Couple married 62 years see each other once amid Covid restrictions

ireland
Couple Married 62 Years See Each Other Once Amid Covid Restrictions
Michael and Doloures Harrison were reunited once in seven months inside an ambulance. Photo: Louise Walsh.
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By Louise Walsh

A loving couple married 62 years have seen each other just once in seven months - to hold hands in an ambulance - after both suffered life changing injuries since March.

Dolorous Harrison (80) suffered a massive stroke while just weeks later, her husband Michael (81) was left paralysed from the neck down in a tragic fall down the stairs.

Ms Harrison had to move to a nursing home in Co Louth just before lockdown, while Mr Harrison had to be hospitalised - without any family visits due to Covid-19 restrictions.

In seven months, the Dublin couple have met once for a fleeting few moments to hold hands after Mr Harrison’s ambulance stopped at the nursing home where his wife is resident.

The family of the Harrisons have told of their devastation of nearing Christmas without any certainty of visits to see their parents at different facilities, as they call on the Government to ease regulations and allow regular visits with loved ones.

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Support groups Care Champions and Voices for the Elderly are behind a 2x2x2 campaign for two visitors, two times a week from December 2nd last, and are continuing their stance.

She’d FaceTime us numerous times a day, sobbing

"At the beginning of March, following a massive stroke and other complications, we moved our mum to a nursing facility," said the Harrison's daughter Fiona.

"As you can imagine after a brain injury, her speech and memory has been seriously affected. She can understand what you say, but her words are very limited.

"Then in the second week of March, they told us visiting was being suspended. At first my dad would drive to see her every day, sometimes twice a day to chat through the window.

"They’ve been married for 62 years and never been apart until then. We thought this would be a temporary measure and didn’t panic too much.  We could chat through the window so we could still see her. Then further restrictions put a stop to that.  My mother went from seeing someone every day to not physically seeing anyone.

"She’d FaceTime us numerous times a day, sobbing. We never knew what each call would bring. Some nights we’d have to just sit and look at her on Facetime just keeping her company so she’s not alone.

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“As time goes by, these nights get more frequent. It doesn’t get any easier. We don’t want her to think we put her in there and forgot all about her or that we don’t care.

Doloures and Michael Harrison before their life-changing injuries. Photo: Louise Walsh.

"At the end of March, my dad broke his neck in a fall down the stairs. We had gone into lockdown the night before so we weren't allowed to be with him.

"We had to sit in our cars in the early hours of the morning to find out if he was dead or alive.  Even when the hospital told us that he had no movement from the neck down and would remain that way - we still weren't allowed to see him."

The first time Mr Harrison’s children saw him was in May, when he was being transferred to another hospital and they were allowed to socially-distance at the ambulance for a few minutes.

They were also allowed a brief visit a few days later, when he developed serious complications and was moved to another hospital.

"Luckily he improved and we were allowed to go to the window to see him. So we would dive 90kms there and back to get his washing and try and catch a glimpse of him through a tinted window.

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The family managed their time to get to both parents each weekend to see them, 90 kilometres apart from each other.

Reunited

It was not until October that the couple got to see each other for a few minutes.

"My dad was being transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital and we knew the ambulance would be passing mam's nursing home, so I asked the paramedics if they could help us out by stopping for a few minutes.

"At this stage my parents hadn't seen each other for seven months.  With the help of Lifeline ambulance services, he got to say hello to my mam and hold her hand.  It was so lovely and emotional to see and we can't thank the services enough for their help and humanity.

"I haven't seen my dad since that day and I've only seen mam once for a few minutes. She has regressed a bit during the last few months.

It is soul-destroying for any family

"Having one parent in a care facility is hard enough. Having both is harder. But when you add all the restrictions, lack of updates, the distance between them, the mental emotions and lack of clarity into the mix, it is soul-destroying for any family.

“At some stage a ‘Working alongside Covid’ plan needs to be addressed for families to spend whatever time they have left with their loved ones."

Siobhan Neilan of Voices for the Elderly said: "With Care Champions, we are continuing our stance in looking for two visitors to be allowed twice a week to their loved ones in nursing homes.

"The families of the 300,000 people in our nursing homes are raising concerns on what they see is a breach in human rights.  Anyone who wants to contact us can do so through our Facebook page."

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