SARS – PART II – The Phone Call


It was April 2003 and Mom had been in long-term care now for 5 years. I had visited her five times a week, which included 3 weeknights and every weekend from the moment of her placement. Through the seizures, falls, and broken pelvis she was now permanently in a wheelchair, but beginning to calm and find some sort of peace. I was working as a receptionist at a Furniture store during the week so that I could take more time to visit. I guess one could say I put my life on hold to make sure she was cared for accordingly. With working full-time, keeping an eye out for Mom, and visiting, I had almost exhausted myself. My brother had his own life and visited every now and then, usually only when I would remind him, or I could not make it. I’m not sure if it was because I was the oldest, the daughter, Power of Attorney, or some other reason, but advocacy on behalf of Mom had completely fallen to me.

I was at work on Tuesday April 8th when I received a call from a nurse at the facility Mom was living. The phone rang and I answered.

‘Hi, Thanks for calling Ethan Allen, how may I help you’ I said cheerily.

‘Hello? May I speak with Paula’.

‘This is Paula’ I answered.

‘This is Woodlawn Acres*’ she said.

Immediately my heart stopped and I felt that pit in my stomach again. The majority of calls received from the facility were usually bad news; Mom had hit a PSW, Mom had fallen, Mom was agitated, Mom had an altercation with another resident, the list goes on…

But never, had I ever thought I would receive the news she began to disclose;

The conversation was one sided (her side) and it seemed she was reading it verbatim from a script in front of her. I tried to interject, but she just kept reading and finally said ‘I can’t answer your questions, this has been approved and it will happen very soon’.

What had she told me? I’m glad you asked! It seems that there would be an observation unit for suspected SARS patients set up in the day centre, which was located adjacent to the main building that was part of Mom’s facility. There was also a separate entrance. The day program had been cancelled since the outbreak so the room was not being used. The building, I was told, had been built with a separate and unique ventilation system. If a suspected SARS patient were diagnosed with SARS, it would not and could not be transmitted through the air; it would not travel into the long-term care section.

There was so much more that was said, but I cannot remember as I was in shock.

‘Really? I said sarcastically. You mean to say that suspected SARS patients from the area will be housed in the day program section of my Mom’s building and there is nothing we can do about this?’ I said as I became angrier.

‘I’m just letting you know’, she said on the other end of the line. ‘We have to make sure family members are contacted.’

Immediately she ended the conversation with ‘Thank you and good-bye’.

I gradually picked my jaw off the floor and replayed the call in my head.

Now, quietly and in my head, I began to swear like Mom had in the beginning of the disease. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I had just been told that suspected SARS patients from the area would be housed in the day centre connected to Mom’s facility. What???? I immediately stood up and tried to catch my breath. What the hell was the Administrator thinking? People were dying from SARS, no one could explain the infection, in fact, there had been more questions than answers when it came to SARS. News reports bombarded us with the cases and death tolls taken by this disease on a daily basis. And now, there was going to be a unit set up in the same building that exposed our vulnerable family members, particularly, my Mom.

And, it certainly didn’t comfort me knowing that in Oakville Ontario, 2 elderly residents died during a move from their residence to make room for SARS patients. Did they not learn from that event???

I had to do something, but what?



* Facility name has been changed.

© 2014 Paula Bilz. All Rights Reserved.



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