She survived the Holocaust and died of COVID-19. His family say the human toll of the pandemic is lost in the numbers

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The last time Jeff Shabes saw his mother alive, dementia had brought her back to her childhood nightmare, crying out for her late mother and father in Siberia, where they fled occupied Poland and terrified that she would miss her train to get to safety.Malvina Shabes survived the atrocities of the Holocaust. But COVID-19 took her away in just a few days.

In their last moments together, Jeff Shabes – sitting across the room in full protective gear – repeated to his mother the stories she so loved to tell him, such as how, as a little boy, he was cooking for her. sandwiches while she was sick after a miscarriage.

“I hadn’t called my mom ‘mom’ for 45 years, I don’t know,” he said. “So I called her like, you know, ‘I love you mom, you’ll always be a part of our lives and memories. And it’s OK to close your eyes. We want you to close your eyes and be with daddy. ”

As we left the room, the screams continued. But Shabes was sure his mother heard him. Less than 24 hours later, she was gone.

However, at one point, as the specter of a global pandemic shifted from looming threat to everyday reality, the human toll behind the daily tally of cases and number of tests seems to have escaped collective sight, a- he declared.

“This is one of the reasons I agreed to do it. That’s the main reason, ”Jeff Shabes told CBC News.

“Much more than just a number”

“We need to let people know that it’s not just 1,500 cases per day and 13 deaths. There are families who suffer not only after the death of a loved one, but during… It’s more than just a number. ”

Born in Krakow in 1929, Malvina Shabes was forced to flee Poland at the age of 10 with her two-year-old brother, grandparents and nanny. Their journey ended in Siberia, Russia, in a labor camp, where food could be scarce and where they often had to be hidden in order to survive.

Born in Krakow in 1929, Malvina Shabes was forced to flee Poland at the age of 10 with her two-year-old brother, grandparents and nanny. She arrived in Canada in the 1940s at the age of 19 and married soon after. Her 60-year-old husband died seven years ago. (Submitted by Jeff Shabes)

After the war, Malvina returned briefly to Poland and Germany, before coming to Canada in the late 1940s at the age of 19. Soon after, she married and had two sons, Jeff and his brother Steven.

Over the years, family and friends have been his number one priority, Jeff said. When her own mother was diagnosed with blood cancer, she and her brother decided to find a doctor who could help her. Her mother survived until the age of 93.

Malvina and her husband celebrated 60 years of marriage before dying seven years ago. But in recent years, she has started to suffer from dementia.

She was transferred to a home that specializes in caring for dementia patients and found a way to cope, participating in virtually all of her programs as far as she could and her appearance – as always – remained impeccable.

“She always had her hair done and her nails done,” Shabes laughs, remembering that he had never seen his mother with gray hair until recently. “She was really, really a matriarch and an elegant person. “

In recent years, Malvina Shabes has been moved to a home that specializes in caring for dementia patients and has found a way to cope, participating in virtually all of her programs as far as she can and how she looks – as always. – impeccable. She insisted on elegance, her hair and nails always combed, her son told CBC News. (Submitted by Jeff Shabes)

‘Easy to lose track of faces, lives, tragedy’

But stories like Malvina’s are increasingly lost in the daily din of numbers, said Toronto geriatrician Nathan Stall. It’s not just a matter of sentiment, he said, but ultimately has an impact on the policy itself.

“Once you’ve hit a milestone like 10,000 dead, it becomes easy to lose track of the faces, the lives, the tragedy that families are going through,” Stall said. “And that could be something that motivates us to change our approach in the second wave. ”

WATCH | New figures show wave two could affect long-term care homes:

By far, most of the COVID-19 deaths in Canada have been in long-term care homes, where residents and staff have faced dangerous conditions. New figures show it could be about to happen again. 1:59

Canada exceeded 11,000 deaths from COVID-19 this week.

Somewhere, more than 96 percent of those who have died in Canada from COVID-19 are over the age of 60. And nearly 80 percent were long-term care residents, Stall said.

“I would say these people are not the types of people that most Canadians identify with. We’re talking about a bias we call an identifiable life bias… the types of lives we identify with. ”

Consider a turning point in the history of COVID-19 in Canada, he said, “It wasn’t the death of a long-term care resident… it was actually the closure of the NBA. It was Sophie Grégoire Trudeau who caught COVID. It was Tom Hanks. This is what made us act. ”

Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Mt. Toronto’s Sinai Hospital said Canadians had to some extent lost sight of the human toll behind the COVID-19 numbers. (CBC)

Now, as a second wave has set in, it appears the focus is more on doing business and keeping the doors open than on the human cost of the resurgence, he said.

“There seems to be a kind of acceptance, a really frightening acceptance of the death of the elderly and people living in long-term care homes.

‘Wake up every day and check the numbers’

Holding provincial media briefings outside of a long-term care home rather than in businesses would be one way to keep focus on victims and frontline workers, Stall said.

“If we dehumanize what’s going on with COVID-19, I think it’s easy for people to also think that there is an acceptable compromise.

“I think in some ways the Canadian experience has woken up every day and checked the numbers … But I think our leaders could play a role in changing that and putting the focus back on the tragedy that is going on. so many Canadians and will unfortunately continue to live on for the next several months. ”

Asked late last week by CBC reporter Mike Crawley whether his apparent interest in the impact of COVID-19 on business equals his concern for the pain of families, the Premier of Ontario , Doug Ford, said at a press conference, “Nothing weighs more on me than when I talk to family members on the phone… I met a lady the other day who came to see me and m ‘said, “I want to thank you for doing a great job and I lost both parents in long term care a week apart two weeks ago.”

“I take hundreds of calls. I’m one of the few elected officials in this country… it’s until midnight in his office to take personal calls and listen to concerns. Does this weigh on Mike? It weighs on me, I can assure you… if you don’t think it weighs on me, you don’t know me very well. ”

The statistics are “people with wiped tears”

Since her mother died last Tuesday, Shabes and her family have been praying every night.

But like so many families who have lost loved ones to the virus, their grieving process has been anything but normal.

Since the death of his mother last Tuesday, Jeff Shabes and his family have been praying every night. But like so many families who have lost loved ones to the virus, their grieving process has been anything but normal. (CBC)

“We cannot be there to hold on to each other,” he said. “It is a moment of solace and truly the start of a long healing process. We don’t have that. ”

Reasons like these mean Canadians can’t afford to lose sight of the lives behind the numbers, Stall said.

“There is a line that I have come back to often during the pandemic of one of the most famous epidemiologists who died almost a century ago, Sir Austin Bradford Hill,” he said.

“Health statistics represent people with wiped tears. “



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