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‘Life doesn’t end when you enter long-term care’: Residents complete book trilogy during COVID-19

Long-term care residents Diana Van Geffen, Heather Graham and Loretta Scutchings completed a trilogy of novels during COVID-19. Supplied

Heather Graham has always loved books.

“Ever since I could read. In fact, I wanted to be a librarian,” the Calgary woman says.

Life, however, had other plans. Eight years ago, Graham became a resident at Carewest Garrison Green, a Calgary long-term care facility for seniors and adults with disabilities.

“(My disability) is related to MS (multiple sclerosis). I lost my ability to not only walk but I lost my ability to stand.”

Graham’s mind, however, remains sharp and until last year, she maintained an active social life as well.  COVID-19 shut all of that down.

“All through the winter, we haven’t been able to see anybody,” she said. “A couple of times, if some of the staff had become infected, we had to all be tested, and then we’d be confined to our rooms for 14 days.”

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Read more: Alberta easing COVID-19 restrictions at continuing care facilities

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, between March 1, 2020 and Feb. 14, 2021, more than 2,500 care homes across the country had a COVID-19 outbreak, resulting in the deaths of over 14,000 residents and close to 30 staff members. About 80,000 residents and staff members have been infected. In an effort to keep residents safe, many facilities adopted strict safety protocols.

Cut off from their family and friends, Graham took comfort in the friendship of two fellow residents and their shared love of books. At first, Graham, Diana Van Giffen and Loretta Scutchings formed a book club but with the help of a recreational therapist, the women started to write a story of their own.

“We wrote the first book and there was a few cliffhangers in there and I said to the girls… we could actually do another book.”

The women describe the books as mysteries set in the past. The trio began writing together in 2018, unaware the fictional world they were creating would become a place of refuge; an escape from the frightening reality that would surround them with COVID-19.

Read more: Ontario long-term care ministry makes move to ease mounting strain on hospitals

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“We spent a lot of time together this past year because we couldn’t go anywhere else. We couldn’t see anybody so it gave us all kinds of time to devote to the last book,” Van Geffen said.

That book, Changes in the Mist: A Fictional Memoir of New Petrograd, is available along with the other two in the trilogy on Amazon and Kobo but the women hope they tell another story too.

“(The books) gave us a chance to show that we’re not just wasting away here,” Van Geffen said. “Long-term care isn’t the end, you still get to live.”

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