Now That You’re Out of Quarantine, Don’t Forget Thos Left Behind
Quarantine is Over
Daily, the news carries reports of another state entering Phase One of returning to normal following the massive shut-down of the country to protect the vulnerable population from the Coronavirus. At this point, I think most, if not all, states have reopened markets that are not high-risk. People are emerging from their homes to explore the outside world once again. Many are shouting, “Freedom at last, freedom, at last, Thank God Almighty, Quarantine has Passed!” However, not everyone can shout that praise.
Immunocompromised Ill Left Behind
For many caregivers, quarantine is “business as usual.” Whether a President or anyone else sets a date when people are safe to come out of hiding doesn’t matter. Because, in the world of immunocompromised conditions, quarantine is the state of ordinary life. The declaration to stay home and the warning to watch what you do, where you go, and what you touch is unnecessary because those precautions are a way of life to them. The President could have used them over the past two months to teach others how to handle being self-isolated safely. However, even though they are experts, it doesn’t make what they do any more comfortable.
Medical Conditions at High Risk for Social Interaction
Immunocompromised and autoimmune conditions are just two of many illnesses that face potential life-threatening consequences if they encounter individuals with diseases spread through touch, droplet, or airborne transmission. Those with immunocompromised conditions are particularly vulnerable because they have limited or no defense against enemy invasions by bacteria and viruses. A person with an autoimmune disease responds with an immunity defense. However, once they get the cold or flu, their body attacks itself, believing that it has become an enemy. The self-attack makes the individual much sicker and their underlying condition worse. Therefore, they must remain isolated from others continuing with the social distancing experienced by everyone over the past two months.
Knowing your life may be at risk if you visit your friends does not keep you from wanting to see them, nor does it prevent you from developing severe depression up to and including suicidal thoughts. Think of how you felt when you could not visit your friends or hug your grandchildren at Easter. Now imagine facing knowing your life will be that way for the next fifty years. They crave human connection. They want to have relationships with others- to be able to talk heart-to-heart. They want to know someone remembers them and cares enough to check-in once in a while. Their caregivers feel the same way. However, they can’t visit like everyone else visits either.
Shopping on Line
While you are now out of quarantine and able to go shopping again, the caregiver is still shopping online to reduce their risk of exposure. They even have to try on clothes at home and send them back if they don’t look right after arrival. They have to wait for things they need to arrive instead of being able to go out to get them because they can’t leave the house and leave the one under their care alone.
They can’t go to a restaurant to sit down to eat–ever. It’s always take-out. Restaurants are too crowded and germ-friendly for the transmission of airborne disease. So many events and so much fun must remain off-limits due to exposure to high-volumes of potential carriers. Fresh fruit and vegetables, shell food, and some other foods carry bacteria, parasites, and other deadly creatures that are harmless to most people but not to anyone immunosuppressed. Therefore, they can’t share in pot-luck dinners because the food preparation might not always be adequate in every case to keep bacteria away, and they can’t risk the “what if.”
In general, I don’t recommend preparing food for homebound families, usually for the following reasons:
(1) The patient or other family members may have special diet restrictions.
(2) The patient or family members may have taste preferences. Medications often interfere with how things taste.
(3) Family members may have food allergies resulting in allergic reactions.
(4) Food, high in toxic chemicals or known to harbor bacteria or insects, maybe part of the ingredients found in casseroles or other dishes. While they might not be harmful to someone healthy, they are devastating to an immunocompromised patient.
How you Can Help
1. Providing a Meal
If you want to provide a meal, ask which restaurants they like to frequent, get their take out menu, and let them select a meal from there. Then pick it up and deliver it to them. The “delivery” is the most significant benefit of your gift. Gifts, where the caregiver or patient has to go pick up the meal or product themselves, reduce the benefit of the contribution to the point of almost making them unusable due to the difficulty of leaving home.
Being a Sounding Board
Call periodically and to check-in. Ask leading questions to encourage them to talk. They have no one with whom they can share how they feel. By listening, you can help give them a connection to someone who hears their needs and cares. They need to “feel” the “touch” of another person even if through the airwaves.
Visit but with Limits
Don’t visit unless the caregiver invites you to come by, and then, don’t stay long. Don’t be offended by this. They love you and would like to be able to spend time with you, but they only have 24 hours in their day, and they need at least a 30-hour day to get everything done that they need to do. If they get a visitor, they still need to do 30 hours of work because nearly everything a caregiver does is essential and wait until tomorrow in many cases. When taking care of someone’s life, some tasks must complete every day-no exception.
Therefore, these households have strict schedules if they hope to accomplish everything necessary every day, including treatments and medications. They love your company, but to have someone stay very long means they must make up the time lost that day, and it usually gets made up by getting less sleep that night. Therefore, a good rule of thumb is to stay no more than 30-60 minutes at most–thirty minutes is probably best.
Offer to Run Errands
Whenever you’re on your way to the store, call and ask if they need you to pick up anything for them. Picking up a prescription, supplies, or a take-out-meal is one of the best presents; you can give someone stuck at home. It’s like getting a birthday present when someone offers to pick something up at the store, and you know that they don’t mind getting it and bringing it back to you TODAY.
Offer to Do Chores for Them
Offer to do chores for them. I’m sure God must give crowns in heaven to people who help the homebound. We never have time to do anything but essential, and rarely do we have extra money to pay anyone to do them for us. If you want to help someone who is homebound, offer to cut their grass, rake their leaves, take their car to be inspected, clean their house, wash their vehicles, perform repair work, and do whatever they need. If you have a church group or club looking for an outreach, here’s the perfect one. Just look for families who are homebound, they always need help, especially if they just became homebound and don’t have a network of people to call yet.
In conclusion, don’t judge them. You would be surprised how many people talk about those who are homebound to say they could get out and do more if they just would–like they know anything about their lives. Most of these conditions are invisible. You can’t look at the person and see their pain and suffering. They don’t want to look awful when they see you. Therefore, they make themselves look good and try to act healthy. They don’t want you to think they are ugly – would you want someone to think that of you? So they try to look and act their best. In return, rumors say they aren’t that sick. For shame! No one knows what goes on underneath someone else’s skin. Having lived through the experience of two months of quarantine yourself, would you voluntarily isolate yourself from the world if you did not need to do so? Therefore, can’t we trust them when they tell us that their medical condition requires them to remain at home? Would anyone who didn’t have to self-isolate do that if they didn’t have to do so? I don’t think so.
As the full-time caregiver for her disabled spouse, Donna has more than 30 years of experience providing care not only to Lynn but before him, to her daughter now in her thirties. After retiring from full-time employment as a Human Resources professional in 2018, she focuses her attention on helping support the eight members of her immediate and extended family needing caregiving support daily. Between her first career as a registered nurse and her years working in the employment world, Donna developed many skills that make her successful in problem-solving and crisis management. Her greatest desire now is to put those skills to work to help relieve some of the burden caregivers face every day.