Author: Cindy Koelbl, Integrated Telehealth Solutions, COO
Could this be your story?
It seemed so long since their last in person visit. The darn virus. No one could have predicted it would be the last time; she sure didn’t. She’s not sure what she would have done differently if she had known. Perhaps hugged him a bit tighter or longer. Fortunately, they were close and had always loved each other well. There was nothing to be settled, no apologies or regrets to discuss. But still. And what if she’d know about it also being her last interaction? She shudders at the thought and quickly gives thanks for the hospital’s decision. It had made such a difference in their lives.
Not for the first time in recent days, as she whispered gratitude for those facts, her thoughts wandered to her brother, Nick. She couldn’t reflect on those times without thinking of him and how his story was a bit different. The relationship between him and his father had been a bit more fragile. He had never been as close to their Dad. Her mind quickly recalled memories from their youth and more recently to having gathered together around the Thanksgiving table the year before, the strain in their relationship always evident. Her brother had often articulated in privacy that he felt that his accomplishments were never enough, that he was never enough. He’d comment on being unable to obtain the acceptance, the accolades that he thought he deserved from the one person whose opinion truly mattered. She recalled how just before her father’s hospitalization, when he was awarded the promotion he had sought for some time, her brother had relayed, that while he did eventually hear a half-hearted congratulations, rather than receiving praise, his father initially had focused on several questions, the answers followed by grunts and “uh huhs.” Interestingly, her father had shared his dismay at their seemingly lack of closeness as well and his despair over that same conversation. But for some reason, they struggled.
They had all been unable to visit with him throughout his entire hospitalization due to COVID. The separation had been so hard. She could only imagine how lonely, afraid, and isolated he must have felt. And her Mother…her grief of their separation was palpable each time they spoke. Her inability to deliver comfort and support to the man she had been married to for over 40 years had rendered her to the point of depression. It nearly broke her heart each time she conversed with her and thought of him. The hospital had been kind and provided intermittent updates, but all visits had been eliminated. She tried to understand but it was challenging.
So, it was no small measure of importance when the hospital communicated via a digital flyer on day twelve of
his admission after previously having been made aware that his condition was failing, that they had initiated a new Remote Visitation program and had obtained a new device called TeleVisitor™ that could be used to visit virtually. It seemed too good to be true. They had tried to connect by phone and even using someone’s tablet once before but it just hadn’t been successful. It was harder for all more than helpful. But this! She quickly and eagerly responded affirmatively to the invitation to set up a virtual visit, providing what she thought would be a day and time the entire family could “see” him. She only had to provide her name, who she’d be visiting, her phone and email. The meeting reminder popped up as a text message and arrived in her email within a minute of making the arrangements, refueling her excitement each time she read it. She forwarded the invitation to her son and his family, her daughter who was in another state in residency, her mother, and of course her brother and his family. It all sounded so easy. No apps to download, no portals to go through. They would only need a cell phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. And patience, she had decided.
She and her brother had spoken about the upcoming “visit.” They wondered if he would be able and willing to participate using remote technology. Given his hearing impairment, would he be able to hear them? And he really could do this without needing assistance? The day before the scheduled interaction, she received yet another text message, reminding her of the appointment. She was so grateful. Calendars were always full and everyone was even more busy at this time of the year; it would have been easy for someone in the family to forget.
She could hardly sleep the night before. She awoke and kept herself occupied throughout the day. Everyone had agreed to join. About an hour before the appointed time, she received the final text message reminder just as the patient representative and the digital program flyer had stated. And then it arrived. She remembers the thrill of seeing it. She and her husband gathered around their computer and she clicked on the link that had been sent to her email as well as via text. She entered a password and next thing she knew, there he was.
He looked smaller somehow, frail. She said hello, silently crossing her fingers that he would respond and sure enough, in a more weakened voice than she had last heard, he offered his unique greeting “Howdy there, sis!” and appeared to beam with delight. His entire demeanor continued to transform as each family member joined the visit. She recalled that everyone wept for joy at being reunited, shared a few key updates, and said their “I love yous.” All but her brother. She used the control to look around the room, saw all the unfamiliar gadgets and equipment, and questioned the nearly full dietary tray sitting on the bedside table. He heard each question and actively, even if sometimes with labored breath, responded, participating in the brief but precious interaction. Not wanting to wear him out, they knew their visit should be shorter, but hanging up and saying “til later” was difficult. A promise was made to ‘visit’ again soon.
He had asked to speak with my brother privately as we were leaving. It was only later I had learned that they had a quick chat – each apologizing to the other for their difficulties and expressing their love for each other. Reconciliation and peace occurred that day thanks to a simple telehealth device and two willing hearts.
The call came not quite two days later. Her dad had passed away. The family’s next “visit” would not occur as planned. It’s been a few weeks since the funeral. The loss of her dad bequeaths its grief, but she cherishes the memory and outcomes of that remote visit. What impact a hospital and a technology device had for her family, for Nick!
The virus’s effect continues to vacillate nationally. And while the vaccine will inevitably change the trajectory of the current situation, in the interim people will continue to be hospitalized. And after the virus is controlled, people will continue to be in facilities. And people will continue to be in isolation, alone, separated from family and friends, or have significant others unable to visit due to rules, distance, disability or other reasons. She hopes hospitals realize there is a simple solution ready to be accessed. A solution whose usage can make a difference, perhaps equal to or more than medication or treatment…and they can significantly help not just their patients, but their families and friends…and perhaps, in the Nick of time.
Until next time,