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Safely celebrating a birthday in rehab center during COVID-19

Sedro‐Woolley | April 17, 2020
Chris celebrates his birthday with family and friends in COVID-friendly ways
Chris was in the rehab center for his birthday when COVID-19 began to emerge. So his loved ones found creative ways to make it unforgettable.

Expressive aphasia took away Chris D.’s ability to speak clearly and process language. When he entered the Acute Rehabilitation Center (ARC) at PeaceHealth United General Medical Center in early March, his only response to the conversation was “It’s my birthday. I’m excited!”

It's my birthday!

After weeks of intensive therapy, Chris’ speech improved. He was able to say more words and phrases, but his preferred birthday response was still a favorite.  

Many of us have fond memories of birthdays celebrated with brightly colored balloons and the joyful noise of friends and family singing a rousing, albeit off-key version of Happy Birthday.

So, on Thursday, March 19, it came as no surprise to staff members that Chris really was excited – it was his birthday – and caregivers went to work to make him feel special.

Complicated logistics

PeaceHealth Chaplain Mary Bosell helped coordinate the event and provided support for the somewhat complicated logistics.

Guests had to find the rarely traveled back parking area near the ARC’s north entrance then walk a short distance to a large glass window where Chris was waiting in anticipation.

Family members keen on sharing Chris’ special day, drove 50 minutes from Everett to Sedro-Woolley, caravanning in four separate cars to avoid close quarters in this time of social distancing.

Beaming with delight

Timing for the surprise event was critical. Like a carefully practiced relay, caregivers inside the protective area of the ARC positioned Chris in a chair at the right time, to be nearer his family.

On the inside, caregivers gathered cards, cake and presents and handed these to Chris as he beamed with delight at his family peering through the glass.

The Star Wars-themed party – a favorite of Chris’ – included a Darth Vader cake; devoured quickly over the cautious reminders of his speech language pathologist urging him to “eat slowly and take smaller bites.”

Remember what matters

At a time when everyone was understandably nervous, this occasion was a chance for them to take a deep breath and remember what matters.

Not only did Chris and his family find joy in this strange time, but other patients in the ARC and their caregivers were able to pause and celebrate that everyday life was still happening around them.

Despite the worry and uncertainty, people are finding creative ways to celebrate life. Families can still express love for each other, even if these moments are shared on the other side of a glass window.

We're finding ways to be grateful for what we have and expressing our connection, appreciation, joy and love for each other.

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