Woman gets a temperature check.


Here’s What It’s Like To Visit My Grandma In A Long-Term Care Home

Mar 15, 2021

I have a favourite nostril.

It’s my right one; the left isn’t nearly as nice. I know this because it’s regularly poked for COVID-19 testing since I’ve been promoted from basic granddaughter to essential caregiver to my almost 99-year-old grandmother.

Visiting her in her long-term care home feels like being in a dystopian movie.

Before the virus, I’d breeze in anytime, armed with her favourite chocolate milkshake and an eager ear to listen to her best childhood stories.

Now things are more complicated.

"But as I move through the halls and look around through my plastic armour, the toll the situation has taken on staff and residents is palpable."

I go to see her during designated hours that require temperature checks, screening forms, a rapid COVID test, a 20-minute wait for the results, a surgical mask, a full face shield and sometimes, depending on if there’s an outbreak on her floor, a gown and gloves.

After months of only connecting with my grandmother online, through a window or outdoors separated by a plexiglass barrier that felt like she was doing time in jail, I’m just grateful to get to see her in the flesh. My mom and I are the only two people allowed to see her due to restrictions to keep residents and staff safe.

Things feel different on the inside.

Understandably so because those who live and work there have been under unimaginable stress as they’ve fought to keep the disease from taking hold. You don’t have to look far to see how quickly things can turn in an eldercare institution, housing our most vulnerable. It’s hard to comprehend how it feels to know your facility could be next.

My grandmother’s home has, so far, been very fortunate. While there have been some cases in the staff and caregiver community, a catastrophic situation has been averted. We’re lucky that she lives at an excellent facility and that the people who care for her are incredibly kind. But as I move through the halls and look around through my plastic armour, the toll the situation has taken on staff and residents is palpable.

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The corridors feel eerily empty. I have yet to run into another visitor when I’m there. While long-term homes are never the most dynamic of environments, it’s hard not to notice the absence of other family members, volunteers, the lady with the therapy dog, the affable minister. All of these people who regularly brought a little life and comfort to the residents are gone due to the restrictions.

My grandmother is happy to see me. Sometimes I have to tell her who I am because she doesn’t recognize me under all of the PPE. It makes me sad to know that she hasn’t seen anyone’s face for an entire year. And since she’s hard of hearing, she finds it almost impossible to understand what people are saying because she reads lips.

She Is Isolated And Lonely

She doesn’t like it there anymore. She has declined in the past year which isn’t surprising given her advanced age, but I also think the loneliness has gotten to her. Unlike many of the residents on her floor, she’s lucky to have her mental faculties intact. That also means she is acutely aware of the threat she has been under and the isolation she’s endured. My mom and I take turns visiting trying to make up for the lost time by bringing her treats, flowers and family photos to cheer her up. The staff gives her as much time as they can, but it’s not enough. Her TV set is her companion.

My grandmother has lived through the roaring ‘20s, the Great Depression, the Second World War, the ‘60s, Y2K and 9/11. She reminds me wistfully that everyone she knew from her generation is now gone. I smile and tell her she’s won! She laughs at my joke as I cut up her dinner into bite-size pieces, assist her with her slippers and ease her into her chair. Tending to her feels full circle, reminding me of when my daughter was still a toddler. I know my grandmother did the same for me while I was small.

"Caring for the eldest in our society is something we need to get right."

There has been a lot of talk about how COVID has exposed the horrific cracks in how we care for the elderly. I hope that this crisis will provide an opportunity to reimagine how we care for people at the end of life. I’m not an expert in geriatric care, but I’d love to see changes that provide more dignity for the aged.

I’d love to see a shift to making care facilities feel more like home. Let's start by ending the constant staff rotation so that residents can bond with their caregivers. Long-term care workers should be provided with better pay and working conditions so that they aren’t overwhelmed on their shifts and allow staff to wear regular clothes instead of hospital scrubs so residents don't feel like they live in a hospital.

Caring for the eldest in our society is something we need to get right. This literally touches us all. The frail old person looking out the window and wondering where all their friends and family have gone will one day be you.

I think we could all benefit from changes now, because someday, when we're older, it may be us sitting quietly, waiting for our children and grandchildren to visit. And we'll want it to be safe for them to do so.

Article Author Laura Mullin
Laura Mullin

Read more from Laura here.

Laura Mullin is a published playwright and writer and the co-artistic director of the award-winning company, Expect Theatre. She is also the co-host and producer of PlayME, a podcast that transforms plays into audio dramas now on CBC. She has worked in theatre, film, and television and lives in Toronto with her writer/producer husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @expectlaura.