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“It’s pure panic”: a heartbreaking wait at the nursing home where he got the coronavirus

KIRKLAND, Wash. – The most difficult day of Debbie de los Angeles’ life was the day she put her mother in a nursing home. This was before the coronavirus.

As fatal infections spread to the Life Care Center on the outskirts of Seattle, where her 85-year-old mother lived, Ms. de Los Angeles had tried not to worry. The nurses were monitoring her mother’s temperature. They reassured Ms. de Los Angeles that her mother had no fever, cough or other signs of infection.

But at 4:15 am on Tuesday, a nurse called with troubling news. Her mother, Twilla Morin, had developed a 104-degree fever. They were giving her Tylenol. Then the nurse confirmed her non-resuscitation orders.

“We predict that she also has coronavirus,” said a nurse’s voice mail. “We don’t expect you to fight this.”

Moving to a nursing home can be a harrowing choice for elderly parents and their adult children. But families said they never imagined tackling a public health crisis in the silent corridors where they once believed their loved ones would be safe.

In the week since the Kirkland care facility became the focal point of a coronavirus outbreak in the Pacific Northwest, daily life has stalled in sleepless, slow-motion agony. With limited visits, families now call and request updates from overworked nursing staff. Families wonder if they should request a visit, risking their health and wider contamination. Some want their parents to move to a hospital or other facility, but have no idea who else would care for frail patients potentially exposed to a deadly disease.

“I feel bad that my mother may die alone,” said Vanessa Phelps, whose 90-year-old mother has chronic respiratory problems and has lived in the facility for four years. “It’s pure panic and I can’t do anything. I have no control.”

Some families now call twice a day to ask how their octogenarian parents feel and reassure them of the alarming television news broadcast in their rooms, largely with the crisis right there in the center. Some video chats on tablets designed for older users. A woman stood outside her mother’s window to glimpse the splints.

It was like seeing a ship sink without lifeboats. “We are looking from the shore and we are unable to do anything,” said Alex Stewart, whose 95-year-old grandmother lives in the care center and crocheted a small blanket in anticipation of Mrs. Stewart’s baby – her first big -nephew. “It’s a very helpless feeling.”

“People keep saying, ‘Why don’t you go get them out?'” Said Kevin Connolly, whose 81-year-old father-in-law, Jerry Wall, has been home for about a year to recover from cardiac arrest.

“It’s his home,” said Connolly. “He likes food, he likes care, he has friends there.”

On Wednesday, during a press conference, dr. Jeff Duchin, a public health officer in Seattle and King County, said the teams were working to test all residents of the virus in the health sector and apologized for the interruption of the communication. A federal disaster medical care team was due to arrive at the center on Thursday.

Mrs. de los Angeles, 65, said that her mother, Mrs. Morin, had never wanted to move to a nursing home.

Ms. Morin had been a magician of numbers, once stopping an embezzlement scheme while working as an accountant. She had also learned to trade on the stock exchange and would have gotten up early for the open market on Wall Street, three time zones in front of her house in Kennewick, in the southeastern state of Washington.

Ms. Morin moved to her first nursing home about four years ago after she could no longer stand or walk alone. As her dementia deepened, Madame Morin sometimes confused Madame de los Angeles, her only daughter, for her sister.

Her world at the Life Care Center, where she had lived for two years, had shrunk to her shared room, to the wheelchair that rolled in the dining room and to the table where she often ate alone. She adored a cup of hot chocolate at night and took care of a doll as if she were a real child. In lucid moments, she knew she was proud of her grandchildren, said Madame de Los Angeles.

The lady from Los Angeles wanted to rush to the nursing facility this week when she learned that her mother’s condition was getting worse. But she knew that the risks of infecting her husband, who had lung problems, were too great.

She received regular updates from the nurses who took care of her mother and was comforted by the fact that her mother’s favorite nurse was on duty and that her mother seemed to sleep mostly. It’s still.

“We wanted to be there,” said Ms. de los Angeles. “She was alone.”

Early Wednesday morning, Ms. de Los Angeles woke up to a new Life Care voice message. Her mother had died at 2:10, said the message. Due to the “unique situation” at home, a nurse had to collect her mother’s remains from the coroner.

Late in the morning, Ms. de Los Angeles and her husband Bob sat on the sofas in the living room of their home in Monroe, Washington, surrounded by their four grown children, looking at old photos and sharing memories of Ms. Morin.

They had to organize his cremation and decide if it was safe to collect his ring, a stuffed teddy bear and other things. They were waiting for the test results to determine if Ms. Morin had contracted the coronavirus. A month had passed since the family’s last visit, so they weren’t worried about getting infected. Ms. de los Angeles said she simply had to know.

“I still question what’s going on in that nursing home,” said Ms. de los Angeles. “They dress well. They wear masks. But the virus is still making its way. “

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