For The Someday Book

Isolation Idiocy

Posted on: December 18, 2009

Today, I took B with me to visit two parishioners who reside at a local nursing home. It is a large, well-run facility, where I have visited at least six long-term residents over the last four years. One small wing is for short-term rehabilitation, but the vast majority is for long-term residential care.

One of the women we were visiting has very little family, and no other children in her life. I have been taking B to see her since he was a newborn, and they have a very special relationship. She is weak and requires oxygen, she can barely hear and has a difficult time communicating. The one thing she’ll talk about–with anyone who ever visits–is B, and how much she enjoys his visits. She doesn’t even look at me anymore, it’s all about interacting with B. They play with her stuffed animals, he races cars on her lap blanket, he shows her whatever toy he’s carrying. He holds her hand and we pray together. I have only visited her one time without B since he was born, and she wouldn’t even talk to me.

Today when we showed up, with B in a Santa hat and carrying a gift for his special friend, we were turned away at the door. The receptionist informed us that, because of the swine flu, children under 14 were no longer allowed into the facility. At all.

At first, I assumed they had had an outbreak of flu and were under quarantine, but when I questioned her she said the policy had been in effect for several months, which means my last 3 visits with B were “illegal.” She then moved aside a wheelchair and another sign to render visible the poster announcing the new policy, and opening the door to shoo us out. At this point, I was getting really irritated.

Me: “So, you mean that no children are ever allowed in this facility again?”

Receptionist: “Well, some families get around it by meeting in the conference room, but that’s only for the residents well enough to get to the conference room.” (My two residents are not.)

Me: “So you mean to tell me that none of the residents are allowed to visit with their grandchildren or great-grandchildren for Christmas?”

Receptionist: “Well, we’re trying to protect them from getting sick.”

This is a nursing home–this will likely be the last Christmas for many of their residents. And they have to spend it alone? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Of course, at this point, I just feel awful for the woman we are planning to visit, who had been promised a visit from her special friend B before Christmas, and now gets to be told she is forbidden from ever seeing him again. And for B, who is looking increasingly forlorn. After we get outside, he says, “You can’t visit because of me? I want to be Santa! I want to see (friend)!” He looks like he’s going to cry.

I told him it was not his fault, that there was a sickness going around and they were trying to make sure that no one got sick. But I wanted to cry as well. I will fight this. Before we even got to the car, I had left a message for the chaplain at the facility, who I know well and knows about the special relationship between B and this resident. I haven’t heard back yet.

I understand the need to keep children away from medical facilities, including hospitals and even rehab hospitals. Those are temporary situations, and unless they need to say a final goodbye in the face of a terminal illness, there is no reason young children need to be in a hospital. But this is a RESIDENCE. This is people’s home, where they live for years. This policy basically means that once Grandma goes to live at the nursing home, she’s never allowed to see her grandchildren again until they turn 14. Absurd!

I know B will see his special friend again, because they need each other and I will fight and even sneak him in the back door if that’s what it takes. But I am so sad for all the residents who will have to spend the holiday season isolated from the grandchildren and great-grandchildren they love, those who give light to their lives and meaning to their days. This is a season when those in long-term care facilities feel a special sense of isolation and loneliness–this policy of isolation cuts off the one lifeline most of them have, their connection to family and the next generation. I am so sad.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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