Ever since Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered a ban on visitors in nursing homes due to the coronavirus pandemic, Mary Daniel hadn’t visited her husband, Steve, in his dementia care home, Jacksonville, Florida.
Mary knew that her long absence would have devastating effects on Steve’s health, so she desperately looked for a way to visit him. When a dishwashing job became available at the residential dementia care home where he was staying, the doting wife immediately grabbed the opportunity.
Steve, 66, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s seven years ago and moved into Rosecastle at Deerwood last July. The couple has been married for 24 years.
“I put him in a memory care center and everything was going really, really well. He was thriving with all the people. And in March, obviously everything changed,” Mary told CBS News.
Part of her routine was visiting Steve every night and helping him get ready for bed. However, when the coronavirus hit, the nursing home banned visitors. The last time she saw him was on March 11, and the uncertainty about how long the lockdown would last worried her.
Mary emailed the executive director of the home in hopes of finding a way to see her husband. She asked if she could volunteer, bring a therapy dog, or get a job in the senior care facility. The 57-year-old was ready to do anything to see her husband again.
Unfortunately, Rosecastle didn’t accept any of her offers. But by the 16-week mark, Mary began growing restless; she knew she had to explore other alternatives. She began writing to local and state officials, imploring them to end patients’ isolation in dementia care homes, saying that the “isolation will absolutely kill them.”
“Especially dementia patients, they need interaction. They need to be touched, their brain needs to be stimulated so that they can grow instead of just really wither away,” Mary explained.
She also worried that Steve’s behavior would change after spending so much time alone at the residential dementia care home. Her fears were confirmed when an employee informed her that he had an altercation with one of the other residents. Mary said she’s never seen him get in a fight with anyone. That incident proved that Steve was under a lot of stress due to isolation.
Mary was able to visit him twice during the lock-down. However, standing outside of his room and being separated by a window made him upset. She decided to stop these visits, but was desperate to find ways to see him the way she used to. Then, out of the blue, the senior care facility called to inform her they had a part-time job available – a dish-washing position.
She was willing to take any job they had for her at the dementia care home, so Mary accepted. Now, she’s able to see Steve every Thursday and Friday after her 90-minute shift.
“I’m working two days a week — and it is the real deal. It is 100% legit. I had to get a background screening, fingerprints, a TB test, COVID-19 test, a drug test, 20 hours worth of training, a video on everything from food safety to hazardous waste disposal,” she said of the hiring process.
All the facility’s workers are required to undergo COVID-19 testing every two weeks, but since Mary’s brother-in-law is a physician who can administer the test, she plans on getting them more frequently.
The devoted wife said that she takes COVID-19 seriously. “The last thing I want is to be reckless and bring it in there. I’ve been tested three times. I’m not going places I don’t need to go. If I have to go to the grocery store, I’m social distancing.”
Initially, she was afraid that Steve wouldn’t recognize her after 114 days of separation, but he cried and even called her by name when he saw her.
Since Steve couldn’t express his thoughts and feelings through words, the couple communicates their love by showing affection. Every moment she gets to spend with her husband is worth it to Mary at the residential dementia care home, especially because she’s seeing Steve’s condition improve ever since she began visiting him in person.
“There’s a comfort that comes from me being with him, from me holding his hand,” Mary said. “That’s how we are able to love and I’m able to comfort him now. And I see him settling into that, I noticed it last night that he was very relaxed as he was getting ready for bed.”
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