Yvonne Lewis Langlois
“I cannot follow the conversation and I don’t want to see those people anymore.” Those were Lida Pit’s words to her husband of 50 years, Bert Pit, as they drove home from visiting friends.
“I remember it like yesterday,” he says. “At that point you don’t really accept that there is something mentally wrong. The word ‘dementia’ had not come up yet… But in hindsight, I now know that in those days it was already hard for her.” This was in 2016.
Many medical visits followed. Pit took Lida to see their family doctor; then she went for tests, brain scans, and consultations with neurologists at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. Finally, the family was given a diagnosis for Lida: Alzheimer’s disease.
In 2017 the couple took a trip to Spain, but Pit was aware of the changes in his wife; he was making all the daily decisions and preparations, without any input from Lida. “Slowly but surely, you take over,” he says.
At one point, Pit investigated a new treatment offered by the Douglas Hospital in Montreal; but because Lida’s disease had progressed so far, the doctors would only prescribe new medications. Those medications did not help. Despite that, Pit bought a camper, and the couple went camping. But after two trips, he realized Lida was unhappy being away from home. “Home had become her safe haven,” he says.
By 2019 Pit realized that his wife’s condition was in serious decline. She was crying all the time, and “She kept saying that she wanted to be dead.” Lida could not remember words, and she was anxious all the time.
Sleep was also difficult for her, and Pit would sit up with her at night. The constant care was taking a toll on him, so it was arranged that Lida would go to Huntingdon’s Residential and Long Term Care Centre (CHCH) for a week to give him a much-needed break.
It seemed like a good move for Lida and she appeared happier, but on her return home she sank deeper into depression. Pit hoped that there might be a permanent place for her at CHCH, but they had to wait for one to open. In the meantime, she was admitted to the Barrie Memorial Hospital in Ormstown.
Then things got even more complicated; it was now 2020, and COVID-19 had taken the world by storm. The Pits waited all summer for a place to open at Huntingdon’s CHCH; when one did, they were informed that Lida would have to go into quarantine for two weeks at a facility in Valleyfield before she could move in.
“In Valleyfield she knew nobody,” Pit says. He was told that they had no choice; Lida’s place at CHCH would be lost if she did not go into quarantine. Then COVID-19 struck CHCH, and suddenly no new admissions were being accepted there at all. Therefore, after her Valleyfield quarantine period was over, Lida was placed at the Centre d’Hergement d’Ormstown (CHO).
She tended to wander around her floor at CHO, so she was moved to the protective unit on the second floor. In January 2021, she got ill; she had a fever, but few other symptoms. She had contracted COVID-19 and was placed in isolation.
“Nobody [but staff] saw her,” Pit says. Lida was in isolation for 16 days. During that time, all her clothes and belongings were taken from her room and sent away for decontamination. “It took 6 weeks to get the stuff back, and there is still stuff missing,” Pit states. When he was finally allowed to visit Lida, he was shocked by the amount of weight she had lost.
The family questions the rigidity of all the security measures. The Pits’ children, including two daughters who travelled from the Yukon and Ontario respectively, have been barred from visiting their mother.
Before Pit can visit, a call must be made to the centre. Upon arrival at the door of CHO, he is greeted by a security guard who calls upstairs for an escort. Pit must then don a PPE suit and wash his hands before he is accompanied to Lida’s room.
Catherine Brousseau, a media relations officer with The Montérégie-West Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSSMO), explains: “The measures surrounding visits to living environments are determined according to the alert level of the region, and not by the municipality. Since the Montérégie is still a red zone, only caregivers are authorized to visit users.”
The family has been told that CISSSMO already has in place a “video conference service, to establish links with the family.” Unfortunately, such forms of communication are very confusing for Alzheimer’s patients like Lida.
Pit, and friend and caretaker Mary Shewchuk, alternate going to the centre so Lida can receive a daily visit. “We are allowed to use the sunroom, and the inside garden,” Shewchuk says. “Normally you can take your loved one out for walks, move around the unit, make a coffee, like they are at home. COVID destroyed that.”
Pit says, “The care is and was always very good by the staff at [CHO]. They take good care of Lida. I have no complaints whatsoever [about them].” But he goes on to say, “I have more complaints about the strict rules to be followed.” He points out that many patients at the centre have already had the virus, and that all residents and staff were vaccinated in January; however, the restrictions are still rigid, with no exceptions.
According to Brousseau, “The current restrictions at the Centre d’Hébergement d’Ormstown are a result of ministerial and public health orientations, and this is the case for all residences in Quebec. For the safety of users, staff and caregivers, it is essential for CISSSMO to follow the measures that are in place.”
Usually, in cases such as Lida’s, a multifaceted treatment plan is undertaken, in which social workers, ergotherapists, doctors and other professionals meet with the family to discuss the patient’s needs. The Pit family has tried to access these services but has had no success; “COVID changed that. But why should it?” asks Shewchuk.
Concerning the rigid restrictions and security, Pit says, “We feel that we are not welcome to visit our Lida.”