‘I Wanted to Be Back on the Frontlines:’ The Story of a COVID-positive Team Member

Like any long-term care home serving some of the most vulnerable citizens during the rising numbers of COVID-19, the team at Pinehaven Nursing Home in Waterloo was on edge in those early months. Yes, they were following all necessary Infection Prevention and Control Protocols, but there was still a great fear of the unknown coursing through the small, tight-knit community.

“In March and April, we were very mindful and focused on the idea that it was okay, we were going to get through this together,” recalls general manager Luke Denomme. As he remembers the day in late May when he had to inform his team that one of their own had tested positive for COVID-19, he recalls “nobody batted and eye.”  

Lucho Vallar shares his deeply personal, difficult experience with COVID-19. He feared for his father especially, and  desperately wanted to support his fellow team members at Pinehaven Nursing Home.
Lucho Villar shares his deeply personal, difficult experience
with COVID-19. He feared for his father especially, and 
desperately wanted to support his fellow team members
at Pinehaven Nursing Home.

There was a sense that everyone was eager to pull together to tackle a challenge they had prepared for over the course of months. They had seen other Villages manage one or two cases to stop any spread entirely, and there was a sense of confidence, even amid the worry. They had also seen reports of homes that had no fared so well, of course, so the concern was very real.

“But there is power in having hope and being there as a team,” Luke says, and that is what they focused on.

For Lucho Villar, however, the affected team member at home, the worry was beyond anything he’d ever known before. While Lucho and his mother only exhibited minor symptoms at the beginning, his father grew gravely ill, and it was a terrible experience not knowing what the outcome would be. His father lives with Type-2 diabetes and it was hard to be isolated in separate rooms “waiting what seemed like forever for test results to arrive,” Lucho says. Aside from the fact that he couldn’t help his team during a difficult time, he feared his father might not recover.  

“I wanted to be back at the frontlines,” he says, “helping out the team, knowing they’re going through so much; I just wished I was there.”

But he was at home, awaiting a test result as his father awaited his, all the while growing sicker in the other room, exasperated by the complications from Type-2 diabetes. They knew he must be positive as they saw his symptoms worsen, Lucho says, but when the news came, “the whole world just stops in that moment.”

There is still anguish in his voice more than a month later as he recalls those early days, listening to his father in the other room suffer day and night. “Me, I was feeling worthless and useless,” he says.

Lucho’s symptoms were mild, but he was affected greatly and the worry as time goes on is that people will let their guard down. We’ve already seen this throughout the United States and in other places around the world, including close to home, and it’s not a good sign; the risk for COVID-19 remains acute, despite the way it seems with things opening up throughout Ontario.

Thankfully, Lucho’s family pulled through, and he says his local Hispanic Christian Community from Kitchener and Waterloo was a great blessing, as were some of his fellow team members graciously offering aid and support. He returned to work in early July, but it was with mixed feelings: he was happy to be back but it was awkward fielding so many questions from curious team members who didn’t seem to understand how serious it was for Lucho and his family.

“Young people, we think that we’re invincible but we’re not at all,” he says. As for others, we know how devastating the virus can be among older adults and those with underlying health conditions. Lucho is relieved his parents are recovered, though it will still take time for his father to find 100 per cent again. He is also grateful there was no spread at Pinehaven, which is a testament to the team and the protocols in place. One can never let their guard down, however, which is why Lucho chose to share his story.

Lucho would like to emphasize that for anyone connecting with another person who has been positive, it is important to respect their personal boundaries. Lucho’s experience was difficult, and he didn’t want to re-tell it 20 times over and he certainly didn’t want to have to explain that his time off wasn’t joyful. “I’m glad you are back and okay,” is perhaps the best thing to say.