Javier Martinez had just removed his face shield and mask when a woman suddenly appeared in the room and approached him. The woman was a resident of the memory care wing of the seniors’ residence where Martinez was working. She was also positive for COVID-19. “It happened so fast and I remember thinking, ‘it’s highly probable that I’ve got COVID,’” recalls Martinez, a registered nurse and the father of five. He was right.
Martinez is a clinical leader in the supportive living section at St. Marguerite Manor, a Covenant Care home in northwest Calgary. Two residents at that facility died in the second wave of the global pandemic declared in 2020. Martinez, however, was infected in Edmonton. He was there in November 2020 to provide support in a seniors’ care home hit much harder by the second wave of the pandemic. In addition to several deaths and widespread infection, many staff at that home were infected and unable to work.
While his first test was negative, Martinez developed body aches and a headache soon after his return to Calgary. The nurse knew he had COVID-19 well before the second test yielded a positive result. By then, he and his wife Colette had already discussed what they would do to keep the family safe. They did what they could to keep their kids, ages 13 to three, away from their dad. Still, the oldest and youngest, two of their three daughters, were infected. Both children weathered the virus well. “We were fortunate,” says their dad.
A culture of care
More than a year after the pandemic began, vaccinations and the careful of use of PPE (personal protective equipment, like masks) have imbued Martinez’s view from the front lines with a great deal of hope. In the early days, “there was a lot of uncertainty because it was brand new and we had to deal with a lot of changes. Provincial orders from the Chief Medical Officer of Health changed often, sometimes daily. One of the most dramatic shifts was the move to restrict visitors. That was really tough. Some of our residents have large families who are very close. I had to explain the health rules to many people and because these were mandated changes, we didn’t have much flexibility. This was very tough on residents and their families.”
Careful adherence to the rules definitely kept people safe, says Martinez. Only one resident and a few staff at St. Marguerite Manor contracted COVID-19 in the first wave. The second wave was harder, but by then, something else was also at work. He says some residents talked openly about having lived good lives. They were not afraid to catch the virus and die. What they did not “want was to be the person who brought the virus into the manor. That care for other people was very strong.”
Now that residents and most staff are fully vaccinated, life at the manor is more relaxed. Visitors are allowed in after screening and as of June 1, staff no longer have to wear face shields over their masks. “It’s amazing to see how things have changed for seniors in supportive living and long-term care because of the vaccinations,” says Martinez.
Looking back, Martinez thinks about what the pandemic has taught him as a Catholic man, nurse, husband and father. He knows the people he works with were negatively impacted when denied access to family and friends. He also knows many of them weathered the storm with grace.
“I guess I think about how we’re called to serve our neighbours—and to serve the best interests of our neighbours,” says Martinez. A parishioner at St. Gerard’s parish in Calgary, he also thinks about how the Catholic community supported that part of the gospel message. As he sees it, sometimes service is as simple as doing what’s best for others.
Written by Joy Gregory for Faithfully
Photos courtesy of Javier Martinez
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers