Every afternoon, David Castillo heads to the Comprehensive Care Center to visit his mother, Rosie.
Rosie, 86, has been a resident for more than a year and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. The onset of COVID-19 and the sudden suspension of all visitors to the skilled nursing facility – even for family members -- has not stopped his routine.
David still arrives at the CCC every day and visits his beloved mother – but now they’re separated by a glass window. “It broke my heart,” David said of learning about the Public Health Officer order prohibiting visits. “I was expecting it though. It was like a hit to the head.”
When David tapped on the glass or called out “Mom” to Rosie, she appeared to notice him. At one point, she responded to his wave. “This is harder than it’s ever been before,” he says. “I can see her, but I can’t touch her. I can’t hug her. I can’t give her kisses.”
David acknowledges that he’s one of the millions of people experiencing changes in his life due to COVID-19. “We all just to have hope,” said David, who works for COLT transportation in Lompoc.
David is an only child. “She’s the only one I have,” the 56-year-old said.
Throughout his visit one afternoon, David tapped on the glass and called out “Mom” and “I love you.” Though there’s a barrier to their visits, he said he appreciates that he’s still allowed to come to the CCC.
“It’s meant everything in the world to me,” he said. “The only thing keeping us apart is the window. I can see her every day. I’m happy with any time I get with her.”
CCC Activities Director Michele Hunt said it’s essential to keep residents connected with the outside world despite the pandemic and “No Visitor” policy.
“This is important not only for our residents but for their family and friends who care and worry about them,” she said. CCC staff also offer Skype and Google Duo visits for out-of-town families or those unable to get to the facility.
When George Sartori arrived at the CCC one afternoon for a visit, 85-year-old Raymond Mantovani was waiting in a wheelchair inside the building. “You’re OK in there,” George yelled through the glass. “It’s the outside that’s not good. Right now, you’re safe in there.”
George and Raymond are not brothers by heritage but through four decades of love and friendship. George, 75, calls Raymond his brother. He’s been caring for the older man for about 40 years, after being taken in “like a son” by Raymond’s mother following his divorce. Raymond is autistic and was never able to live on his own.
The two men have traveled to Italy four times and moved to Lompoc from their home state of Massachusetts five years ago. George often speaks Italian to Raymond through the glass, as the older man laughs and replies in return.
“Of course, I consider him a brother,” George says. “Most of my life, I spent with him. I look after his interests.” Raymond became very ill earlier this year and underwent surgery. He is recuperating at the CCC.
“I’m so thankful,” George says. “This place is the best place for him.” George, who used to teach comparative literature at Boston College, visits Raymond three times a day, at mealtime. With the pandemic, he’s scaled it back to twice a day.
His brother, George says, looks wonderful now. “He’s so happy,” George says. “The nurses are fantastic. The best thing I can say is they are all wonderful.”
Sometimes, Raymond becomes distressed emotionally. “The only thing he needs is to see me,” George notes. “As soon as he sees me, he calms down.”