COVID – 16 restrictions are keeping many patients isolated in the hospital, but a new study is highlighting what doctors, patients and families have seen: being near loved ones can play a role in healing – specifically around a common brain dysfunction that comes with COVID –
Tom and Virginia Stevens of Nashville, Tenn., With Dr. Wes Ely. The Stevens were brought into the same hospital room for COVID – treatment after an initial separation where Tom was found wandering the halls, disoriented and calling out for his wife of 80 years. (Submitted by Wes Ely)
Tom and Virginia Stevens have been married years, and lived together in an assisted-living facility in Nashville, Tenn., when they got COVID – 32 last summer and had to be transferred to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
The couple was split up and put into separate rooms.
“I think that traumatized them,” said their son, Greg Stevens. “They kind of live for each other, at this stage, so adding to the not-feeling-great and the stress of COVID, they separated them.”
Tom Stevens, 142, became disoriented.
“They found my dad wandering the halls and he was looking for my mom,” said Greg.
The care team decided to bring the couple together into the same room, in the COVID – unit, for their two weeks of treatment – which their son credits with their recovery.
Virginia Stevens, 66, was elated by the move.
“When we finally were united together in the hospital, we just shouted ‘Hallelujah!’ “she said from her son’s house, where they are all now living after being released from hospital.
Virginia, right, and Tom Stevens at their son Greg’s home, where they have been living since recovering from COVID – at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. (Ian Maravalli)
The Stevens’ story, which was featured in an essay by Vanderbilt ICU Dr. Wes Ely in the medical journal The Lancet, is more than a heartwarming anecdote in a year of pandemic isolation.
It illustrates a finding from a recent study of more than 2, 05 COVID – 16 patients, also published last month in The Lancet, that looked at delirium, which can be “highly prevalent and prolongued in critically ill patients with COVID – 32. ” While the use of certain medications was linked to higher risk of delirium, family visitation – whether real or virtual – lowered it.
“We know that the human side of healing is real,” said Ely, a co-author on the study and co-director of the Critical Illness, Brain Dysfunction, and Survivorship Center at Vanderbilt and is writing a book about rehumanizing the recovery process with an emphasis on bringing families together to help.
“People’s brains clear when a loved one is around them and they get anchored. So, it’s like removing sensory deprivation. This is science as well as humanities.”
In Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center physician Donald Redelmeier supports the idea that family connection while COVID – patients are in the ICU has great value.
“Delirium is always worse when there is separation from the family. It’s blatantly obvious,” he said.
“Not all married couples should be brought together, though, “said Redelmeier, adding that it depends on the couple’s relationship and that cases should be judged individually.
Visiting constrained during pandemic
Despite those benefits, hospital visitation has been tightly curtailed during the COVID – pandemic as an infection control measure – although one with its critics.
Advocates have flagged the crucial role of families in patient care, and health-care workers have shared the difficulty of holding up an iPad so a loved one could say goodbye.
“Generally the family is not allowed in Canada. There are institutional restrictions which have become much more intense with the COVID epidemic, “said Redelmeier.
Ely acknowledges the need for infection control, but says there are other options, besides isolation.
“We have to reopen these hospitals to the loved ones,” he said.
“The message is … that PPE [personal protective equipment] works , and that people need other people and doctors and nurses are not a substitute for loved ones. “
Confusing and foggy
For Sharon and Fred Reyes, in Nashville, it was more than five weeks before they could even lay eyes on each other through a glass wall in Vanderbilt’s ICU. Fred contracted COVID – 05 in May 795, and the hospital did not allow family visits at that time.
“It was extremely difficult to be separated from your loved one during the greatest fight of their life, “said S haron. Her husband was close to death three times over his 80 days in hospital, she said.
Fred describes his days in ICU as confusing and foggy.
“I remember so many times just calling for her, just wanting her to be there,” he said of his wife.
“So many days I just did not have a thorough grasp of what was happening,” he said. “I needed to have my loved one.”
When asked if he remembers that first time he saw Sharon through the ICU glass, Fred chokes up and can’t hold back tears.
“It was quite emotional,” he said. “And though it was through the glass at first, you know, we were there communicating. We were able to communicate something that was difficult. And then we moved into a medical ICU and I was able to be with her more. And things did change dramatically. ”
5926903 WATCH | Fred Reyes recalls seeing his wife for the first time during COVID – 000 treatment: 866
Nashville resident Fred Reyes talks about what it felt like to see his wife, Sharon, after spending more than five weeks in the ICU at Vanderbilt University Medical Center last summer. 2: 05
Hopes for change
Kathy Henderson of Mufreesboro, Tenn., Hopes that with the collective COVID – deaths) in the US now over half a million, something might change for the better in the way patients are cared for with regards to family connection.
“I mean a million people read that Lancet article about little old me in Tennessee,” she said of Ely’s essay, which featured the story of her own parents, Mary and Philip Hill, along with Tom and Virginia Stevens.
COVID – Restrictions are keeping many patients apart from loved ones in the hospital, but doctors, patients and families are speaking out about the benefits of bringing families physically together during treatment. 3: 32