Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak at Langley Lodge has proved “one of the most challenging,” in a May 25 press briefing.
Specifically, it has been difficult to ensure residents living with dementia are “wearing masks and staying in their rooms,” Henry detailed.
That’s a part of the tragedy at Langley Lodge, she said – the struggle to contain the spread of a life-threatening disease among patients who crave constant connectivity.
It’s a tragedy the daughter of 88-year-old resident Verna Clarke – who died on May 11 from COVID-19 – is reminded daily of, as infection numbers climb.
Lori Humphrey said that for her mother, Verna, the onset of dementia brought about an increasing sense of restlessness within her.
“For years she lived with me, our husband, and our four kids,” Humphrey explained, “We would all come home and things would have happened.”
Before moving into Langley Lodge four years ago, there were times Verna had invited strangers into her daughter’s yard, thinking they were related.
“At times she wouldn’t have eaten even though she said she did,” her daughter added.
A great grandmother of 12, grandmother of 22, and mother of 13, Verna was already someone with an equal measure of stubbornness and love in her blood, Humphrey said.
It was that same sense of exuberance that afforded her a rich later years at Langley Lodge, when her children felt she needed around-the-clock care.
“We’d come to visit her and she’d never be in her room,” her daughter recalled fondly, “She was always out in the dining hall.”
It was there that she met Ron, one of the only other seniors on her floor as agile as she.
For more than a year, Verna and Ron danced to Elvis’ music. They dreamt up a new life, Humphrey said, as well as a past – their stories replaced the memories neither of them were able to dig up since dementia took its toll.
“I’d go into her room and she’d have pictures of her and him, and his family up on the wall,” Humphrey recalled seeing, among Elvis photographs and memorabilia.
“He did everything for her,” she said.
And when Verna became too stubborn to use a wheelchair to get around the care home, he’d push her in one. Six months ago, Ron died in his sleep.
The last time Humphrey was able to visit her mother, before the outbreak, was in November. By then, Verna didn’t recognize her child sitting right in front of her.
“That was the hardest day I think,” the daughter said, not knowing the facility would be closed to the public just a few months later in response to a pandemic-level threat.
May 7, two days shy of Mother’s Day, Humphrey found out that her mother tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
She was told Verna had been in close contact with the Langley Lodge staffer who first contracted the virus, and spread it asymptomatically.
At that time, only three seniors at Langley Lodge were confirmed to have the disease.
“When we called, the nurses said she seemed OK,” Humphrey said.
But by the time the family brought the 87-year-old flowers for Mother’s Day on May 10, Verna was in critical care, drifting in and out of consciousness.
“I love you mom” were the last words the daughter ever spoke to her mother, as she battled COVID-19.
Verna died May 11, her 88th birthday. She was born the same day in 1932.
“It was almost like she waited for Mother’s Day and part of her birthday to pass away,” the daughter said.
“It was almost like she wanted to hear my voice.”
Humphrey still recalls the days when her mother lived with her and they’d tackle crossword puzzles side-by-side.
Or when Verna would sneak in a visit to see her daughter at Save-On-Foods, where she worked.
Or, how Verna often played hide-and-seek with her grandchildren, and later accused them of bending the rules.
“That’s exactly her,” the daughter remarked, “I think of her every day.”
The COVID-19 outbreak at Langley Lodge has proved the most deadly of all those in B.C. care homes since the pandemic was declared early March.
Twenty-two residents have succumbed to fatal complications from the disease, most were seniors living with dementia on floors two and three, confirmed CEO Debra Hauptman.
On Monday, another one of its residents tested positive for the coronavirus.