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Florida woman took dishwashing job so she could visit husband with Alzheimer's during pandemic

CNN logo CNN 7/12/2020 By David Williams, CNN
a person standing in front of a computer: Mary Daniel took a job as a dishwasher at a nursing home so she could visit her husband. © Courtesy Mary Daniel Mary Daniel took a job as a dishwasher at a nursing home so she could visit her husband.

Mary Daniel visited her husband Steve every day at his Florida memory care center until they stopped allowing visitors in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The virus kept them apart for 114 days.

Daniel said the isolation took a toll on her 66-year-old husband, who has Alzheimer's. So when the facility offered her a part-time dishwashing job, she jumped at the opportunity.

"I told them, 'I'm gonna be the best dishwasher you've ever had, because I want to be here, because I need to be with him,'" she told CNN.

Before Covid-19, Daniel said she would help her husband get ready for bed each night and they would watch TV together before she tucked him in.

"That was our set routine and then all of a sudden I'm gone," she said. "And he doesn't know why. He can't understand why."

She said they've tried doing window visits, but they upset Steve. He can't carry on conversations, she said, so visiting over FaceTime didn't work well for them either.

Daniel, 57, said that getting to see her husband after she's done working is a perk, but she's scrubbing dishes, mopping floors and cleaning the kitchen just like any dishwasher.

"It is full on legit, I had to do a Covid test, a TB test, 20 hours worth of video training and a drug test," she said, adding that she was going to use her paychecks to do something nice for the rest of the staff.

She worked her first shift on July 3, and said Steve recognized her, even with her mask on.

"I walked into his room and he said my name, he said Mary, which was also a relief," she said. "So when he said, Mary, and gave me the biggest hug, I mean, we both cried."

She said her husband seems much more relaxed since she's been able to see him, and he even gave her a hug during a recent shift.

"He came up from behind me and put his arms around the front of me ... which is an incredible feeling," she said. "So, he knows who I am. There's no question, he knows who I am even in a mask."

Florida issued an emergency order in March that prohibits visits to nursing homes, assisted living and other long-term care facilities, except for families and friends in end-of-life circumstances. Gov. Ron DeSantis extended the restrictions this week for another 60 days.

The state has become a hotspot, and officials on Friday reported 11,433 new Covid-19 cases and 93 deaths, according to data on the Florida Department of Health (DOH) website.

"Visitor restrictions have been put in place at communities across our state as a safety measure, aimed at protecting the vulnerable population we serve. But it has been hard on families and residents alike, so we felt creative solutions were necessary, especially in the case of Mary and Steve," said Kelley Withrow, the executive director for Rosecastle at Deerwood, in a statement.

"We are happy to report that Mary is off to a great start in her new role, and we are excited to see the positive changes in Steve's demeanor as well."

Daniel said that she understands why the rules are in place and she appreciates the hard work everyone is putting in, but she thinks there has to be a better way.

She's urged the state and Gov. DeSantis to adjust the restrictions and has started a Facebook group with other families to try to find other options.

"It's incredibly sad to see that these patients are significantly declining because they are isolated," she said. "We are isolating these patients to save them, but the isolation is killing them."

a man wearing sunglasses posing for the camera: Mary Daniel says her husband Steve still recognizes her, even when she's wearing a mask. © Courtesy Mary Daniel Mary Daniel says her husband Steve still recognizes her, even when she's wearing a mask.
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