COVID-19: Diaries from Inside an Oshawa Retirement Residence Mother works to protect her son, elderly residents amid pandemic

Becky Martin welcomes staff members coming in for their shifts at the front desk. Photo credit: Shanelle Somers

This is part three of an ongoing series by Durham College journalism student Shanelle Somers, detailing her ‘other’ job, working in an Oshawa retirement residence during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Becky Martin is not only an employee at Wynfield Retirement Residence but a risk taker. That risk is choosing to continue to work in an environment where COVID-19 could be looming with an immunocompromised son at home.

At 14, Martin’s son Riley was diagnosed with colitis, a condition which affects the inner liner of the colon and can cause abdominal pain, fever, fatigue, inflammation or allergic reactions.

In Riley’s case he was diagnosed with severe colitis and informed it was in its fourth stage. He experiences cramps, ulcers, open sores and bowel issues.

Martin, 47, says it’s like having no more good bacteria in the digestive system and then the system attacks itself.

Although Riley is now 21, Martin says it doesn’t change her need to protect him as a mother.

She says her and her husband Todd were recently informed the medicine Riley was taking is no longer working for him. As a result, she says he is in constant illness and does not leave his bed.

“As a mom, it’s hard to see your child at any age, even though he’s 21 now, to see him suffering like that,” she says.

Martin says Riley typically does not leave the house. He spends his time in his room where he is the safest away from others. However, Martin says Riley does have to leave the house for a monthly infusion. She says the infusion is like a tray infusion or chemo where her son must gown up with gloves and a mask.

This means her son is more susceptible to getting COVID-19 compared to the average person.

“So being able to hug him and see him, I can’t, because I’m in a high-risk area,” she says.

The Martin family partakes in the Gutsy Walk for Crohn's and Colitis Canada at Oshawa Lakeview Park in 2015.
The Martin family, dad Todd with son Riley and daughter Cassidy, at the Gutsy Walk for Crohn's and Colitis Canada at Oshawa Lakeview Park in 2015. Photo credit: Becky Martin

But Martin also believes in doing everything she can to protect the residents at the Wynfield in addition to Riley.

Martin works at the front desk and has recently joined the housekeeping team for a short period time.

She says the best part about her job is connecting with residents or in some instances reconnecting with residents she knew when she was younger.

“Turns out that a few of them I was either related to or went to school with or was my teacher before when I first started here, so that was kind of cool,” she says. “My librarian from grade school is here.”

Each day Martin works to answer phones, sanitize items at the front door, take temperatures of all employees, residents, and care workers who are allowed to enter the building during the pandemic. Additionally, she maintains the cleanliness of the resident suites located on the second floor of the five-storey retirement residence.

“We’re definitely the point of contact now for anybody calling about COVID-19 and how we’re keeping the residents safe,” she says. “I find that the residents, they’re going a little crazy and that’s a bit stressful because you’re trying to keep them safe and they’re wanting to go out and they want to see their family and that becomes then depressing.”

When Martin returns home from work the first thing, she does to protect her son is change and wash her dirty clothes from work, then she showers and says a quick hello to Riley.

Martin says Riley has definitely taken ownership of sanitizing the home and making sure he is safe.

“He sanitizes all the time, all our doorknobs, anything high traffic and if we’re home, he doesn’t come out of his room,” she says. “If my husband and I are not at home or at work, that’s the time he comes out to get food and stuff.”

However, continuing to work during the COVID-19 pandemic at a retirement home has also taken its toll on her family, she says.

For example, Martin also has a 17-year-old daughter, Cassidy. She works at the retirement residence as a dietary server. But in order to make sure Riley is protected throughout the uncertainty of the pandemic, Cassidy moved to a family friends’ home.

“She [Cassidy] was OK with it at first, but she’s now finding it very hard. Her and her brother are close. So, it’s a lot of texting and facetiming for them.”

Although home life with her son is risky and uncertain during this time, Martin says she tries to remain positive at work for everyone.

“I try to keep a happy face when I’m here [at Wynfield], but I do have my ups and downs and I do get frustrated and don’t try to take that out on anyone but there’s a lot of frustration,” she says. “It’s not till I get home that I kind of release how I’m feeling but I tried to be on top of everything and happy-go-lucky while here so that it doesn’t affect the residents.”

However, Martin says she is looking forward to when she and her family can enjoy going out to eat at a restaurant and then go watch a movie at the theatre.

“But who knows when that will be,” she says.