(Submitted by Sharlene Cormier - image credit)
Danny Cormier of Lakeville struggles to hold back tears when he talks about his mother not being allowed to be with his brother, Guy, who died of cancer on Feb. 7 at Moncton's Dr. Georges-L-Dumont Hospital.
Guy had been admitted to hospital on Jan. 22 and doctors quickly discovered he had an aggressive form of cancer, said Sharlene Cormier, Danny's wife and Guy's sister-in-law. No one from the family was allowed to visit because of COVID-19 restrictions during the orange phase.
"He would try to call us every night and update us," Sharlene said of Guy's time in hospital. "We could tell that his voice was getting worse and he was begging the hospital to be able to let at least one of us in. That didn't happen."
Everything "came to a head" on Feb. 6, when Guy and Danny's mother, Marie Anne, fell at home and was taken by ambulance to hospital.
Again, COVID-19 restrictions meant she had to go alone, and no one was allowed to see her at the hospital.
"They took her away which was very difficult," Sharlene said. "And 45 minutes after that they got the call from the hospital that my brother-in-law had turned for the worse … they needed to go to the hospital."
The calls for more compassionate visiting rules at New Brunswick hospitals are growing as families share their heartbreaking stories of not being able to see vulnerable or dying loved ones.
Mother not allowed to say good-bye to her son
Danny and his father, Edouard, were allowed to take turns visiting Guy that night because he was palliative.
Meanwhile, Marie Anne was in the emergency department, but Sharlene said no one from the family was allowed to see her to tell her what was happening.
The family returned home after visiting Guy, and after a sleepless night, Danny and his father drove back to the hospital on Feb. 7. Guy wasn't expected to live past noon.
Sharlene said that when he arrived, Danny anxiously checked on his mother and his brother.
"His brother was in room 4D and his mother was in 4A. So he asked if instead of him to go in, if they could get his mother so his mother could be with her son."
Danny and Sharlene break down when they tell what happened next.
"I asked the nurses if it was possible for my mother to visit," Danny said, explaining that his mother was at one end of the hall and his brother at the other. "They wouldn't let us, they wouldn't let my mother visit."
"[Marie Anne] couldn't go down because of COVID and Danny and his father couldn't go see her because of COVID, so Guy passed at around five o'clock and they could not go tell her," Sharlene said through tears.
'I would have gladly switched places'
Danny said the days since his brother's death have been excruciating.
"I would have gladly switched places," he said of allowing his mother into the room with his dying brother, "but it didn't work out that way."
Neither he nor his father have been permitted to visit his mother, who remains in hospital with signs of dementia. Danny expects she will be there until a nursing home bed is available.
After nearly two weeks, no one has been able to tell her that her son has died.
"We don't want her to know it all over the phone," Danny said. "The nurses let her talk on the phone to my dad, and my dad didn't have the heart to tell her over the phone."
Changes to rules needed
The Cormiers said they would be more than willing to take whatever precautions necessary to safely visit Marie Anne.
Danny understands there are COVID-19 regulations that must be followed but still thinks it's "silly" that his mother, who was on the same floor of the hospital that day, wasn't allowed to see her son.
"I feel the situations have to be looked at case-by-case," Sharlene said. "I feel we're losing our empathy, we're losing compassion, human connection."
The family hopes that by sharing their story, others will see "they're not alone."
"The rules need to be changed. One size doesn't fit all," said Sharlene. "They need to do something."
Misty McLaughlin has been trying to get permission for someone in her family to visit her ailing mother at the Chalmers hospital in Fredericton.
"It is devastating," she said. "Mom has been there for us our entire lives. This is the one time she needs us and we can't be there for her."
McLaughlin said her mother has terminal cancer. Until Feb. 9, she thought she had a year or two to live but was then diagnosed with a second type of cancer that "significantly" shortened the timeline.
No one has been able to visit her since.
"Nobody knows the date this will all end for her," said McLaughlin. "Every day with her is precious time that we're losing."
Visits possible if death is near
Patients receiving end-of-life care are allowed visitors during the orange phase, but McLaughlin's mother is not believed to be close to death.
She's in the orthopedics unit, while staff try to "stabilize" a medical issue she's been having.
"Every day, we've been told she's coming home, but almost two weeks later she's still not here."
McLaughlin is worried the hospital staff think her mother is in better condition than she really is because she doesn't like to cause a fuss and has been trying to do a lot of things on her own.
"We're very stressed. She's in there by herself - alone, discouraged, scared. And the further stress is exacerbating her situation."
A statement from the Horizon Health Network's clinical vice-president Geri Geldart said she "fully understands" the frustration.
Two networks have different rules
The network is trying to strike balance between compassion and safety, she said, adding it's sometimes "heartbreaking" for staff to have to enforce the COVID-19 visiting restrictions.
Visiting rules are different from one health network to another.
For palliative care patients in Horizon Health hospitals, 10 designated visitors are allowed, one at a time, or two at a time when the patient nears death. That applies to all recovery levels from yellow to lockdown.
For palliative care patients in Vitalite hospitals, only two designated visitors are allowed during orange phase, one at a time.