The isolation, separation and loneliness of the COVID-19 pandemic is felt deeply by a couple who split their time between this province and Quebec.
Edward Crane and Shelley Boucher have been engaged for a year and a half, living in both Upper Island Cove and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, near Montreal.
Crane came back to Newfoundland and Labrador on March 18, without Boucher, to do some work on his house. He had a stroke March 25, days before he was supposed to return to Quebec.
“We got a call that day, saying that they didn’t know he was going to make it through the night, and then he was rushed into ICU,” said Boucher, who is still in Quebec.
Crane, 53, was in an intensive care unit for 16 days, and has been in a hospital in St. John’s for more than seven weeks. He is paralyzed on one side.
Due to the pandemic, the province has banned visitors at hospitals, except during birth, death and other specific circumstances.
It could be months before Boucher sees her fiancé in-person again.
‘There is this disconnect’
Boucher said it’s been hard to get information from the hospital on Crane’s condition.
“I have not spoken to a doctor since he left ICU,” she said.
She said a nurse practitioner has given the family some updates, but it’s difficult to get information about physiotherapy appointments, or how long Crane’s been out of bed and sitting in a chair each day.
“There is this disconnect,” she said.
In a statement, Eastern Health said they have daily calls with patients’ families, if the patient authorizes it, and it’s developing a standard operating procedure for calls with families.
To keep in contact, Boucher said the family bought an iPad for Crane, which is set up to answer automatically when they call.
“That’s our only means of communicating with him right now,” said Boucher. “It’s the only way we can let him know that we’re here.”
She said loneliness is taking hold.
“All he says when he calls is, ‘Why can’t I see you? Why can’t you come?'” said Boucher.
“We talk about COVID, but I’m not quite sure he understands that concept. He just feels so alone.”
Hoping restrictions will ease
Boucher would like visitor restrictions to be relaxed soon so she can see her fiancé.
She said there’s no mention of easing visitor restrictions for hospitals or rehabilitation centres in the province’s reopening plan.
“When I do the math, it feels like that’s another three months before they’re even looking at it, and it’s just so scary,” said Boucher.
She said her request for visitation has been declined by the health department.
“I understand the gravity of COVID-19,” she said. “But I also think there could be a case-by-case basis.”
Eastern Health said visitors are only allowed in extraordinary circumstances, “where a person needs a caregiver for decisions and assistance above and beyond” what their programs provide.
Health Minister John Haggie said it’s a challenge to respect the needs of patients, wishes of their caregivers and concerns about infection prevention and control. He said if someone becomes disabled because of an illness, their caregiver should be brought into the conversation.
“Certainly, it’s a discussion we will need to have with the regional health authorities to ensure that, where there are situations like that, there are mechanisms to address those concerns,” he said.
Rehab plans on hold
Boucher said Crane’s transfer to the Miller Centre for rehabilitation is also on hold, because he wasn’t motivated to recover.
“He says he needs me to motivate him, he needs me to push him. He just wants someone to hold his hand, a hug and that. You know, those little touches that you can’t do via Skype.”
In response, Eastern Health said, “Rehab is an active process which is lead by the individual first and foremost; willingness to participate in one’s own recovery plays an integral role in the process.”
Still, Boucher worries about Crane’s recovery without her and his family by his side.
Boucher has an exemption to travel to Newfoundland and Labrador, and expects to arrive on May 30 then self-isolate for 14 days as required.
She said she would have come earlier, but was told to stay with her family for support.
“And there was no double bubble at that time so I wouldn’t be able to see his family and I would have just been alone,” she said.
Once her 14-day isolation is over, her only hope to see Crane for now is through a window, if he’s transferred to the Miller Centre.
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