Montreal

Pépé, 97, finds a way to play the piano in lockdown, thanks to staff's 'nothing is too crazy' attitude

When 97-year-old Roméo Boudreau was no longer able to go down to the common room of his long-term care home to play the piano, staff decided the piano would come to him.

Pépé and his piano entertain residents at COVID-infected care home after staff hauled piano to his floor

Roméo Boudreau, pictured here with his granddaughter Manon Carrier, has been able to continue playing the piano at this long-term care home after staff dragged the instrument to his floor. (Submitted by Manon Carrier)

Workers in Quebec's long-term care homes have been run off their feet in the weeks since the COVID-19 pandemic began. So it's hard to imagine anyone finding the time to move a piano. 

But that's what happened at the Centre Cloutier-du Rivage, in Trois-Rivières, Que. 

Roméo Boudreau, who turned 97 on April 16, is a self-taught musician who would take a seat daily at the piano in the residence's common room to entertain his fellow residents.  

But on March 13, when the Quebec government announced measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, a new rule barred residents from gathering in communal spaces. They were confined, instead, to their floors.  

Manon Carrier, Roméo's granddaughter, said when she realized the man she lovingly calls Pépé would be left to his own devices, she panicked. 

"What are they going to do?" she asked. "What if he forgets how to play?"

Carrier called residence staff, in distress. But the recreation team, Élise Beaudet and Éric Bérard, had already started brainstorming ideas to keep the residents entertained. Beaudet said they went into high gear.

"We found radios and TVs for people who didn't have one," said Beaudet in an email to CBC. "We moved jigsaw puzzle tables, bookcases and painting easels into people's rooms."

"No idea was too crazy."

It didn't take long before they decided that if Roméo Boudreau couldn't come to the piano, the piano would come to Roméo Boudreau.

''I took one end and Éric took the other, and we pushed it to the fourth floor," Beaudet said.

'Music an essential service'

The piano sits right across from Boudreau's room, so all he has to do is sit down and play. The other residents on the fourth floor stand in their doorways and sing along.

"I think the staff decided music was an essential service," said Carrier, laughing. 

Now Boudreau's music has reached a wider audience, thanks to a video shared on the Facebook page of the regional health authority, the CIUSSS de la Mauricie-Centre du Québec.

The clip of Boudreau playing the old standard Let Me Call You Sweetheart has been viewed 32,000 times, and nearly 500 people have shared it. Carrier isn't surprised.

"People need to see good news, positive things, to see simple things that are really beautiful," said Carrier. "Whenever I publish photos or videos, everybody is charmed by him."

She is relieved to see her grandfather staying connected to his music. But she said his daily concerts are important for everyone on his floor, staff included, who have had their lives altered by COVID-19.

Contact through video chats

Boudreau has been a resident of the Centre Cloutier-du Rivage for a little more than a year. Before the pandemic, Carrier would visit him a few times a week.

She finds the time apart long.

Boudreau has 13 children, almost all of whom are still in the region and visited him in a steady stream, in pre-COVID times.

Their lifeline right now is the contact the staff provides through videos, photos and live chats.

Beaudet and Bérard arranged to have a balloon and a piece of birthday cake for Boudreau's 97th birthday two weeks ago.

But Carrier said it's the little things that count the most.

"When Éric arranges a chat or takes a picture, I see him. He'll put a hand on his head, give his hair a pat," said Carrier.

"That gesture might seem meaningless to some, but for me, to know that someone takes a moment to give him that little caress, that little bit of affection, it's a huge source of comfort."

Boudreau has tested negative for COVID-19 and is looking forward to eating corn on the cob this summer, his granddaughter said. (Submitted by Manon Carrier)

Carrier said her grandfather isn't really aware of the pandemic at the root of his routine being upended. But the family is conscious of the risks.

There were cases of COVID-19 in the geriatric unit of Cloutier-du Rivage, but none in the residence. Now there are 23 cases in the geriatric unit and 20  in the residence where Boudreau lives. 

"We were really hoping it wouldn't spread, but it seems impossible to stop the virus once it's in," said Carrier. "But I have every faith in the staff, who love their residents and will do everything to keep them safe."

Waiting for next visit

Boudreau's family was relieved when they learned the ban on visitors to seniors' homes will now be lifted. But they're expecting that because of the outbreak, it will still be a while before they see him face to face. 

In an email to the CBC after the announcement, Carrier said she's determined to be positive.

"Roméo is COVID-negative. He's in a good mood. And he's looking forward to eating corn on the cob this summer!" 

She said when she can finally meet Pépé again out in the fresh air — even if it's on the lawn of the residence, two metres' away from him — it will be enough. 

"He's my only living grandparent — my only grandfather. Every time I go to see him, when I'm on the way home, I think, gosh, he does me good. He's someone who just makes everyone feel better."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Susan Campbell

Journalist

In her years at CBC Quebec, Susan Campbell has tagged along on a caribou hunt in Whapmagoostui, battled a blizzard on the Lower North Shore and has been tear-gassed in Quebec City. She speaks French and Spanish and, when not working, strives for a balance between travelling the world and staying put, drinking tea in Cape Breton.

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