This is what COVID-19 looks like

A few important things that everyone should learn about what happens when a loved one is admitted to ICU with COVID-19

My partner’s grandmother, Carmela Ciccarelli, was admitted to room 3738 at William Osler Hospital in Etobicoke on January 8 with COVID-19-related symptoms.

We had to leave her there, alone, as we sat helplessly in the parking lot.

Due to the severity of this disease, one which many of us have contemplated but have not had to face personally, we could not be by her bedside. She died 72 hours later.

Let that sink in for a moment. Your family member is dying and the only way to see her is through a Zoom call.

She gave you life. And she must now die alone. The only saving grace for us was the caring doctors and nurses that looked after her at William Osler.

But our family wants everyone to know a few important things that we never wanted to learn about what happens when a loved one is admitted to ICU as a result of COVID -19.

You will not be allowed into the hospital. You will sit in a parking lot, trying to feel as close as possible to your loved one.

Hours will pass, no information will be available to you, and you will contemplate waiting at home for any news. You will feel guilty for leaving that parking lot, as if you’ve abandoned your loved one.

You will run through a list of things in your head that they will need in the hospital. You will desperately put together a care package to show that you are there for them. But packing their favourite cozy socks, a charger for their phone or an extra sweater will not make any difference in their state of health.

You will be organizing Zoom calls with your family and friends, texting meeting numbers and passwords like it’s the DaVinci code because the only way to see your loved one will be over a virtual call on an iPad given ICU patients.

There will be people who don’t know how to use Zoom, and through your grief, you will have to walk them through how to “pin” the screen of your dying mother; how to “mute” your call when the sound of your wailing is too painful to share; and how to have a priest join the meeting when it’s time to read your family member their last rites.

The only positive in the sadness is that your loved one will be in the hands of compassionate caregivers. 

At William Osler, the team of doctors and nurses were gentle, empathetic, and went above and beyond the call of duty to provide a sense of dignity and togetherness until the end. 

When we could not be there to hold her hand, Dr. Mark Varkul went into her room and held her hand for us and to tell her that “Your children are all here with you, watching you.” 

When we wanted to pray for her, the nurse put a rosary in her hand. When the iPad died, as it did many times over the 72 hours we spent staring at the screen, the nurses replaced it for us. They bathed her, they held her, they consoled her. They gave us everything we wish we could have given her but couldn’t because of this devastating disease.

We were not prepared to learn any of these things and we hope our story can serve as a reminder that this virus is real. This virus is painful. This virus is traumatic. This virus is life-altering. And most heart-wrenching of all, this could have been prevented.

A woman who gave her life to everyone around her had to die alone. A woman who attended funerals like birthday parties, has no one to attend her own funeral. She lived alone and died alone because of this virus that knows no boundaries.

She stayed home throughout this pandemic, rarely leaving for groceries. We dropped food off at her door, sang songs to her while she stood on her balcony, and showered her with love from afar.

The day she contracted the virus she was delivering Christmas cookies to a neighbour; a kind gesture. Her neighbour, also living alone, was her best friend. The two would sit outside for hours talking about each other’s garden. As the summer turned to winter, they were forced to isolate themselves in their own homes. 

But Christmas brought about a certain spirit that she wanted to share. Little did she know that her friend had unintentionally contracted the virus days earlier from her visiting family.

Let our story be an example of why we need to stay home, why we need to wear masks, and why we need to fight the urge to see our loved ones, even when it hurts to know they are alone. It is harder to say goodbye than it is to say see you later. 


Comments (4)

  • Toni January 15, 2021 12:54 PM

    This article should be shared, shared and shared again! This IS the face of Covid 19, this is the anguish felt by families all over the world! Look at the image on the TV screen allow THAT heartbreak to sink in!! It’s real, it’s ruthless, it doesn’t care!! STAY HOME!!

  • L January 15, 2021 09:52 PM

    Please find more stories like this very powerful and unfortunate one.
    Find the very few Critical Care Survivors.
    Find families who have lost so much if not everything.
    Find and speak with the people that lost their mother, father, sibling, grandparent, aunt or uncle.
    Find the Nurses, Resp Therapists, diagnostic techs, environmental service people all the ones, exhausted at the bedside.
    Put a face to the people involved in this disaster. A pandemic that is evolving and growing exponentially.
    This story and any others like it have the ability to save so many lives.
    And share the hell out of it!

  • Alessia B January 16, 2021 11:47 AM

    I agree wholeheartedly Toni!

    Love you Nonna

  • sabina pamfili January 19, 2021 11:04 AM

    This article was and IS badly needed. I am a Senior living in a Senior Home and I have wanted to speak to someone, anyone, about the disgust and anger I feel when I see people, both young and old, walk around without a mask nor do they keep their distance. Even in the building where I live I still encounter faces without masks and feel literally like slapping them in their face.
    Please, we need to do more than just having a lockdown or this one story – which was heart breaking and made me want to cry. We need more stories, but also we need to show photos of how Covid 19 actually looks. Those selfish inconsiderate people walking around without a mask or worse, visiting their family on the sly, need to see what havoc Covid 19 actually creates. The ravages of it, and the awful pain. I realize that it is a question of privacy but the hell with privacy: we need to educate those that are still ignoring our pleas and quietly go behind our backs to visit friends or family. They do right here in the building I live in and I resent it and makes me angry. Yes, so angry that there are times when I actually wish they would catch Covid themselves though then of course they could then pass it on to some of us.

    Forget about freedom and privacy: we need to stop pussy footing around and start with rules and regulations enforcing them with high fines. Fines that would hurt. Not just a petty amount.

    Keep bringing stories like this. It really caught my heart. Thank you.

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