“It’s like being led to the gas chamber. I’m scared. I’m scared they will take me down there.”
My heart ached deeply as I read these words a local long-term care resident wrote to her granddaughter, describing the transfer of residents to her facility’s isolation rooms after testing positive for COVID-19.
“Once a week the nurse comes to my (long-term care) apartment and gives me a test for the virus,” writes my friend’s grandmother. “The worse thing after the test is the day after. They take people down the hallway from my room and that’s where they go to die.
“Now we are all scared of test day. We wait, sick to our stomachs, and are terrified we will be taken down there the next day. My friend was taken there last week, and she cried the entire walk and stopped at the door. She begged them not to take her inside. I have no idea how she is or if she will come back out.”
Mixed with those heart-rending words are wincing descriptions of loneliness and isolation.
“These days the staff don’t come in my room much. They have me stand back from the door and leave my food on a table by the door. They knock and check on me every so often.
“I miss touching people, hugging people. Never in my life have I gone so long without a hug or a handshake even. I can’t even see people smile when I tell them a joke because they have a mask on.”
Every day across America, our most vulnerable population faces this while their caretakers — the staff of nursing homes and assisted living facilities — attempt to protect them from the deadly coronavirus. Every day, they face the health risks of congregate living. Every day, they face the prospect of dying alone.
As we put on our masks and venture out to enjoy a semblance of normalcy, these long-term care residents are living with the deafening loneliness of their social isolation. No longer can they sit in common areas, interacting with their fellow residents over games, television or meals. They are barred from visitors, aside from peering through windows as their loved ones visit by cellphone.
No hugs. No type of human touch.
This has a direct impact on their health, say gerontologists. It can escalate both physical and mental decline and intensify depression and anxiety.
What does this have to do with the arts, you ask? It’s an opportunity to use our creativity to help pull these vulnerable, isolated people through the dark days of the pandemic. Simply by creating greeting cards or other small works of art to send to long-term care residents we can give them hope, help pull them through another day.
It can be as rewarding to us as it is soothing to them. It can break the monotony of our social isolation and remind us that there are people struggling much more than we are under the pandemic. Also, creativity has been proven to be beneficial to health, including helping reduce stress.
For parents, it can divert kids from the treacheries of boredom, while teaching them to give to others. For years, researchers have touted the benefits of creativity in children. Among other things, it improves concentration, helps with fine motor skills, and teaches how to communicate ideas.
Everywhere groups are forming to promote the creation of thoughtful, handmade greeting cards to help ease the virus-imposed isolation of long-term care residents. Locally, there’s Project Encouragement Cards, a private Facebook page that started after the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office made a Facebook pitch to reach out to long-term care residents during the pandemic.
If ideas for cards are needed, the Project Encouragement Cards page can help kick in the creative juices and give some examples of messages to write in cards. It just takes a click of a button on the page to join the group.
Cards don’t have to be creative masterpieces. It’s the creating and giving, not the artistic perfection, that matters. They can be made from construction or printer paper, but if you want to go all in, get some card stock from an office supply store or order it online. If you’re a scrapbooker, pull out some of those supplies. If not, create a sketch on the card or add cut paper designs or rubber stampings. They can be embellished with anything around the house — paper doilies, beads, buttons or ribbon. Let your imagination run free.
Don’t stumble on writing a sentiment in the card. It doesn’t have to be poetic or deeply inspirational. A simple “have a good day” can remind these folks that someone is thinking of them.
Whether making one or several, simply place them in an envelope with a note to facility staff that they are to be given to the facility residents who would benefit the most by receiving them. If the cards have decorations that might get damaged in the mailing process, ask that they be hand-stamped at the post office.
While the list of area nursing homes and assisted living centers is too lengthy to detail here, they can be found online by city at www.nursinghomedirectory.com/Missouri.
Don’t forget those people living in veterans’ homes. One in Mount Vernon serves this area and its address is Missouri Veterans Home, 1600 S. Hickory, Mount Vernon, Mo., 65712.