BY JODY BENSON
Duncan Hammon’s letter to the editor reminds us of the horrible isolation and lost months (and lives) suffered by those living in care facilities. We need to remember what happened and use that hard-won experience to ensure we’re prepared the next epidemic. Lest we forget:
On Friday, March 13, the nation shut down as deaths from the new SARS CoV-19 virus ravaged people’s lungs and hearts worldwide. Individuals, tended by exhausted healthcare workers dressed in hazmat suits, succumbed. Then our doctors and nurses began to die of the disease they had tried so valiantly to stop. We need to remember all those horrifying pictures of rows of shrouded bodies in NYC, of all the overwhelmed funeral homes and cemeteries. And remember the videos of Italian military trucks transporting bodies to warehouses as the living Italians sang opera to one another from their balconies. New Yorkers, too, hung out of their windows to bang pans to honor their healthcare workers. Here in Los Alamos we joined in with our quintessential sound (aside from traffic and LANL explosions), and howled like coyotes at 8:00 PM in support of one another’s confinement.
On Friday, March 13, because Covid was sucking the life from humans in every single state, our NM care facilities, offices, and schools shut down while hoarders stripped grocery shelves, and Smiths had a (was it 19 customers? some kind of) limit on who could be inside to follow the social-distance arrows to prevent people from breathing on one another. That Friday we believed we’d reopen in two weeks. But the SARS CoV-2 virus—a bunch of molecules without a brain, let alone the ability to replicate outside a host—outsmarted us as it convinced us that we didn’t need to isolate, distance, mask, or put our own human community before viral spread.
Back to care facilities: on Friday, March 13, LARC (Aspen Ridge Assisted Living and Sombrillo Nursing Home) locked down to isolate residents in their rooms to prevent disease spread. Staff became the residents’ family, and as family, many restricted their off-hour social activities to help reduce their own chances of getting Covid. Families stood outside windows with signs or waved up to their residents peering down, or, more technologically, to talk to each other on cellphones. Staff served meals with disposable plates and cutlery in rooms. The activities directors went room to room with snacks, or, for Aspen Ridge Happy Hour, the preferred wine or margarita in a plastic cup. Care Assistants (CAs) took residents out one by one for a solitary walk in corridors. Friends and families held virtual birthday parties outside the buildings with drive-bys, sometimes accompanied by County Emergency vehicles, through the parking lots.
Pre-vaccine, while Covid continued devouring the elderly throughout the nation, as Gov. Lujan Grisham continued to mandate isolation to try to protect New Mexico’s most vulnerable from those less diligent or mindful of the deadliness of the disease, Jessica Hefner, at a request from the LARC Board, designed a means of allowing family members to come in and care for their loved ones. The program, “We Are Family,” was approved by the State. It trained friends/family members as CAs, and paid them to care specifically for their loved one. Despite angry complaints that nobody could visit family, fewer than ten people trained for this program.
December 2020: Sombrillo had an outbreak of the Delta variant, and lost one resident.
On January 2, 2021, almost nine months after the lock-down, LARC acquired vaccines for staff and residents. After residents got both Moderna vaccinations, they were “released” from rooms where, masked and socially-distanced, they could once again meet one another at meals and activities. Heroic LARC staff continued to care for their charges while at the same time temporary agency-healthcare workers came in to fill the gaps.
Finally, a few months later (June 2021, I think?), Aspen and Sombrillo opened to vaccinated and masked family members and friends. LARC knew when staff or a resident got Covid even if the person was asymptomatic, because everybody was getting frequently, randomly tested. Unsurprisingly, since opening, LARC has had multiple cases of Omicron.
So yes, thank you Duncan Hammon for reminding us about how hard, how lonely, how horrible were those nine months of isolation for people in care facilities. And our elders who have lived long and who still have more to contribute, are as are we, grateful that LARC is still careful to keep Covid out of the buildings. Once again, the Greatest Generation shows its greatness: it’s resilience, patience, sense of humor, and just plain willingness to keep on keeping on while making the best of whatever happens.
Please. Everybody. Remember. Tell the stories of Pandemic Heroism: the care assistants, emergency and medical workers, Zoom-teachers, those who kept open our stores and gas stations, janitors, letter carriers, linemen, delivery people, pharmacists, workers on farms, in slaughter houses, medical equipment factories, even the howlers and pan-bangers…. Everybody who supported one another and kept the nation going. And especially? Those who stayed alive to the rest of us to quietly confirm the hope that Yes We Can Endure All Things.
Thank you, our heroes. Thank you, our elders: Yes You Did. You taught us: Yes We Can, and for you and those we love? Yes We Will.