My day started out great; my dad called to let me know he had received the first dose of the vaccine. I let out a whoop of joy! One cannot imagine the sense of relief that passed over me. As a physician and an advocate for the vaccine, it has been a struggle to see that my efforts fell short when it came to my home. My husband and I got the vaccine as soon as it came out (health care workers); my 15 year old got hers as soon as she was eligible. We have been careful during the pandemic, initially with the constant mask-wearing as well as social distancing, and later with continued efforts at ensuring our loved ones and people in the community understood the importance of getting the vaccine and following prevention measures.
We have struggled this past year; not being able to go out when we wanted, not meeting friends and family for an entire year, missing out on social events, and keeping the kids home for a year of virtual school to minimize exposure. Everything has taken a toll on both the kids and us. But we persevered and continue to do so.
What hurt me most was my inability to get my family on board. It can be frustrating and disheartening as a physician to not be able to have our loved ones understand our fears and concerns. While India raged with the delta variant in April, I felt frustration, anger, fear, and guilt. Being so far away and unable to travel was traumatic. Learning of the loss of many loved ones and friends and fearing for my family left me with sleepless nights.
It has been difficult for many to navigate the muddy waters of COVID with their elderly parents and grandparents. It is a completely different feeling of having to step in their shoes and understand their fears and allow them to accommodate the massive changes the year has brought to them in a healthy way.
There are many ways to be there for our loved ones during these tough times. Now, a year into the COVID era, after a reprieve of being able to meet loved ones after being vaccinated, the delta variant is here and causing havoc again. CDC guidelines recommend masking indoors and maintaining social distancing.
How best to care for our loved ones, near or far?
Start with your own health and care. Get the vaccine. Practice social distancing and follow CDC guidelines. While taking the vaccine protects us from COVID, one can still get infected with the more infectious delta variant; however, being vaccinated decreases the severity of the disease. Follow other precautions like washing hands, avoiding crowds and large gatherings in public settings, maintain a 6-feet distance when visiting loved ones. Remember you have to put your own oxygen mask on before reaching out to help your loved ones in an emergency.
Education about the science behind the vaccine. Vaccine hesitancy is real. Don’t dismiss and isolate loved ones if they have questions and concerns. Discuss the science and evidence behind the vaccine. How was it developed? What are the side effects? Are there long-term effects? There are some awesome videos on youtube that explain the science behind the vaccine.
Educate them on the risks of getting COVID. COVID doesn’t only mean fever or flu-like symptoms or cough; it can result in lifelong symptoms even in the healthiest of us. Being obese and elderly or immunocompromised only adds to the risk. Add to that the risk of spreading it to your loved ones as well as those around you in the community.
Social distancing, not social isolation. It is so important for our elderly parents and grandparents, and loved ones to remain in our lives. While it was imperative to have maintained complete social isolation last year, getting the vaccine has made it possible for us to visit and spend time with our loved ones, outdoors and with masks on. Current CDC guidelines now advocate you mask indoors in areas of high spread because the delta variant is more infectious than the earlier virus.
- Teach them how to use virtual platforms and schedule regular virtual meetings with grandchildren and siblings. I know my parents are not great with technology and had to learn how to navigate devices.
- Connect with parents and loved ones on a regular basis, touch base with them for their regular needs. We often forget that simple things are tedious for them, help them with their grocery and other essential needs.
- Encourage virtual doctor visits when possible; keep in touch with any changes that may not be noticeable in their daily routine; what are they eating, what is their current weight, do they sleep well, what worries them? Keep in touch with their physician for any changes in medications, ensure your loved ones are following correct instructions.
- Ensure they have an adequate stock of medicines and essential supplies.
How to manage home living situations. If different aged people or health care concerns live together, set up a plan and discuss how best to be careful. Teach children living with the elderly not to share personal items like water bottles, utensils, etc. Consideration to keep to different rooms and bathrooms for sick members should be taken into account.
Encourage learning and hobbies. As we grow older, our brains need more activity to keep them alive and working to their full capacity. Encourage new activities like puzzles and games and mindfulness sessions. Children can connect with their grandparents and read together. Relive moments, talk to them about their past and your childhood memories.
We all are learning to live our lives in the best way possible. It is difficult for us; imagine how difficult it can be for our parents and grandparents. Let us learn to parent them in the best way possible.
Faiza Khan is an anesthesiologist.
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