My mother passed away unexpectedly last week due to cardiac arrest while sitting in a chair in a skilled nursing facility waiting to go to an eye doctor appointment. But there is more to the story which I would like to share with you.
In mid-July, mom was admitted into Spokane’s Deaconess Hospital with a diagnosis of “failure to thrive.” It was unclear exactly how she came to that point, as I spoke with her at least once a week and all seemed copacetic other than she complained of being extremely tired for a few days before her admission.
After several days in the hospital, medical personnel recommended she was ready to be released from their care and transferred to a skilled nursing facility to gain her strength back and learn some self-care skills through physical, occupational, and speech therapy. The hospital case manager made arrangements for her transfer to such a facility which required two negative COVID-19 tests before they would admit her. She was tested, and it came back positive. This was a surprise to everyone. I was at the hospital when the results returned and saw the staff members’ panic as they realized many of them had been exposed to the virus over the handful of days they had worked with her.
Mom was transferred to a COVID only floor immediately, and I was told I would not be able to visit her. Medical personnel designated her as asymptotic, although in hindsight, I believe she was likely symptomatic while she was still in her home (therefore the failure to thrive), and the symptoms dissipated while she was in the hospital.
She sat in that isolated hospital room for 34 days, waiting for two negative tests which never materialized. We were told the skilled nursing facilities would not accept her even after she tested positive for antibodies—which as I understand it means she had cleared the disease. While in the hospital, she received no PT or OT to help keep up her muscle or bone strength. She was not allowed to leave that room at all. I could hear the frustration in her voice as she tried to shrug off the idea that, “No one wants me.”
At one point, the case manager cornered me in an elevator and told me, “Boy, your family is in a real pickle.” I asked what she meant. She explained when the hospital cannot place someone, it falls to the family to care for them. This was the first I had heard the hospital would no longer care for my mother (essentially they were kicking her out). She indicated I should take my mom home and provide her care. I explained taking my mom home would not work out because first, I am not trained in medical care; second, I live three hours away; third, I am not physically capable of lifting and assisting her; and fourth, we were clearing out her house to prepare it for sale. When our family realized no facility would take my mom even though she tested negative for the virus and positive for antibodies, we made arrangements to move her directly into an assisted living facility with her husband.
Within six hours of moving into that new facility, mom broke her right leg. The medical report indicates she told the ER staff that she stood up and her leg crumpled beneath her. She returned via ambulance to Deaconess for emergency surgery and a recovery period. Eventually, she was moved to a skilled nursing facility to receive physical, occupational, and speech therapy. She had to quarantine for the first 14 days even though at that point she tested negative because that was their policy with all new admits. She lived there for 26 days before her heart stopped beating.
My mom and I spoke every day that she was in the hospital and the skilled nursing facility. She was eager to get back to researching and writing a professional article in her field and reuniting with her husband at their new assisted living apartment. She was thankful our family was taking care of her house and affairs. We told each other we loved each other.
My last conversation with her was the day before she died. She had felt off for a few days with some fairly intense gastrointestinal issues. When I asked the nurse about it, he said my mom was under a doctor’s care at the facility, but they were not sure what was causing the severe issues. He also said they wondered if it could be related to her earlier COVID diagnosis.
Her death certificate states her cause of death was cardiac arrest, but I firmly believe COVID played a role in the timing of her death. Had she not contracted the virus, she would not have been hospitalized for that extended amount of time without physical movement, she would not have been rejected from skilled nursing facilities for having a positive antibodies test and would have therefore received PT and OT sooner, and she potentially would not have been seriously ill in her last few days.
So, when I hear about the 210,000 people in our nation who have died from COVID so far, I add one more for my mother, who I sincerely believe was taken by this horrific virus.
Kimberly A. Starr © 2020