Saskatchewan·Point of View

'It's saving my life': An iPad is my dad's lifeline in long-term care during this pandemic

As I thought about my father’s isolation, I began to imagine how I would feel “trapped” in such circumstances. Life is the pursuit of human connection and self-expression. If there is one thing damaging to a mind, it’s loneliness.

'He was finally closer to my mother, yet unable to see or talk to her'

Lance and Rilla Irvine lived together for decades. Now, because of COVID-19, they are forced to be apart. (Supplied by Allie Vered)

"It's like a friendly divorce," my dad jokingly lamented to me about missing my mum. 

Dad's transition to long-term care began six months ago when he fell and shattered his ankle. He was placed in Melville awaiting a permanent room closer to home in Yorkton. 

Winter weather made it difficult for my mother to drive to Melville for a visit.

He and my mother lived and worked together for over 50 years.

The separation — his long days confined to a bed trying to amuse himself — has been painful for both of them. 

They were anxious for his move to Yorkton. They'd be able to see each other regularly again.

The timing came as a surprise. He was transferred the same day COVID-19 restrictions were enacted in Saskatchewan.

There was no time to hook-up a phone or television. Technicians were barred from crawling under the building. No visitors were allowed.

He was finally closer to my mother, yet unable to see or talk to her.

Loneliness can damage a mind

My father is a cup half-full kind of guy. He has soldiered through a lot of health problems over the years.

I firmly believe his continued positive outcomes have a lot to do with one pre-existing condition he shares with many elderly people: he has a brain. 

My dad is a voracious consumer of news. He understands and accepts the reasons for his predicament. 

Still, as I thought about my father's isolation, I began to imagine how I would feel "trapped" in such circumstances. Life is the pursuit of human connection and self-expression. If there is one thing damaging to a mind, it's loneliness. 

An iPad saves the day

I had to do something. It was a mental health emergency.

My brothers and I put our heads together. The only solution was an iPad. The bigger problem was going to be teaching an 87-year-old with deteriorating muscle co-ordination to use it. I prayed a stylus would help.

Soon, with an assist from some friendly staff, my father was finally able to see my mother via FaceTime. 

"He was in good spirits," she reported after their first conversation. "He said, 'I'm so excited! I found my book, I can watch the news, and I can see you!'"

Lance Irvine, Allie Vered's father, has learned to use technology to connect with the outside world. (Supplied by Allie Vered )

My father is no stranger to technology. He left Vancouver for Saskatchewan in the 1960s, hired as a librarian to build a modern resource center at a cutting-edge vocational high school in Yorkton. He created a first-of-its-kind audiovisual-supported reading and writing program tailored to the needs of students who struggled in these areas.

"I am missing a classroom. I could do a lot with this thing," he mused about his iPad one day, sitting upright in his bed.

"When I try to talk to anyone in here, they walk away when they realize I know something."

I am sure the care home workers are growing adept at dodging lectures and I don't blame them!

He asked for some of the war documentaries and movies he had at home on DVD. 

"I am halfway through the Battle of Midway," he informed me one day. 

"Did the Japanese win this time?" my brother joked when I told him my dad was watching it for the dozenth time.

I pride myself on picking books that will interest him. I was happy when he called one afternoon to recount one about philosophers I had given him. After hearing an interview with an author of a book on Churchill and aerial bombardments at the end of the Second World War, I ordered a copy immediately.

Only Dad won't get it. Last week, without warning, the facility stopped accepting outside personal items. No more books. No DVDs. No iPad case that arrived late. 

You can question the benefits of such decisions, or how they are enacted, but not the motive. Nonetheless, it was heartbreaking. 

Long days spent mostly alone in your room where you often also take your meals, physically distanced in the common areas, nothing to occupy you that you haven't seen, heard or read before. 

What does that sound like to you?

'It's saving my life'

The community has rallied around the residents at his care home, raising money for iPads and mobile hotspots. The staff are working tirelessly to keep seniors virtually close to their families.

Allie Vered and her brother have figured out some innovative ways to let their father watch the TV programs he is missing. (Supplied by Allie Vered)

My dad is getting a handle on a few news apps, but it's a struggle. At home, I set up two Macs to "mirror stream" TV to him via Facetime and check in with him periodically. This is how he'll watch season three of The Crown on Netflix.

We are all getting used to him calling randomly and often. His cup is perpetually half-full. 

He was a child of the Great Depression, my brother reminded me. Maybe that's why.

Human connection, knowing that you are not alone in the world, is the most basic of emotional needs. 

My father understands why he can't physically see his wife of 50 years, but to be so cut off seems cruel and unusual punishment. 

"It's saving my life," he said when I last asked him how he was managing with his iPad. "I can see Mum."


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Yorkton, Allie Vered is a communications executive and long-distance runner who lives with her family and two dogs in the beautiful seaside New England town of Swampscott, Massachusetts.

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