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.