Sask. woman sharing mother's end of life story to show deaths are more than a number

·4 min read
From left: Patricia Lingel, her grandson Olen and daughter Carla Boisvert. Boisvert said her mother was initially able to live on her own with help from a palliative nurse coming to help, but later had to be taken to hospital. Soon after she contracted COVID-19 and died.
From left: Patricia Lingel, her grandson Olen and daughter Carla Boisvert. Boisvert said her mother was initially able to live on her own with help from a palliative nurse coming to help, but later had to be taken to hospital. Soon after she contracted COVID-19 and died.

(Submitted by Carla Boisvert - image credit)

A Saskatoon woman wants people to remember that the deaths listed in the daily COVID-19 updates are all real people.

Carla Boisvert's mother died after contracting COVID-19 in a hospital in Saskatoon. Now Boisvert is hoping people follow restrictions on gatherings, because other people's lives are at risk.

"What hit me, was when I read that a person in their 60s died in the Saskatoon zone and I was like, 'That's my mom.' And she had no name, she was just a number," Boisvert said. "We can't forget these are people that didn't need to die."

In Saskatchewan, 350 people had died after contracting COVID-19 as of Feb. 12. The province has had more than 26,000 known cases since the start of the pandemic and more than 180 people are in hospital with the virus.

Submitted by Carla Boisvert
Submitted by Carla Boisvert

Boisvert, 38, said her mother, Patricia Lingel, was a nurse for 25 years in the city before retiring.

"She was someone who was always thinking about other people," Boisvert said. "I always felt like she treated every patient with a lot of compassion and dignity."

Lingel was diagnosed with Stage 4 appendix cancer in October 2016. The cancer had spread, but specialists in Calgary were able to operate. Doctors removed multiple inner organs, including her uterus, appendix, diaphragm and colon, gave her an ostomy bag and extended her life.

"We were very grateful because otherwise it would have been months right off the bat," Boisvert said. "She lived fairly pain free and normal for a while."

Submitted by Carla Boisvert
Submitted by Carla Boisvert

In February 2020 the cancer had returned and Lingel had a second surgery. Boisvert said it was tough wanting to see her mother, but also wanting to protect her as she was high-risk for infection. The family was able to safely have distanced visits throughout the summer.

Lingel was able to live at home with regular visits from palliative nurses, but Boisvert said staffing shortages started to compromise her mother's care. She blames the pandemic.

"If a nurse gets exposed [to the virus], then they have to be on the two-week quarantine. And so there were some days when no one could come. And in my mom's case, it meant some days she was literally sitting in her own filth," Boisvert said, adding that her mother needed specialized care for her bandages and ostomy bag.

In the end, Lingel had to be taken to St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon.

On Jan. 6, 2021, Lingel went to the emergency room. She was tested for COVID-19, as is the hospital's protocol, and was admitted after a negative result. While waiting for a palliative bed, there was a COVID-19 outbreak on Lingel's ward.

Lingel tested positive in the second round of testing. Boisvert, her one-year-old daughter and Boisvert's stepfather were all exposed and put into isolation.

"In terms of her cancer… they said maybe we're looking at weeks to months, but as soon as she got COVID, it was days."

There is no question in my mind that this virus and her ability to fight it shortened her life. - Carla Boisvert

Boisvert said the virus made her mother's symptoms escalate. She had a fever, and was agitated and delirious to the point where she had to be restrained and sedated, Boisvert said.

"That's the virus, that's what it did to her system, so it went from being symptoms we could manage to symptoms we couldn't," she said. "We would have had a more peaceful, drawn out ability to sit with her and talk with her."

Submitted by Carla Boisvert
Submitted by Carla Boisvert

Lingel took a turn for the worst. Boisvert and her step-father were given special exception permits to see her while wearing full PPE on Jan. 21. Lingel died later that day.

"There is no question in my mind that this virus and her ability to fight it shortened her life."

More resources needed for strained health system

Boisvert said she wants people to remember that sacrifices they might be making are small in the bigger picture. When people host parties, or unsafely gather, there's a ripple effect, she said.

"A strained system, understaffing, overworked, exhausted workers. They're getting sick. And they're doing their very best," Boisvert said. "She shouldn't have gotten COVID in the hospital.… This is a sign of just how much strain everything is under."

Submitted by Carla Boisvert
Submitted by Carla Boisvert

Boisvert said there's also a need for more hospice beds. She said there were only 20 beds in total when her mother was reaching the end of her life and her mother didn't qualify.

She encourages people to support the St. Paul's Hospital Foundation and the Saskatchewan Cancer Association and advocate for improvements to the health-care system.

"If we don't care, if we don't vote or or support that system, then when we need it, it won't be there. And we're all going to need it at some point," Boisvert said. "It failed my mom."