A Sunnybrook patient finds comfort and connection through the iPad program

An elderly woman uses a tablet.
Written by Brenda Stewart

How many words does it take to express a feeling?

For one patient it didn’t take words, it only took a sound. Like many families during a time of visitor restrictions, she had a large and supportive family anxious to see her. For this patient and her family, the iPad program proved to be a major and important connection, particularly in the last days of her life.

The patient had family living in different places throughout the world, and a family member, who facilitated the FaceTime call on their end, was able to bring them all together during each iPad visit. The patient was not only missing her family, she also spoke little English and missed hearing the sounds of her first language. Having both at once appeared to be a profound blessing for her.

As care providers, our Spiritual Care and Social Work teams frequently helped facilitate these FaceTime calls, and several had the honour of holding the iPad that connected the patient with her family. As part of her care, the patient was wearing large soft mitts on her hands to protect her from pulling on lines. When the iPad was held for her, the patient would reach out for the device with her hands – and with the sides of her soft mitts, very gently hug the sides of the iPad. Together, she and I were able to non-verbally communicate where to position the iPad so she could safely hug the device (thereby virtually hugging her family) while communicating through it at the same time.

In one of her last calls with her family, the patient was able to respond to each family member with sound. As each of them joined the Facetime call, the patient would call out “oooh!”  While this may seem simple, it was profoundly moving.

At the patient’s end of life her family shared with us how comforting it was for them to be able to interact with her virtually despite the fact they were unable to be physically present. They spoke of the “ooh’s” with both smiles and tears, and with love for her life well lived.

About the author

Brenda Stewart