By Janet Hart Leonard

Originally published in the Hamilton County Reporter on Sunday, November 22nd, “It’s personal” is written by Janet Hart Leonard. In this piece, Janet talks about her mother’s battle against COVID-19, the difficulties of being apart from a loved one, and the resilience of those who continue to serve the most vulnerable members of our population.

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“I’m sorry to let you know that your mother has tested positive for COVID.”

The call came in on Sunday morning, this past week. Stacy, the Director of Prairie Lakes Health Campus, was the bearer of the bad news. She has a tough job for so many reasons.

I was not surprised at the news as my mother had been suffering with a list of symptoms since Wednesday of the week before. Her first test came back negative – yes, negative – but her caretakers and I just knew it was wrong.

Fever, severe body aches, vomiting, fatigue and a dry cough. Thankfully, no respiratory issues. This virus shows itself in all kinds of wicked symptoms. None are to be taken lightly.

Her health campus had done everything humanly possible to keep the residents safe. It didn’t matter to this vicious virus. It found its way, like an angry fog, into the facility. It made its way down the hallways until, every day, the healthcare workers added another name, or several names, into the Red Zone Hallway.

“Janet, I wish you could be here” were the first words my mother said when I told her she had tested positive. My heart broke. It’s one thing to have your mother being so sick but not being able to be there and hold her hand made it overwhelmingly heart wrenching.

There’s something about the human touch of a hand being held that gives reassurance when faced with an illness. It’s scary, and being alone and scared is the worst of it. Sadly, in the last nine months I’ve been unable to hold my mother’s hand or hug her. Nine very long months.

I’ve said, so many times, that COVID will kill many of our elderly, by catching it or because of the feelings of loneliness and isolation which cause them to just fail to thrive.

It’s sad. I’m tired of being sad.

I’m not able to be there with my mom but you know who is? The healthcare workers at Prairie Lakes. They are the hugs that I can’t give her. They reach out and let her know they aren’t going anywhere.

I’m not there, but I see them.

I see them when my mother tells me that Cherry, the head chef, brings her the canned peaches she requested. They were not on the menu. I see them when Julie, her speech therapist, sets up Facetime sessions so I can talk with her on Fridays. I’m sure this was not part of a course in her college classes. I see them when Kelly, Director of Marketing, sends me a message that she checked on my mom. I know it was not on her “schedule.”

I see them when Diane, the nurse in the Red Zone, sends me a message that sadly, she welcomed my mother into the Red Zone and will be keeping an eye on her. I know she cares about my mother. I see them when Rita, a manager in the business office, offers to take a message to my mom’s nurse. She reassures me it is no bother. I know better.

I see them when I get a message from Eric, Director of Environmental Services, giving me my mother’s new room number and phone number. He tells me how to find her window. He is beyond busy but takes the time to reassure me that she is in good hands.

So many COVID issues are not part of their job description. It doesn’t matter. They take their job, personally, as if my mother were their mother or grandmother. 

I see them when I send a message to ask how they are doing and they reassure me they are okay. I know they are not.

I hear how exhausted and overwhelmed and sad and frustrated they are. I don’t have to have them tell me, I hear it in their voices and if I do see them, I see it in their eyes.

While the outside world is out here arguing over whether to wear a face mask or not, they are wearing PPE armor all day long. Hours in full battle gear. I see the marks and sores it leaves on their faces. They are not okay.

They go home to families who are afraid to touch them. They do their best to sterilize themselves before beginning their second job at home as a parent and a spouse. In the back of their mind is the worry of bringing home the virus.

Healthcare workers see the residents as part of their family. Their tasks weigh heavily on their hearts as well as their minds. Their worries are great and their strength is overwhelmed. They have been sucker punched by this virus. They know they may well be the last physical touch their residents have.

I wish I could hug my mother. I wish I could make her better. I can’t. I can only make the phone calls, show up at her window and pray for her.

I wish I could hug my mother’s caregivers. I can only encourage them and tell them that I see them and pray for them. 

To my mother’s caretakers, I just want you to know that I do see you. You are truly my heroes. You did not sign up for this war. You have been drafted. I just pray, that soon, we can talk about the virus in past tense.

I have so much to be thankful for but this year I am most thankful for the healthcare folks that go to battle every day…

I see you.