Karen Meyer got a call two weeks ago to tell her that her 98-year-old mother had tested positive to COVID-19 in her Melbourne nursing home.
“She went at night-time, in an ambulance, and I think that would have been very confusing for her,” she said.
“She’d be very confused with this situation, not having anyone around, any familiarity, not knowing what was going on, not understanding, she’d be very confused and probably grumpy about it.”
Karen said her mother, Nancy Meyer, has complex medical needs, and the death of her two sons in the past three years has exacerbated Nancy’s cognitive decline.
Due to a ban on visitors, Karen cannot visit, and infection control rules meant Nancy was not allowed to take her hearing aid to hospital, so the mother and daughter cannot talk on the phone.
“She’s lying in a bed, she can’t get up, she doesn’t know where she is, she’s got people going around who are completely covered in PPE, which would be terrifying,” Karen said.
“She didn’t understand at the start what was going on, so I think she’s had a lot of trouble processing what was happening and where she was at and why there wasn’t anyone around who could help her make sense of it.”
But Karen wants other families to know how the care her mother is receiving at Melbourne’s Epworth Hospital is reassuring during what is a very distressing time.
Karen said the same doctor calls her about the same time every day and checks how she is going before going into detail about Nancy’s medical care.
“I get reassured that she’s in a lovely room, and she’s being really well looked after, so that was good,” Karen said.
They seem like small things, but Karen says they are making a big difference, especially amid distressing reports of botched communication in other aged care settings, leading to a growing number of aged care residents being taken to hospital for care.
As of Sunday there are 2,075 active cases relating to aged care facilities.
“It makes me feel a lot more peaceful, if this is where she is, it makes me feel a lot more peaceful about it,” she said.
Karen said there were a few things hospital staff could do if they had the time, to help families who could not see their loved ones:
- A daily phone call, preferably from the same staff member, describing the situation
- Being very clear and providing detail about medical needs
- Checking in on how the relative is going
- Describing details about the room, the care and the food
Karen says while her mum has relatively mild symptoms, she is very frail.
“She’s not in pain, her body’s not fighting with it on a big level but it’s wearing her out,” she said.
Nancy has led a rich life, Karen said, leaving school when she was 13 to work in a fruit shop in Bendigo, in central Victoria.
“She’s strong, calls a spade a spade, very dogmatic, lets you know what she thought. All good qualities,” she said.
Nancy married when she was 22 and moved to Melbourne where she had four children followed by seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Karen said she was always asking how the youngest children were going.
She was hit very hard by the death of her two sons in the past three years.
“Family was really important to her,” Karen said.
“It’s been a rich life and a lot of loss to go through, and it would be nice if she could be peaceful at this time, and I think she is.”