as new
rules were about to be put into place. After that day, no visitors would
be allowed to see their loved ones, as the “virus” named corona, would
rear its ugly head, and stop the one thing my mom needed to keep going,
love and attention from physical contact with her family. Since
she didn’t see well, actually she could not see at all, the FaceTime calls which
were put into effect by the nursing home were not the same, and did not
give her the social contact and love that she needed the most. As the
days lingered on, my mom stopped eating, stopped talking, and was a
recluse in her room, pretty much a prisoner of the virus, as all activity
ceased to exist for the residents. Many of those residents were also
slipping into depression and sadness, which is hard to overcome, especially
if you are in your late eighties, nineties and early one hundreds. Clearly
the most vulnerable population during this crisis were those in nursing facilities.
The initial outbreak in the US was at a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington
outside of Seattle. Our government officials on the federal, state and local levels
knew this, and ignored this. Why in God’s name weren’t there protocols put into
place to test staff and residents in nursing homes? Why were nursing home owners
so late in making sure proper measures were set up to handle the virus and stop the
spread? The answer seems to me that the residents of these facilities were considered
collateral damage. I am aware that the hospitals were filled to capacity, especially
in New York State, but how can you disregard a life? The failure of government
to react quickly, provide tests and PPE’s and other equipment, could have saved lives.
I had written to the nursing home, and the Department of Health in New York State
and the Governor’s office, to try to get answers, but none really followed.
When the first COVID19 case was detected in my mom’s nursing home, I had received a
call from a supervising nurse about the case. I asked if the infected person was going to
be isolated, she said no, the person would be treated in their room. I asked if the person
was sharing the room, how would they protect the roommate, and the answer was, well
we will pull the curtain to divide the room. I was mortified when I heard that, as if a
curtain is going to stop the spread of the virus. I asked if staff treating the positive
patient would be just treating that person, and not mingling with other residents, and the
voice fell silent. I called my local officials, who sent me a link to a website, that really did
not give a picture of how nursing homes would handle all the positive cases, without the
tools, nor the guidance to help.
I emailed the social worker and the nursing home director, and implored them to make
sure protocol was followed. I was assured it was, but in actually, it was not. When
speaking to the director, I was told that the virus is silent, and it is hard to detect. They
were doing the best they could under difficult conditions. They were checking staff and
residents for temperature spikes, and other symptoms, but no one was tested. WHY????
I have watched many of my Governor’s press conferences. While Governor Andrew
Cuomo has been leading New York State (and the US), through these most difficult and
unprecedented times, and has done a great job in informing the public of the path of the
virus, precautions needed, and brought some empathy to people clinging to anything to
help get them through, he dropped the ball on nursing homes. Proper protocol and
testing are now finally on the radar, but it’s a bit too late, and much too late for me.
Because of the lockdown, because of the lack of social contact, because of missing me,
my husband, my son, and yes, hearing Dean Martin, my mom kept withering away.
I had gone through the scenario of taking my mom home during this crisis, but I knew I
would be unable to properly care for her. She needed more care than I could give her.
The staff at the nursing home all knew my mom and truly adored her. They knew her
needs, and did whatever they could to keep her comfortable. At that moment in time, I
realized she had to stay. Also, since the nursing home had COVID19 cases, and I have an
underlying medical issue, it was not safe for me to be in that environment, even for a
minute, and even with personal protective equipment. I felt powerless, and it continues to
gnaw at me daily.
As I watched my mom deteriorate through FaceTime, I knew she was trending down.
Again, the staff did all they could under the circumstance to keep me apprised of the
situation. On April 23rd, which was my mom, unsinkable Ruthie, QOFE… Queen of F’ing
Everything’s 101st Birthday, the nursing home was able to help set up a zoom birthday
so she could hear her family sing Happy Birthday to her, yet I knew,
deep inside, that would be the last my family would see the Queen.
On April 27th, I received a call from the nursing home that my mom’s blood pressure
dropped to 82 over 60. I jumped into my car, taking a blue recycle box with me to try to
stand on to see her at the window, and try to get a glimpse of her, but it was to no avail.
The nurse tried to tell me that I could not get close to the window unless I had a ladder
that could reach two stories. I tried, in vain, to step on the blue box, on the grassy hill
near my mom’s window, but the nurse saw me and banged on the window and screamed
for me not to stand on the box, or I would fall and get hurt. She eventually came outside
and I asked her if someone could FaceTime me, so I could see her. I sat in the rain, on the
grassy hill, all alone, wearing a mask and gloves, and bundled in a winter coat waiting for
a call. About ten minutes later, I received a phone call from the nurse. She didn’t really
use FaceTime much, and the first thing I saw was the bathroom. I told her to turn the
phone around, and I finally saw my mom, in a blue nightgown, barely breathing, and I
was able to tell her that I love her, that her family loved her, and that she was the most
amazing, creative, sassy and beautiful woman that I have ever known. I kept looking at
my phone, and looking up at her window, then looked at my phone, and looked up at the
window again. I could not really grasp how this scene would affect me, and how the
experience would meld into my brain in perpetuity. I drove home in a daze, thinking that
the entire experience was beyond surreal. I knew I had seen my mom for the last time.
QOFE Ruthie passed into the gardens in the sky at 2 AM on April 28th. There will never
be another human like her. She was a character, an out-of-the-box thinker, an artist and
lover of nature, music, and she powered through life on her terms, never kowtowing to
anyone or anything. She will be missed, but she is always within me, and within everyone
she ever touched. She was collateral damage in the era of COVID19, and I am collateral
damage in a way myself. QOFE Ruthie was born during the Spanish Flu pandemic, and
she died during the Corona Virus pandemic, but what happened in her hundred and one
years on the planet proved that even though mankind has created many problems, there
were always good things to cling to, Ruthie was one of those good things.