As a rescue squad took Anne DeBord out of her house, she had instructions for her husband, Ted.
He needed to shut off her sewing machine.
Although battling Stage 4 breast cancer, Anne DeBord was spending her time sewing cloth masks to help keep people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is one of many memories the Fremont man has of his spouse he describes as an outgoing person, who enjoyed sewing and was a great mother to their son, James.
DeBord has wonderful recollections, but one memory is heartbreaking.
He didn’t get to spend the last moments of his wife’s life with her.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, health care providers across the nation restricted visitor access as they faced the daunting task of trying to keep the virus from spreading while wrestling with health restrictions and policies that changed daily.
Health care workers sought to provide the physical presence that families couldn’t and many news outlets told painful stories of family members unable to share final moments with a dying loved one.
It’s pain DeBord understands.
“Anne—dying alone, no family with her, nobody to hold her hand, nobody to tell her that she was loved. That is something we all need to hear. That was the hardest part of her dying, I wasn’t there with her,” he said. “I needed to see her one last time.”
The DeBords relationship began simply.
They met on a blind date in 1986 and married in on July 17, 1998.
Anne DeBord enjoyed working with elderly people. She was a nurse aide at Arbor Manor and Dunklau Gardens for 25 years and Pro Med Care in Fremont.
“She got very, very good reports from family members on how well she took care of them,” her husband said.
Anne loved to sew. She made her own clothes for work and quilts, blankets and wall hangings. She was sewing masks right before she went to the hospital.
She was a giving person and family oriented.
DeBord loved many things about his wife.
“She was one of the strongest women I knew,” he said. “She had her faith in God and was an exceptionally great mother.”
Family members miss her calling and singing them “Happy Birthday” on the phone.
“I miss watching TV with her,” DeBord said. “We had some of our favorite shows we watched together.”
They watched the comedy “King of Queens” and the “Family Feud” game show and crime shows she enjoyed.
DeBord collects record albums.
Every Saturday night, they’d watch some television and then listen to music.
“I don’t do that anymore,” he said. “I miss that.”
Longtime friend, Cherrie Beam-Callaway, who was unable to spend the last moments with her sister, Kathy Moll, at another facility would write about the DeBords’ experiences.
Anne battled cancer for 3 ½ years, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
DeBord said his wife just didn’t bounce back from her last chemotherapy treatment.
“We decided to stop as treatments were making her weaker. She couldn’t even get out of the house unless I drove her,” he said.
On April 28, she fell in the house.
“I was outside,” he said. “When I came in and found her on the floor, it was difficult to pick her up. She was weak. I tried to get her to stand with her walker, but she couldn’t.”
DeBord said his wife injured her shoulder and they thought her hip was broken. He put her on the couch and called a friend, whose daughter, a nurse, called them.
She thought that Anne might have had a stroke. He was told to call a rescue squad.
“When they took her out the door, I was told to go to the emergency room,” DeBord said. “That’s the last time I ever saw her.”
After DeBord reached the hospital, he was told to wait for a call at home. He was called and told his wife was weak and couldn’t walk.
“Luckily, I had given her the cellphone when the squad took her. She was able to call me several times that night. Anne told me she tried to talk hospital staff into letting me come see her. She knew she was on her way out. She weighed 100 pounds, if that,” DeBord said.
He didn’t hear the phone when the hospital called.
“They called Anne’s mom and told her,” DeBord said. At 3:30 a.m., the call came. I was told she passed out and died. They said they tried to revive her, but her heart stopped. I was lost, in shock.”
Anne was 60 years old.
DeBord woke their 21-year-old son and broke the news.
The father and son cried together.
He said his son is hurting, too.
“The hard part is that she was so family oriented. To have her die by herself was devastating,” DeBord said. “I just wish I could have been with her when she died. That part still bothers me. There’s no way anybody should die by themselves.”
DeBord said he understands the rules.
“I would have done anything to be able to see her,” he said. “I would have worn anything just so I could spend a couple minutes with her. I know that was against the rules and it’s not really anybody’s fault, but it shouldn’t be that way.”
About a month after Anne’s death, her husband had a heart attack.
“I think the pressure just got to me,” he said. “Annie died and then 13 days later her sister died of the same thing and then Kathy Moll, Cherrie’s sister, died. Kathy did my taxes for 33 years and we were good friends also. I think everything just hit me.”
He is recovering slowly and DeBord now thinks people are able to spend last moments with a loved one.
Brett Richmond, president and chief executive officer of Methodist Fremont Health, talked about health measures in a prepared statement.
Richmond said a decision was made very early in the pandemic to do everything possible to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect patients, staff and visitors.
Realizing a no-visitor policy would be challenging, they encouraged phone calls, traditional cards and FaceTime.
“We wanted to be as accommodating as possible as we continued to navigate the ever-evolving situation,” Richmond said. “We know this meant that some of our patients were alone at critical stages of their health care journey. And after the initial surge in positive cases and as we had more confidence in safety protocols, we were able to make compassionate exceptions to this policy in end-of-life and other situations as appropriate.”
Richmond commends staff for extending compassion in difficult situations.
“As we have learned more about COVID-19, our visitor policies have eased,” Richmond said. “Our current policy allows one visitor per patient, except for those in isolation or a resident of Dunklau Gardens. Visitors must be screened upon entrance, wear a mask at all times, and stay in the patient’s room. Extraordinary circumstances are considered on a case-by-case basis.”
Chaplain Scott Jensen said everyone on the caregiving team has done an extraordinary job working to be compassionate caregivers.
“We have done everything that we can realistically, possibly do to try to make those last moments of individuals’ lives the very best can possibly they be,” Jensen said. “Together, we have shared laughter. We have shed tears and we have experienced tremendous joy in knowing that somehow, together we have all made a little bit of a difference for good and that is the most amazing reward for the work that we are privileged and honored to do.”
The loss remains for family members as they embark on a grief journey.
DeBord and his son talk about the things they miss about the woman who was a wife, mother and daughter — someone who’d spend her last day at home making things to help others.
And who wanted to make sure the sewing machine was shut off.
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