I am a critical care nurse with more than twenty years’ experience, my husband is an emergency consultant physician, and we had a blended, multigenerational family, including my elderly father, staying in our house. Life wasn’t perfect before COVID, but it was all pretty normal.
That changed within the course of weeks. One day we were all living our lives, and the next I saw a woman panic-buying bags and bags of rice, dog food, dried goods and toilet paper at my local Woolworths. COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, was in the news, and there was talk of lockdowns.
Then things changed for us.
Walking around to the back of the house at the end of a shift, removing our scrubs at the back door in the garden and throwing our clothes in the wash. In the dark after a late shift, in the cold morning after a night shift, wet cobwebs and morning dew on our scrubs around our feet. Showering in the laundry.
Contact with my husband’s children ceased because they feared that one of us would bring the virus home with us. Fair enough. We were scared too.
My eldest daughter lived five minutes away from us and continued to study nursing at university, but she couldn’t come home anymore.
We sent my youngest daughter away to live, time indefinite, with our long-time close friends who had children the same age as ours where she could study online, away from the risk of being near either of us.
My husband and I updated our wills in case we died.
My elderly dad was still living with us. I took him his coffee and breakfast one morning and I tried to give it to him without coming too close. I had been at work and had had some contact with our first few COVID patients and I felt like I was shedding the Black Death.
I reached over to hand him his coffee but I kept the furthest distance I could without bringing harm to him. He was missing the basic human need of touch since COVID had begun and said, ‘You don’t have to stay away. I don’t care if I catch it.’
He then grabbed my hands and pulled me closer and I burst into tears. ‘But I care, Dad.’
He was so old, so frail. I had taken a photo of him sleeping in the lounge and he looked grey and pale.
I had a plan to keep Dad safe. He needed to move home, away from us. I spent the afternoon on the phone organising home-care showers and meals on wheels.
I then took him back to his own home, an hour and a half away, and I made sure everything was in place so he would be safe and well cared for.
I worked on the Friday and I got many missed calls. My aunt rang to tell me that Dad was behaving strangely and was calling everyone to say goodbye. He was in good spirits and chirpy.
My husband said the following morning, ‘We need to go and see him.’ Something was amiss.
When we arrived at his home, Dad was in his room, in his bed. He had been stuck in bed all day. He was exhausted and had fallen the day before. He had put himself to bed and called everyone.
He was usually able to walk but today something had changed. He announced, almost resigned, ‘I’m dying’ and then collapsed. We called an ambulance.
Dad died within four hours of us getting to him and only four short days after I had returned him to his home, frightened we were going to kill him with COVID because of our jobs.
It wasn’t COVID. He had had a massive heart attack, but the stress and change of being back home alone definitely made things worse.
We went back to work. I went back with terrible grief. I still haven’t had a funeral for my dad. His ashes are in an urn. He wanted to ‘live with us’ after he died and he will be with us until the time comes to let him go.
I hope I made him proud.