Every afternoon, David Castillo heads to the Lompoc Valley Medical Center Comprehensive Care Center (CCC) to visit his mother, Rosie. Rosie, 86, has been a resident for more than a year, and suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
The onset of COVID-19 and the sudden suspension of all visitors to the skilled nursing facility — even for family members — has not stopped Castillo’s routine. He still arrives at the CCC every day and visits his beloved mother — but now they’re separated by a glass window.
“It broke my heart,” Castillo said of learning about the Public Health Officer order prohibiting visits. “I was expecting it though. It was like a hit to the head.”
When Castillo tapped on the glass, or called out “Mom” to Rosie, she appeared to notice him. At one point, she responded to his wave.
“This is harder than it’s ever been before,” he said. “I can see her, but I can’t touch her. I can’t hug her. I can’t give her kisses.”
Castillo acknowledges he’s one of the millions of people experiencing changes in his life due to COVID-19.
“We all just to have hope,” said Castillo, who works for COLT transportation in Lompoc.
Castillo is an only child. “She’s the only one I have,” the 56-year-old said of is mother.
Throughout his visit one afternoon, Castillo tapped on the glass and called out “Mom” and “I love you.”
Though there’s a barrier to their visits, he said he appreciates that he’s still allowed to come to the CCC. “It’s meant everything in the world to me,” he said. “The only thing keeping us apart is the window. I can see her every day. I’m happy with any time I get with her.”
CCC Activities Director Michele Hunt said it’s essential to keep residents connected with the outside world despite the pandemic and “no visitor” policy. “This is important not only for our residents but for their family and friends who care and worry about them,” she said.
CCC staff also offer Skype and Google Duo visits for out-of-town family or those unable to get to the facility.
When George Sartori arrived at the CCC one afternoon for a visit, 85-year-old Raymond Mantovani was waiting in a wheelchair inside the building.
“You’re OK in there,” Sartori yelled through the glass. “It’s the outside that’s not good. Right now, you’re safe in there.”
Sartori and Mantovani are not brothers by heritage, but through four decades of love and friendship. Sartori, 75, calls Mantovani his brother. He’s been caring for the older man for about 40 years, after being taken in “like a son” by Mantovani’s mother following his divorce. Mantovani is autistic and was never able to live on his own.
The two men have travelled to Italy four times and moved to Lompoc from their home state of Massachusetts five years ago. Sartori often speaks Italian to Mantovani through the glass, as the older man laughs and replies in return.
“Of course, I consider him a brother,” Sartori said. “Most of my life, I spent with him. I look after his interests.”
Mantovani became very ill earlier this year and underwent surgery. He is recuperating at the CCC. “I’m so thankful,” Sartori said. “This place is the best place for him.”
Sartori, who used to teach comparative literature at Boston College, visits Mantovani three times a day, at mealtimes. With the pandemic, he’s scaled it back to twice a day. His brother, Sartori said, looks wonderful now.
“He’s so happy,” Sartori said. “The nurses are fantastic. The best thing I can say is they are all wonderful.”
Sometimes, Mantovani becomes distressed emotionally. “The only thing he needs is to see me,” Sartori said. “As soon as he sees me, he calms down.”