TORONTO — Esther Hladkowicz said she experienced a "sliding scale of emotions" while visiting her father at his Ottawa-area long-term care home on Saturday.
For the first time in 10 months, she was able to see her nonagenarian dad up close without a window separating them. Better yet, she could also both touch and hug him.
"The sound that that man made was like a wounded animal. I'm not gonna lie. It was a cross between a sob, a grunt, and a growl," she said. "He had waited so long to be touched by a family member. So then I started crying. He's not a crier, but I thought I saw a little wet eye there."
Her father has advanced dementia, and Hladkowicz had been advocating for the provincial government to allow family members to visit long-term care home residents in light of the high vaccination rates within the facilities.
The province gave the green light for some such visits on Friday, announcing they could start taking place as of Saturday. Provincial rules state visits must occur outdoors, involve no more than two guests at a time, and be conducted with masks onfor all and physical distancing protocols in place for those who have not yet been fully vaccinated.
Hladkowicz registered to visit as early as possible -- 10 a.m. on Saturday.
"Let me tell you, it was a sliding scale of emotions. It was almost incredulous, to believe he was in front of us," said Hladkowicz, who visited with her daughter.
She said her dad appears to have declined cognitively since they last saw each other, and he's in a wheelchair now -- a new development that she said the long-term care home wouldn't explain.
Even her hourlong visit seemed to improve his condition, she said.
"We whispered to him, we touched him. We gossiped with him. We told him he is so loved and so wanted," she said. "And by the end of the hour, he looked like a flower that had been watered with sun on him. It was a visceral difference."
Even so, she said, the visit was bittersweet.
The Ministry of Long-Term Care gave less than 24 hours notice in changing the rules, so some facilities are not yet allowing visits.
"There are lots of people who had visits booked in, and at the last minute they were cancelled because (long-term care homes) couldn't get their act together or It was too soon for them," Hladkowicz said.
That was the case for Laura Rivest Hartley of Ottawa, whose mother is in a long-term care home in Toronto.
"I'm just waiting to hear from the home as to what their plan will be," she said. "The news came out yesterday, so I feel like it'll probably be a few days before they make their plan."
She said she'll book her appointment as soon as she hears from the facility.
Rivest Hartley said she's relieved she'll be able to see her mom in person again, but she wishes the rules were less restrictive.
"It's not quite the news I was hoping for because I think just the outdoor visits isn't enough," she said. "I would have preferred to maybe have been able to go into the home to see her. You know, just to spend a little more one-on-one time with her and a little more of a quieter space."
The amended government rules say visitors need not undergo a COVID-19 test to see their loved ones, but must wear masks. Children under the age of two don't count towards the two-visitor limit.
The province also loosened regulations for outdoor recreation facilities starting Saturday.
Outdoor amenities like golf courses, skate parks and tennis courts were cleared to welcome patrons, but outdoor team sports and classes are still off-limits.
The changing rules came as the province reported 1,794 new cases of COVID-19 and 20 added deaths. The data was based on more than 34,000 tests.
The Ministry of Health said 1,207 COVID-19 patients were in hospital, including 706 patients in intensive care and 504 on a ventilator.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Nicole Thompson and Denise Paglinawan, The Canadian Press