Illness and Death in the Covid Era

Below is the full text of a story shared by a man whos wife was sick and passed away during the Covid era. Please contact Covid Stories Archive if you would like to use or reproduce this essay, in whole or in part, for your research or writing. Also, please consider sharing your own stories for preservation in our archive.

COVID Policies During my Wife’s Fatal Illness

In 2021, my wife of 47 years, Alice, passed away due to kidney failure and other complications of spinal stenosis.

I will briefly and dispassionately summarize the COVID policies we had to contend with during her illness.

For her initial visit to the ER, at the beginning of the pandemic, we were met at the door by staff who would not allow me into the waiting room. They sent me home while they wheeled her in using a wheelchair.

She was admitted to the hospital, where I was not allowed to visit, although I could phone or text her, and drop off things at the door to be given to her. Masks were required when I dropped items off.

She became mentally confused due to her illness and often was unable to operate her phone until I rebooted it. She was not able to do this herself.

I would have someone bring her phone to me at the entrance so I could fix it. After a few iterations of this, staff refused to cooperate further. Nobody on the ward was willing to help her with this.

The hospital got her stabilized and she was transferred to a TCU (Transitional Care Unit). I was still not able to visit her directly, but was allowed to talk to her through an outside window to her room, standing outside during a Minnesota winter.

This TCU stay was quite different than those we’d experienced before the pandemic. They were short-staffed, and the quality of staff was considerably degraded. On previous stays, those helping her with her baths were female nurses, whereas they were now male aides who did not speak English. The food was now substantially subpar, as well.

She experienced further complications and the TCU transferred her back to the hospital, where policies had eased such that I alone could visit her in her hospital room, with mandatory masking.

She was stabilized and transferred back to a different TCU with which we’d had experience before and knew to be much better than the first one. Unfortunately, it had experienced the same degradation in quality as the first. This time I was not allowed to visit at all, although I could drop off items to be delivered to her.

She was released from that TCU and moved in with me to an apartment in a retirement home. We were quarantined the first two weeks while meals were brought to our room.

We enjoyed six weeks there, although the dining hall was closed due to COVID and we were required to wear masks outside our apartment. All social activities were on hiatus.

Each day I would get her up, bathe her, get her clothed and secure her into her wheelchair. Then I would work remotely while she read her Kindle.

In the evening I would cook dinner, then we’d enjoy ice cream and/or a small glass of wine, and watch her favorite TV shows.

But once again, she declined and was readmitted to the hospital. After two weeks, she catastrophically worsened and she was given “compassionate care” status.

Basically, this can be summarized as, “This poor woman is totally screwed, so let’s give her a break.” With this status any two members of her immediate family, wearing masks, could visit her at one time.

Unfortunately, there was frequent miscommunication and family members were often still blocked from seeing her. This happened on the day we were told she had hours to live and would be released to hospice at home. My daughter broke down into hysterics until this was cleared up and she was allowed into her room to say her goodbyes.

In a coma at this point, she was transferred back to the apartment in a gurney. Since she was in hospice, our retirement community rules allowed unlimited visits by immediate family at all hours.

She died less than 24 hours later with family by her side.

That was one and one half years ago. I live in the apartment alone. The dining hall has opened up, and social activities have resumed, but masks are still required in the common areas.

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