A LOVING couple who are married 62 years have seen each other just once in the past nine months – to briefly hold hands in an ambulance – after both suffered life-changing injuries .
Within the space of just a few weeks, Dolorous Harrison (80) was receiving care after suffering a massive stroke while her husband Michael (81) had been left paralysed following a fall.
After Michael’s devastating accident, seven months passed before he saw his wife again, when the ambulance he was being driven in stopped at the nursing home Dolorous is resident in.
Now the couple’s children are lending their voices to a campaign calling on the Government to ease restrictions on visitors for people who are have been left particularly isolated due to illness or old age.
The Harrison family have told of their devastation of nearing Christmas without any certainty of regular visits to see their parents at different facilities.
The Harrison family’s world was turned upside down in March when adored mother Dolorous suffered a massive stroke and other complications and had to move to a nursing home in Co. Louth just before lockdown.
Then just weeks later, their father Michael broke his neck after a fall down the stairs. He had to be hospitalised, with no family visits due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Since then, their children have been relying on window visits at their parents’ care facilities (which are 90km apart), brief bedside chats and catch-ups via FaceTime.
Now they are
calling on the Government to ease regulations and allow regular visits with loved ones.
Support groups Care Champions and Voices for the Elderly are behind a 2x2x2 campaign: permission for nursing home residents to receive two visitors, two times a week. The campaign sought to have the measures in place from December 2 last but both groups are continuing their stance.
Michael and Dolorous’ daughter Fiona recalled the trauma of the past nine months. “At the beginning of March, following a massive stroke and other complications, we moved our mum to a nursing facility.
“As you can imagine after a brain injury, her speech and memory has been seriously affected. She can understand what you say but her words are very limited.
“Then in the second week of March they told us visiting was being suspended. At first my dad would drive to see her every day, sometimes twice a day, to chat through the window.
“They’ve been married for 62 years and never been apart until then. We thought this would be a temporary measure and didn’t panic too much. We could chat through the window so we could still see her. Then further restrictions put a stop to that.
“My mother went from seeing someone every day to not physically seeing anyone.
“She’d FaceTime us numerous times a day, sobbing. We never knew what each call would bring. Some nights we’d have to just sit and look at her on FaceTime just keeping her company so she’s not alone. As time goes by, these nights get more frequent. It doesn’t get any easier.
“We don’t want her to think we put her in there and forgot all about her or that we don’t care.
“At the end of March, my dad broke his neck in a fall down the stairs
“We had gone into lockdown the night before so we weren’t allowed to be with him.
“We had to sit in our cars in the early hours of the morning to find out if he was dead or alive.
“Even when the hospital told us that he had no movement from the neck down and would remain that way – we still weren’t allowed to see him.”
The first time Michael’s children saw him was in May when he was being transferred to another hospital and they were allowed to exchange greetings, on a socially distanced basis, at the ambulance for a few minutes.
They were also allowed a brief visit a few days later when he developed serious complications and was moved to another hospital.
“Luckily he improved and we were allowed to go to the window to see him. So we would drive 90km there and back to get his washing and try and catch a glimpse of him through a tinted window.
“We asked the hospital if he could be wheeled to the door for his 81st birthday so we could socially distance sing Happy Birthday but we were reminded of the seriousness of Covid-19 and how lucky we were that he was on the ground floor for window visits.
“My mother was in a nursing home after two serious brain injuries. My father was paralysed from the neck down and we were told we were the lucky ones.”
The family managed their time to visit both parents – 90km apart – every weekend.
It wasn’t until October that the couple got to see each other for a few minutes.
“My dad was being transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital and we knew the ambulance would be passing Mam’s nursing home, so I asked the paramedics if they could help us out by stopping for a few minutes.
“At this stage my parents hadn’t seen each other for seven months. With the help of Lifeline ambulance services, he got to say hello to my mam and hold her hand. It was so lovely and emotional to see and we can’t thank the services enough for their help and humanity.
“I haven’t seen my dad since that day and I’ve only seen Mam once for a few minutes. She has regressed a bit during the last few months.
“Having one parent in a care facility is hard enough. Having both is harder. But when you add all the restrictions, lack of updates, the distance between them, the emotions and lack of clarity into the mix, it is soul-destroying for any family. At some stage a ‘Working alongside Covid’ plan needs to be addressed for families to spend whatever time they have left with their loved ones.”
Siobhan Neilan of Voices for the Elderly said: “With Care Champions, we are continuing our stance in looking for two visitors to be allowed twice a week to their loved ones in nursing homes.
“The families of the 300,000 people in our nursing homes are raising concerns on what they see is a breach in human rights. Anyone who wants to contact us can do so through our Facebook page.”