SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The toll of coronavirus in this country and around the world is being told in the numbers of people who have died, been infected, tested or quarantined and the economic cost of canceled events, vacations and travel. But there's another consequence that's harder to categorize. At least 10 residents of the Life Care home in Kirkland, Wash., have died from the virus. More may have died without being tested. Older people, including those with respiratory problems, are considered to be especially vulnerable. Family members of the residents have told reporters they've been given inadequate or an accurate information about their loved ones inside, even as they say they understand how health care workers in the home must be overworked and anxious, too.
The hardest part might be that they can't see in person, can't touch or hold the person they love who may be in pain and scared and confused as they die alone. It may be like seeing somebody drown at a distance. We are watching from the shore, not being able to do anything. Alex Stewart, whose 95-year-old grandmother lives in the nursing home, told The New York Times it is a very helpless feeling. Vanessa Phelps' 90-year-old mother lives in Life Care and has breathing difficulties. Her daughter couldn't even speak to her. She told ABC News, it's horrific. My mom being there all alone, it's just heartbreaking. And it's unacceptable what they're doing.
This may be a problem that causes anguish and outrage but has no immediately apparent solution. If families were permitted inside the home to be with their loved ones, they would likely be exposed to the virus, too, which would risk a vast increase in the number of people who could be infected. And still, it's hard to know that someone you love is dying, but you cannot give them the only comfort you can - your touch, a few loving words, your presence beside them as a kind of last thanks for all the times that they, as a parent or grandparent, brother or sister, stood beside you during the challenges and passages of life. I don't know of any statistic that can account for the number of people this virus may force to die alone, but it is one more burden to carry not only for those who may die over the next few weeks and months but their loved ones who must go on.
(SOUNDBITE OF CYESM'S "A PLACE IN YOUR MIND")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.