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Florida Woman Takes Job At Memory Care Facility To See Husband During Pandemic


Mary Daniel used to visit her husband Steve every day at his assisted living facility in Jacksonville, Fla. Steve has Alzheimer's and moved into a memory care unit last summer. Then, of course, the pandemic hit this year, and Mary Daniel couldn't see her husband in person. The separation took its toll until she found a compromise. Mary Daniel took a part-time job cleaning and washing dishes at the facility in exchange for some time with her husband. We reached Mary Daniel in Jacksonville. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARY DANIEL: Thank you so much.

SIMON: Could you tell us first a little bit about Steve?

DANIEL: Steve was diagnosed seven years ago at the age of 59. He was a career salesman, so he traveled quite a bit, sold orange juice out of Florida - and just really full of life and enjoyed being with other people.

SIMON: What was it like going from daily visits to not knowing when you might ever get to see him again?

DANIEL: It's been devastating. I went every night after work to get him ready for bed. We'd lay into bed and just hold hands and watch television. And he would literally drift off to sleep. And it was really our routine. It was a real great way for us to connect every single day and for him just to end every day on that peaceful note. And I did that on March 10. And they called me on March 11. And they said, you can't come back.

SIMON: And could Steve understand that?

DANIEL: Has absolutely no understanding of it at all. All he knows is that I am gone. We did do two window visits. Incredibly painful. He cried both times.

SIMON: Oh, my God.

DANIEL: And on Father's Day, that was our last one. I decided that I'm not going to do this again. It's just too hard on him and - which is an incredibly difficult decision for a wife to make, that I would prefer not to see him or him not to see me over the hurt that it causes because of the confusion.

SIMON: So how did you get this idea to make yourself a part of the life of the home, to be able to see your husband?

DANIEL: I had originally asked at the very beginning, is there anything that I can do. Can I volunteer? Can I - I mean, there's got to be something. Can I get a job? What can I do? And they sort of said, let's just kind of see how this is going to work. I mean, at that point, obviously, in March, we're thinking 30 days. You know, we're - that everything's going to be back to normal, everything's going to be fine. And as time went on, I started getting a little bit more vocal trying to contact the governor's office. The local news heard about it. And I am incredibly blessed that his facility, Rosecastle at Deerwood, also heard the stories. Their corporate office out of North Carolina called me completely out of the blue, actually, three weeks ago today and said, we understand that you might be interested in employment at our facility. And I said, yes, as a matter of fact, I am. And they said well, we have a part-time job available if you'd like it. It's a dishwasher. And I said, I'll take it.

SIMON: So what are your days like it at the facility now and seeing your husband?

DANIEL: I go on Thursdays and Fridays. So I get to go tonight. I'm excited to go wash some dishes because I know what the reward - the reward is not the hourly rate, although I appreciate them actually paying me. The reward is after. I will go in and work a couple hours. I will do the dinner dishes, get the kitchen really ready, mop the floors, clean the grill, take the garbage out. And then I get to go and spend a couple hours with him. And we fall - we have fallen right back into our routine. I have already seen a difference in the anxiety level of him knowing not only that I'm there right now but that I'm coming back.

SIMON: And I gather you're trying to help other people do this, too.

DANIEL: I am. That's really the bigger purpose. I'm thrilled that I'm there, but I have found - I started a Facebook page called Caregivers for Compromise - Because Isolation Kills, Too. And the response has been enormous. I have about 5,000 members right now. And we do believe there are ways that we can get to them. For example, outdoor visits, clean room visits with full PPE. We can be tested. I'm going to be tested today before I go in. I'm going to get a rapid test. I'm doing that just optionally every week just to be certain. The problem is we have isolated these people to save their lives, but the isolation is going to kill them. They need hugs. They need interaction. Brains without that wither and die. And not only do they die. They die alone. And we have to do better than this. We have to.

SIMON: I have to say, Miss Daniel, you and Steve sound like loved ones indeed.

DANIEL: I promised him when he got his diagnosis that he would never be alone. I promised him so that he also knew he would never walk this road alone, that I would be there holding his hand every second of the way. And I have not been able to do that for four months. And there are thousands of people just like me who've made the same promise. And that's why we're going to continue to fight.

SIMON: Mary Daniel of Jacksonville, Fla., Thank you so much for being with us. And our best to Steve. Our best to both of you.

DANIEL: I'm going to see him tonight. I'm very excited. I'm going to turn my phone off, and I'm just going to lay in bed with him and watch a little TV. I can't wait. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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