The article you just read was brought to you by a few thousand dedicated readers. Will you join them?

Thanks for coming by The Tyee and reading one of many original articles we’ll post today. Our team works hard to publish in-depth stories on topics that matter on a daily basis. Our motto is: No junk. Just good journalism.

Just as we care about the quality of our reporting, we care about making our stories accessible to all who want to read them and provide a pleasant reading experience. No intrusive ads to distract you. No paywall locking you out of an article you want to read. No clickbait to trick you into reading a sensational article.

There’s a reason why our site is unique and why we don’t have to rely on those tactics — our Tyee Builders program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip in a bit of money each month (or one-time) to our editorial budget. This amazing program allows us to pay our writers fairly, keep our focus on quality over quantity of articles, and provide a pleasant reading experience for those who visit our site.

In the past year, we’ve been able to double our staff team and boost our reporting. We invest all of the revenue we receive into producing more and better journalism. We want to keep growing, but we need your support to do it.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
Canada needs more independent media. And independent media needs you.

Did you know that most news organizations in Canada are owned by just a handful of companies? And that these companies have been shutting down newsrooms and laying off reporters continually over the past few decades?

Fact-based, credible journalism is essential to our democracy. Unlike many other newsrooms across the country, The Tyee’s independent newsroom is stable and growing.

How are we able to do this? The Tyee Builder program. Tyee Builders are readers who chip into our editorial budget so that we can keep doing what we do best: fact-based, in-depth reporting on issues that matter to our readers. No paywall. No junk. Just good journalism.

Fewer than 1 in 100 of our average monthly readers are signed up to be Tyee Builders. If we reach 1% of our readers signing up to be Tyee Builders, we could continue to grow and do even more.

If you appreciate what The Tyee publishes and want to help us do more, please sign up to be a Tyee Builder today. You pick the amount, and you can cancel any time.

Support our growing independent newsroom and join Tyee Builders today.
We value: Our readers.
Our independence. Our region.
The power of real journalism.
We're reader supported.
Get our newsletter free.
Help pay for our reporting.
News
  |  
Health
  |  
Rights + Justice

When the Heat Wave Hit, He Was Left to Care for His Mother Alone

For Macdonald Stainsby, a son and full-time caregiver, the stress and lack of support was almost disastrous.

Moira Wyton 9 Jul 2021 | TheTyee.ca

Moira Wyton is The Tyee’s health reporter. Follow her @moirawyton or reach her here. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

After five gruelling days weathering British Columbia’s historic heat wave in a small one-bedroom apartment, 80-year-old Donna Stainsby needed a shower.

She lives with dementia, and the heat wrought havoc on her already limited ability to move and speak.

The heat wave peaked on Monday, June 28, the hottest day on record in Burnaby, where Stainsby lives with her son and full-time caregiver, Macdonald. He said both were weak and disoriented on Tuesday as the heat began to break.

But just 20 minutes before a nurse was due to arrive for her regular home support visit to help Donna shower and give Macdonald a needed break, Fraser Health called to cancel without explanation.

Macdonald knew he still had to cool his mother down and started to manoeuvre her into the tub for a shower. But his mother stopped being able to move with him, and the two, exhausted, collapsed into the tub.

“My own body was utterly wrecked, I’d had no break for eight days,” said Stainsby. “I was frazzled and coming apart and losing it.”

Stainsby was finally able to pull his mother out of the tub. He used the wall to pivot and bring them both down gently to the sopping wet floor. “I was gushing sweat from stress and heat.”

“By the time I figured out we were going to survive it, I started having a bit of a nervous breakdown,” he said. “If I had slipped, we both would have been severely hurt, probably permanently.”

Stainsby said his harrowing experience trying to keep his mother from dying of heat stroke shows the province did not do enough to support seniors through the fatal heat wave, even those like his mother who were known to the health-care system.

“Abandoning us on the hottest day ever in Vancouver’s history is disgusting,” he said. “We could have been one of those statistics instead.”

In the week of the heat wave, the BC Coroners Service reported almost 719 sudden deaths, triple the number in the same week last year.

About half of those deaths were in Fraser Health, which includes the Stainsby’s Burnaby neighbourhood near Edmonds Station. The health region saw almost six times as many deaths as in a normal week. The vast majority of these deaths were among seniors and unhoused people.

“My mother is the prime example of someone who was at risk. She’s 80, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and has dementia. She would have just sat there and cooked,” Stainsby said.

“What would Fraser Health have done if I hadn’t answered their call to cancel or been passed out myself? Just not showed up?”

A replacement nurse did not visit until July 6, leaving Stainsby without any help caring for his mother for two weeks.

Premier John Horgan has defended his government’s response to the heat wave, pointing out that health authorities were connecting with patients at high risk and using social media to communicate where cooling centres were and offering heat wave tips such as drinking lots of water and taking cool showers.

“The public was acutely aware we had a heat problem, and we were trying to break through the noise to make sure they took steps to protect themselves,” Horgan said on the day of the Stainsbys’ near-miss.

In a statement to The Tyee, a Fraser Health spokesperson said a “small number” of home support visits were cancelled due to the heat. The health authority said nurses called to check in on all patients and ensure they had what they needed.

“We also called in extra staff to assist with calling our clients in the more affected areas and ensuring those at highest risk were prioritized,” read the statement.

But other than calling to cancel the Tuesday visit, Stainsby said he wasn’t contacted at all until the replacement nurse was scheduled the following week.

Stainsby said he followed Facebook groups and local discussion forums for tips, which was where he learned about putting cold compresses on his mother’s chest and the back of her neck to cool her off.

“It felt like the early days of the pandemic, just looking for any information I could get.”

For Stainsby, who has been his mother’s full-time caregiver since 2014, the last year has been “excruciating.”

He decided to cut his mother’s home support visits from almost daily to once per week as the pandemic began, hoping to limit her risk of exposure to the virus. That reduced the time he has for respite for himself, time used for recharging and running errands.

“When they mess with me and my mental health, they’re messing with my mother,” Stainsby said. “Two hours off a day is sometimes the difference between being able to care for her or not.”

A former climate activist, Stainsby said the grief associated with the heat wave — an expected outcome of the climate crisis — was intensified by feeling helpless to protect himself or his mother.

And recent changes to staffing made by the health authority haven’t made things easier, he said.

In May, Fraser Health informed Stainsby that the nurse who had seen his mother for nearly three years and become “like family” would be reassigned, without stating a reason.

Moving the familiar nurse eliminated any chance his mother could connect with and recognize her caregiver, trust that is essential to keeping her well.

When asked about why such a change would be made, Fraser Health said they occasionally “make adjustments to our scheduling processes in order to improve our service delivery and efficiency.”

Donna, who taught for 35 years and led adult education programs in B.C. before an aneurysm in 2005, still loves to play the piano and camp with her son. She plays the classics on their upright every night.

Stainsby decided to become her full-time caregiver in 2014. His father had passed away when he was young, and it felt right that he and his mother were together again.

But since Fraser Health removed their long-term nurse, he has begun the process of moving his mother to a long-term care home.

Stainsby doesn’t want to, but his mental health has suffered in the past year and a half and he doesn’t want it to impact his mother’s care and quality of life.

“When the pandemic started, all governments started talking about how protecting vulnerable seniors was the top priority,” he said. “I had felt invisible for years, and I thought we would finally get help.”

“But now my mother will never be able to recover from what has happened over the last year. Losing that routine has dropped her off the face of the Earth.”

Had he been adequately supported as a caregiver through the pandemic and the heat wave, Stainsby said he and many other caregivers could continue keeping their loved ones safe and at home.

That could look like more home-support hours, more frequent respite stays in long-term care to give caregivers breaks, or priority transportation to cooling centres in a heat wave.

“The trauma of the events isn’t as awful as the feeling of being left alone.”  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Rights + Justice

Share this article

The Tyee is supported by readers like you

Join us and grow independent media in Canada

Facts matter. Get The Tyee's in-depth journalism delivered to your inbox for free.

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion.
*Please note The Tyee is not a forum for spreading misinformation about COVID-19, denying its existence or minimizing its risk to public health.

Do:

  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others
  • Personally attack authors or contributors
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context

LATEST STORIES

The Barometer

What Issue Is Most Important to You This Election?

Take this week's poll