'We had to watch through a window to just look at her lying there taking her last breath'

Bereaved relatives tell Neil Michael the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones in Carechoice Nursing Home, Ballynoe 
'We had to watch through a window to just look at her lying there taking her last breath'

Kathleen Thompson greeting her daughter Christine Brohan and granddaughter Sarah at a window of Carechoice Nursing Home, Ballynoe, Co Cork, last summer. Three weeks ago, Christine and other family members were at a window again, unable to do anything but look on as Kathleen breathed her last.

Bereaved relatives tell Neil Michael the heartbreaking circumstances surrounding the deaths of their loved ones in Carechoice Nursing Home, Ballynoe 

Kathleen Thompson, RIP

When Christine Brohan found out her mother, Kathleen Thompson, was to get the Covid vaccine, she breathed a sigh of relief.

“This will be the end of our worries with this virus,” Christine told her 11-year-old daughter Sarah.

They were on their way back from a window visit to see the 85-year-old mother of five at Carechoice Nursing Home, Ballynoe, Co Cork. It was January 21 and they were in high spirits because she was to be vaccinated the next day.

Her mother, who suffered from dementia and had been in the home since November 2018, was in good health and was her “usual happy”.

“She was in great form,” Christine recalled. “An interesting thing happened — she called my daughter’s name. She hadn’t called my daughter’s name in ages and she adored her.

"That day she looked at my daughter and she said from the window ‘oh hello love’ and I said ‘Mum, that’s Sarah’ and she called her name.

I remember Sarah then looking up at me with tears in her eyes, and saying ‘oh Mam, she said my name, she said my name’. And that was the last time we saw her alive.

“I never thought that would be the last day. We genuinely believed this was now the end of our worries. This horrendous period in our lives was nearly over... or so we thought.”

Christine started to sob, as she struggled to continue speaking. Regaining her composure after a few moments, she said: “It wasn’t the end at all. It was the start of a nightmare. Little did we think that it was going to end the way it did.”

'Our mothers and fathers were like members of their own family': Grief-stricken relatives of those who have died said the staff at Carechoice Nursing Home in Ballynoe Co Cork would also be very upset at the deaths.
'Our mothers and fathers were like members of their own family': Grief-stricken relatives of those who have died said the staff at Carechoice Nursing Home in Ballynoe Co Cork would also be very upset at the deaths.

The end is an insight into the brutal impact the deadly virus has on how people share the last hours they will ever have with a loved one.

Kathleen was tested for Covid-19 on Friday, January 29, and the results were due that Sunday.

Nobody had called by 8pm, so Christine called the nursing home herself. It was then she found out that her mother had not only tested positive, but was so unwell she was being given oxygen and was in pain.

The staff member thought Christine knew her mother had Covid-19 and advised her to call back in the morning. When she eventually found someone to tell her what was going on, she was advised to keep her phone with her. And, just hours later, at around 7.45pm, she was called and told she might need to come to the home.

She begged to be allowed into the home, but was instead advised to “bring an umbrella”.

When she, her brothers John and Pat, and her sister-in-law Mary got to the home, they were told to go around the back and wait outside one of the windows.

They waited about 15 minutes in the pouring rain before someone came and drew the curtains to the room where her mother was and then left.

I just saw my mom laying in the bed through the window. But because of the torrential rain, we couldn’t even see properly. From what I can remember, the room my mother was in was empty except for the bed that she was lying on.

“She was not conscious. She had nobody in there with her and nobody came in to check on her. I just wanted to be there to hold her hand, kiss her.

“I feel traumatised and I will never get that image out of my head; none of us will.

We just had to watch her die through a glass window, in the wind and the rain, and just look at her lying there taking her last breath.

“I couldn’t even hold her hand and nobody was with her. Nobody went in to see her. Nobody went to check on her. It was just horrific.”

Christine said that while she could just about make out her mother’s breathing through the rain-splattered window, her breaths gradually grew slower and slower.

“Her breathing started getting slower and slower and then, in the end, with all the wind and the rain that night, we just couldn’t see properly. We kept asking, Is she gone? Is she gone?”

One of Christine’s brothers had to go to the front of the home and ring the doorbell and get a staff member to go and check if she was alive or dead.

“The staff came down straight away,” she recalled.

They came into the room and drew the curtains closed. I assume they did what they had to do, like checking her pulse. Then, moments later, they drew the curtain back again, and looked at us as if to say ‘yes, she is gone’ and they walked back out again.

Veronica Coyle, RIP

Other relatives have their own stories to tell about the last hours and days of their loved ones.

A number of complaints have been lodged. One such complaint to Carechoice was passed to the company’s senior management team on Wednesday. The complaint concerns a claim by the husband of a resident, who said he was told his wife had enjoyed a walk with a member of staff, despite the fact that she hadn’t walked for years and was a wheelchair user. 

Patrick Coyle, whose wife Veronica died on February 8, said he spent seven hours on February 1 trying to get someone in the home to tell him how his wife was. He told the company in an email that when he eventually spoke to a member of staff, they didn’t seem to know who he or his wife was, and confused her with another resident.

Mr Coyle also told the company that he had been waiting for more than two weeks for someone to explain why his wife had been moved from her room.

And he reminded them that the mother of three had tested negative for Covid on January 15 and January 23, after the first vaccine injection on January 22.

She had also remained in self-isolation in Room 2, where she had lived since she entered the home on December 24, 2016. She had not contracted the virus during the previous waves of 2020.

He told them that it was only after she was moved from her room, some time between January 23 and 30, that she caught the virus. She was moved back to her original room about four days before she died.

He also told them: “Veronica was moved back to Room 2 on Thursday the fourth. 

We came in on Sunday the seventh to say a final goodbye to Veronica and it was soul-destroying to see her in that room with none of her personal effects and family photos around her that were taken down when she was moved out and not put back up when she moved back in.

“It was a bare empty shell of a room. This was not the room we wanted our wife, mother and grandmother to die in. Sadly, Veronica died at 7.35am on Monday, February 8.

“We would like to thank the nursing staff for the care they gave Veronica over her last few days and their kindness to my family and myself when we came in to say goodbye.”

Like all the other relatives, Christine echoes this sentiment about the staff.

“You could not wish for a more professional and caring staff,” she said. “Most of them had to leave the home from the middle to the end of January because of having to self-isolate. But in the years up to that point, the care they gave was second to none.

They were just fantastic people and they will be very upset at the deaths that have happened. Our mothers and fathers were like members of their own family. They had all got to know each other so well over the years.

'I am angry because it didn’t need to happen. The Government should not have opened up for Christmas': Teresa Mulcahy and Sean Kelleher mourning Margaret Kelleher who died on February 6. 	Picture: Jim Coughlan
'I am angry because it didn’t need to happen. The Government should not have opened up for Christmas': Teresa Mulcahy and Sean Kelleher mourning Margaret Kelleher who died on February 6. Picture: Jim Coughlan

Margaret Kelleher, RIP

Teresa Mulcahy, whose mother Margaret Kelleher died on February 6, said: “I am very angry about what happened.

I am angry because it didn’t need to happen. The Government should not have opened up for Christmas.

“I am also angry because the home had since last March to be prepared for this outbreak.”

She said her mother, who had six children, 13 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren and six children.

“She was fun-loving and loved to be out and about, chatting with people,” she said. “She had a very positive outlook on life,” said Teresa. “Her big thing was that life itself was only a chance, so you might as well enjoy it.

“Things can change in the turn of a coin, so make the most of life, was her attitude.”

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