The other day, my father and I finally ventured into the healthcare clinic for a routine blood test. After living through three months of government and then self-imposed quarantine, I finally felt comfortable enough to interact with my father in a medical setting.
In general, I have not been so impressed with Israeli health care professionals’ medical hygiene habits since moving to this country. I was a bit afraid about what I would find now, in light of the new stringencies regarding masks, handwashing, and keeping at least 1.5 meters apart when possible.
As we entered the clinic, I saw an automated hand sanitizer. Good first impression. I was told we needed to print out a number in the machine to get in line for the blood test. I put my gloves on, ready to press a public screen. No go. It’s a touch screen. Gloves and knuckles don’t work. Okay, touched, hands sanitized again. Back to waiting for the technician.
We go in. My father sits down. Workers wearing gloves, good. Already a step in the right direction. She checks something on her phone, taps in something on the keyboard, and then proceeds to choose the equipment to take my father’s blood. Mmm, I think. It kind of defeats the point of gloves if you’re touching your personal items and then him, with the same gloves.
I politely ask her, “Would you mind changing your gloves?” She gives me a confused look. “You change gloves?” She asks. “No.” I repeat, “could YOU change your gloves? “Oh,” she answers, and then silently adds a pair of gloves over her existing gloves and gets to work. Interesting, but doable, solution.
Next, we need to go pick up my father’s medication in the mall. The guard diligently points his temperature gun at my head and then motions for me to put my bag down to be checked. Having watched the guard check the three people’s bags before me, I kindly asked him if he were going to put on gloves first. He waved us through, without touching my bag.
My point is that, for the near future, masks, social distancing, and less physical contact are going to be our best ways to reduce infection with COVID-19. Overall, the illness has a 2 percent mortality rate, which does not sound too bad, but 80% of the deaths are in the elderly. I do feel responsible for my parents’ health, meaning I know that I cannot prevent all illness from happening, but I can reduce their risk of contracting an illness that has a high chance of killing them, to put it bluntly.
The question is, how far do I go to reduce risk? Do I not take my parents out in public at all? Do I limit their contact with their grandchildren? Do I make everyone stay six feet away from them? These questions are challenging because I also think that social isolation and lack of physical touch can be just debilitating over time as a serious illness.
So, in order to reduce risk, but still maintain a life, I’ve come to some conclusions of how to behave:
- I don’t hug my parents, and try to make sure I wash my hands before every interaction I have with them.
- I have them in my house, but I ask the kids not to kiss, hug them, or sit next to them.
- We do have meals together, but I try to be the only one to serve them and make sure I’ve washed my hands first.
- I’ve tried to reduce the number of appointments we have, but if we need to go, I wear gloves, we, obviously, both wear masks, and I make sure people interacting with them are wearing masks and gloves or standing six feet apart.
I have to admit that the last one is the most difficult because, at the end of the day, I feel like a disliked police officer, neither term I’d like to define me. I believe that, in general, this will be Israel’s challenge in the coming year, maintaining these social distancing measures adequately, without making people who are keeping them feel as if they were unhinged germophobic zealots.
I don’t know if I am being too strict, or not strict enough, regarding my parents and COVID-19 infection, but I think that, for now, this is the best I can do.
If you’d like to learn more about the emotional and practical aspects of caring for elderly parents in Israel, join Tamar Meisels, me, Aviva Yoselis, and the Caregivers Association of Israel for a FREE webinar, on Wednesday, June 24, 2020, at 5 pm where we discuss issues related to the care of our parents and how to cope with them.