By Dr. Linda Roemer, PH.D
Board Certified Adult/Geriatric and Psychiatric Mental Health NP
(June 1, 2020)
At 98 years old, she has no idea if she will live out her last days in what she describes as prison. It seems surreal. After all, she is in excellent health, has a positive attitude and a love for her family. There is no end in sight for this mandatory confinement. It could be her death. The hour glass has little sand left. She really misses those short trips for ice cream or a dinner out. Most of all she misses being hugged. During this quarantine she receives phone calls from her family. She can see them from afar but it is hard to hear what they are saying. She despises face time and social media. It will never replace the human touch. Her only crime was her age and living in a long term care home. Some people on the ‘outside’ will debate whether these older adults are in prison or not. They are definitely confined in place. To those inside of their protected walls they describe the difficulties in many different words. “We are stuck”, “We are separated from everything”, “We are lonely”, “We are isolated”, “We are afraid”. Maybe those of you without parents, grandparents or older friends have been unaware that there is an ongoing lockdown and quarantine for those living in assisted living care. It is a federal mandate. The most vulnerable to death and spread of infection are unable to leave. No one is allowed to visit.
As a Geriatric/Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner I am one of the few ‘essential’ health care providers that continues to go into long term care facilities and homes since the Pandemic began. The culture of these care homes immediately changed: No resident is allowed to leave and no one is allowed to visit. Strict infection control policies were put in place to keep the most vulnerable safe. When I enter a facility I fill out a form of where I have been, local or abroad and if I have been around anyone with COVID-19. My temperature is taken every time, my shoes and bags sprayed with disinfectant, I sign the form, wash my hands, apply hand sanitizer and all this is witnessed. Every time, several times a day. No matter where I go. And I wear a mask.
I have felt a stronger bond to my patients and their families. I feel the duty and the honor to care for these vulnerable adults that could have an abrupt end to their life if they get the COVID. This virus may go on for several more months and the risk is still uncertain.
I travel to several long term care facilities and in each and every one I find solidarity. I see a bond in caregivers, activities directors, nurses and administrators that transcends all other loyalties. Attachment to the way it used to be is left at the door. This is what we have to do now. There is a palpable feeling of love and concern by all staff.
In our larger Sedona Community there is a culture war occurring about wearing a mask. It’s understandable. There was no time to adapt to this new change. It seemed quite urgent and it seems quite unnatural for those not in health care to suddenly have to cover your nose and mouth. That’s what an emergency is: A SERIOUS, UNEXPECTED, OFTEN DANGEROUS SITUATION REQUIREING IMMEDIATE ACTION.
A mask has many inconveniences. It messes up your makeup. It messes with your hair or earrings. If fogs your glasses. It may require reusing or washing. It’s hard to speak clearly. It’s like you are under water talking. The hearing impaired miss a lot of what you are saying. You have to work harder to communicate. New behaviors are hard to create especially without time to adapt.
Some people believe to mandate wearing a mask for public health is taking away freedoms and rights. I am writing on behalf of all those who have already lost their freedom due to COVID-19. The greatest loss of freedom is the loss of life. Those that have died prematurely before their children were grown, or those close to retirement, or those who simply went to work one day at a factory, grocery story or a hospital. I am also writing for those who have lost their freedom to even leave home. Those undergoing cancer treatment or who have a chronic illness. Those who are older yet full of life, zest and a passion for living.
I am writing to ask on behalf of Sedona the larger community that we all embrace new behaviors and actions in this emergency. Action of benevolence, kindness, compassion, mercy, empathy and sensibility. Wear a mask. As soon as we have a healthy community we can open the doors everywhere to freedom for everyone.