‘I’m thankful my parents are in a nursing home during this Covid-19 emergency’

Covid Stories: I cannot imagine how I would have coped trying to care for them

Fidelma Kelly’s parents - her father John P (L) and mother Maura (R).

Fidelma Kelly’s parents - her father John P (L) and mother Maura (R).

 

I am an only child, with no children, so my entire family is currently under lockdown in a nursing home. After visiting to such residential settings was suspended, I last saw my mother on March 4th, and my dad on March 6th.

After eight years helping my father care for my mother, who eventually succumbed to hospital and residential care in 2016, I continued caring for Dad at home, until I could no longer. The night-time carer left. He was unable to cope. I was unable to cope. After two mini-strokes and the resultant, accelerated dementia, I had to give in and seek a nursing home bed for him.

When I look at my two 93-year-old parents now - cared for in a small private nursing home in Foxrock - I thank my lucky stars they are there during this Covid-19 emergency.

We are bombarded with negative stories in the media about nursing home care these days, but I feel it is important to highlight how efficient and effective infection control is in some nursing homes. I cannot imagine how I would have coped trying to keep Dad germ-free, if this was last year and I was caring for him.

Yes, I miss my dad dreadfully. He is articulate and - mostly - able to engage with me. He misses my visits like mad, but the dementia element of his illness means that he doesn’t fully-understand why I am “missing-in-action”. Now, that’s a mercy. On an evening when he was particularly bright, and tuned in to the 6pm news, he understood the pandemic report and panicked. The next morning the staff found him in floods of tears, distraught thinking I had succumbed to the illness and that was why I hadn’t been in to visit.

Fidelma Kelly with her father John P Kelly.
Fidelma Kelly with her father John P Kelly.

The wonderful care staff in Foxrock phoned me and set up a video call, so he could see I was fine, to try and allay his fears. Since lockdown, there is a roster of video calls through WhatsApp. We have an allocated time to chat to our loved ones. Many iPads have been purchased, as elderly people don’t have the best eyesight, so they can see their family members better on the larger screens.

Extra treats like a Friday ice-cream, and socially distanced activities for those who have been tested and are Covid-19 negative, help to inject some normality into the daily routine. The staff have established a “movement” roster to take a very small number of residents out of isolation in their rooms - where they have been since early March - and down to the drawing room or TV room or conservatory, as communal living and dining is a thing of the past.

My mum, who is further down the Alzheimer’s journey than my dad, is not suffering in any way, as she does not miss me. I am glad about this. She enjoys and treasures her small team of carers whom she does recognise. I have complete faith in them and the nursing home management to care for her in my absence.

Fidelma Kelly's mother Maura.
Fidelma Kelly's mother Maura.

Perhaps people should exercise a bit of sensitivity when inquiring of a family member how their aged parent is doing in a “nursing home”. I have sometimes felt an implicit “danger factor” in their inquiry, as if I have put my parents at more risk to Covid-19 by having them live in a nursing home. This is not helpful.

The extra work that nursing home staff are doing - from mastering new technology, to taking over ancillary activities that cannot be carried out by outsiders any more, to working double shifts or being on-call over the weekends - is phenomenal.

If I get through this and out the other side with both my parents still alive, able to sit once again in that beautiful nursing home garden holding their hands, I will be forever in their debt.

Fidelma Kelly's father, John P.
Fidelma Kelly's father, John P.
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