The family of a palliative care doctor has appealed for iPads and computer tablets to help the dying stay connected to loved ones while in hospital under Covid-19 visitor restrictions.
“No one should die without being able to reach out to the ones they love,” said Sandra Tiernan, whose husband, Dr Eóin Tiernan, is a consultant in palliative medicine at St Vincent’s and The Beacon hospitals in Dublin.
Mrs Tiernan had been distressed to see her husband, who trained as a GP in Cork before moving into palliative medicine, return from work concerned that patients were not getting to see loved ones due to Covid-19 visitor restrictions.
“So many patients have families overseas who cannot return now to say goodbye. It’s tough,” Ms Tiernan said.
“Last night, my husband told me about a young mother-of-four who couldn’t see her children.
“I could really relate to that. I have five children of my own.
"If I couldn’t see them every day at bedtime I don’t know what I’d do.
“I thought 'we have to do something'. If that mum could at least see her children every day over an iPad, she'd know that they were OK and they could see that she was OK. She should be able to do that.
"So I found an iPad in a drawer to give to that young mother and I wondered how many other people have iPads lying around, half-forgotten, in drawers.”
Ms Tiernan appealed for iPads for sick patients on a WhatsApp group with other parents at her children's' school and the message went viral.
“I’ve had people drop iPads over the hedge in Supervalue bags, I’ve had offers from the UK and all over the country, but I asked them to contact their local palliative care teams - like Marymount Hospice in Cork, or their local nursing homes.
There are so many lovely people in nursing homes who can’t have visitors. Many elderly people don’t have smartphones and phone screens are small.
“But an iPad screen is big enough to reach out and touch, it’s a presence in the room, you can have three or four-way calls and the family can chat together on it.
“Or you can check if your child has washed their teeth or see their artwork or their homework.
“This pandemic has shown us that you don’t have to be physically with someone to stay in touch, my children do school lessons and meet friends online so why not have that for palliative patients?”
Ms Tiernan said that visitor restrictions are also weighing heavily on those caring for the dying, and she hopes that the technology will help them too.
“My husband’s palliative team is working non-stop, people in his profession give until they’re empty," she said.
“It’s really tough for them to see their patients distressed without family and to not be able to hug them, or open the door and say, here’s your best friend or your sister.
"But if they have an iPad, in a way they can still bring their loved ones into that room."
Ms Tiernan said that in Ireland, death is an opportunity to collectively celebrate a person’s life, but during the Covid-19 outbreak, getting people together physically is no longer possible.
“We do death and dying in a particular way in Ireland. You make room for it.
“Death, as sad as it is, is really an opportunity to go through every emotion - not just sadness.
"When you stand around a death bed you’re crying, but you’re also laughing a lot, sharing funny anecdotes and stories, it allows the person who is dying to grasp those last few wonderful memories.
But now, with the coronavirus, people are not alone but it’s lonely.
“A lot of people want to get loved ones home to die, but that’s very hard now. And for people who are Covid positive, they may want to see people but can’t.
“So if we can’t do it the traditional way, we’ll have to find another.
“No one should die without being able to reach out to the ones they love.”
Sandra is encouraging people to contact their local palliative care teams and nursing homes to offer IT to help the isolated and vulnerable stay connected.
- Shop for essential food and household goods;
- Attend medical appointments, collect medicine or other health products;
- Care for children, older people or other vulnerable people - this excludes social family visits;
- Exercise outdoors - within 2kms of your home and only with members of your own household, keeping 2 metres distance between you and other people
- Travel to work if you provide an essential service - be sure to practice social distancing