Compassion group helps those 'who fall between the cracks'

Mar 04, 2020

Carolyn Boismier lying in her bed

"I just got bad feelings about things in my life." A local group is helping Windsor's Carolyn Boismier, shown Feb. 10, 2020,
as she copes with having been confined to bed for months. Nick Brancaccio / Windsor Star

Carolyn Boismier’s best days bring dreams of fresh air and long summer walks, but they are rare.

Her worst days conjure an anxious dread, shattering the fragile hope she’ll ever leave her bed.

After being “bed-bound” for more than five months, the 71-year-old widow faces a daily struggle against loneliness and isolation.

“I just lay here and look at the four walls, and sometimes I scream my head off,” said Boismier, curled under a blanket in her bedroom at the back of her small Caron Avenue apartment. “I just want to hit the wall. I just want to throw something and hit it. I just don’t want to be here in this room.

“I still got my mind. My mind is all here. I said to myself last night, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do if I get out of this room, I just have to get out.’ Sometimes I even have dreams of walking. I’m walking all over.”

On many days one of her only contacts with the outside world, beyond her personal support workers, are members of the Windsor-Essex Compassion Care Community.

With funding from several sources, including $750,000 from the Trillium Foundation, the organization aims to improve people’s health, wellness and quality of life.

The organization, a coalition of many different agencies, has seen more than 2,500 people since its genesis three years ago.

Employees and volunteers help connect clients with vital resources, whether it’s donated supplies, contacts with other organizations or just someone to talk to.

“It’s not just about formal resources, but those informal resources of connecting people so they have friendship, they have camaraderie, they feel a sense of being a part of the community,” said Joseph Perry, director of patient and family support services.

Physical health care, while important, is just one piece of the puzzle, he said.

“We also need a life,” said Perry. “But how do we connect with that life?”

Carolyn Boismier receiving a visit from Kari Tofflemire

Carolyn Boismier, who has been confined to her bed for months, enjoys some companionship from Kari Tofflemire,
who brought her coffee on a visit to her home on Feb. 10, 2020. Nick Brancaccio/Windsor Star

For people who are already isolated or lonely, Perry said making those important connections can seem impossible.

“You don’t feel that you have a purpose or a reason for being,” said Perry. “Loneliness is the new smoking. They’re showing that loneliness has an impact of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

“People, when they are connected to others and they feel they have supports — informal and formal supports — they cope much better with whatever kind of issues they’re going through in life.”

Of all the things Windsor-Essex Compassion Care Community does for Boismier, she most looks forward to the “friendly visits.”

“They’re wonderful,” she said. “That’s my family right there.”

In December, one of Compassion Care’s workers brought her a Christmas dinner from Swiss Chalet.

“I was going to have nobody here,” said Boismier. “She said, ‘You’re going to have a Christmas dinner at home.’ She called it in and everything. And next thing you know I was having Christmas dinner here. That was so sweet. That was the best Christmas dinner I ever had.”

Employees and volunteers also help her grapple with daily necessities. They bring Boismier, who can’t even get out of bed to use the washroom, donated supplies she can’t afford such as pads and diapers. They assist her with paperwork. They helped her get extra homecare support, and have arranged for daily “phone call support” from another isolated person.

Kari Tofflemire, a student intern from St. Clair College’s social service worker program, has been visiting Boismier since the start of January.

Tofflemire acts as liaison with the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) and has been helping Boismier research her eligibility for more benefits like widow’s allowance.

Tofflemire brings Boismier yarn for making scarves, warms up her coffee, and sits on the edge of her bed laughing and shooting the breeze.

“We do really anything that they need,” said Tofflemire. “We help a lot of people who fall between the cracks.”

Boismier first crossed paths with the Windsor-Essex Compassion Care Community a few years ago when her husband, Ross, was dying from throat cancer. When he wasn’t in the hospital, she looked after him as best she could. He fought to the end.

“It took a lot out of him for passing away,” said Boismier. “He didn’t want to go nowhere.”

He died on Oct. 21, 2017, and she still misses him desperately. Before Ross got too sick, he was the caregiver.

“He looked after me a lot, because of my hips,” said Boismier. “He was more worried about me than him. I told him, as long as my legs keep moving you have nothing to worry about. I didn’t want to worry him.”

The health problems for Boismier, who has a hernia and issues with her lower back, legs, and hips, began decades ago.

“My hips were real bad because I fell down,” she said. “When I used to have my house I fell down about 15 stairs.”

The fall happened when she was in her 30s.

“I should have got it taken care of at the time but I didn’t.”

Since then, the deterioration has been steady.

“One time I came home from the doctor,” said Boismier. “I was still in my wheelchair. I thought I could get it through this door. I got it part way, then I was trying to reach my walker. I slipped on the rug. My knees burnt on the rug. Then I had to call the paramedics to come and get me back up. Boy oh boy, did that hurt.”

Her body’s weakening has been compounded by a diminished spirit with the loss of her husband, and a growing distance from family and other people who are important to her.

“I just got bad feelings about things in my life,” she said. “I get so mad in this room. For a couple nights now I was being really mad. It’s really bothering me, more now than ever. Maybe because nobody’s coming around.”

She remembers the first day she didn’t get out of bed.

“I’m here because one day I couldn’t get on my little stool to get into the bed,” said Boismier. “I went to get up into the bed and my right leg got all shaky.”

A family member who was staying with Boismier to keep an eye on her  — that person is now out of the picture — told her to stay in bed until she was steadier on her feet.

More than five months later, the thought of getting out of bed, no matter how much she wants it, is a frightening prospect.

“I’m scared to get up because I fell a couple times, maybe three or four times,” said Boismier. “I fell off an X-ray table. I’ve got Meniere’s (disease) in my right ear. This ear doesn’t function. It’s almost like a hearing aid you can’t turn off. When that goes through your head and you’re lying flat, then you go to get up … everything just went around in a circle. Just boom.”

Boismier said she was told she can’t get into a nursing home because she’s too heavy, though she doesn’t know how much she weighs.

“They need a treatment bed and lift,” said Tofflemire. “Not all nursing homes or long-term care are set up for bariatric residents. So she’d need one that has a higher level of care. She’d need lifts and bathing, and things like that. All those are extra costs, too.”

Boismier doesn’t want to go into a nursing home anyway. She doesn’t want to have to rely on anyone.

“I want to do my own work, my cleaning,” she said. “I want to do my cooking, which I always did.”

While she still can’t climb out of bed, Windsor-Essex Compassion Care Community is working on a plan to get Boismier out of the bedroom.

They are arranging to borrow a lift from hospice to move Boismier and her bed into the living room. They will also have an occupational therapist there to help the personal support workers move her.

“Then she won’t be so isolated,” said Tofflemire. “People can’t visit her back here if they’re in a wheelchair. We’re going to set her up by the window so she can actually see outside.”

Boismier hopes her living room is only the first step.

“I just want to get out of this bed,” she said. “I have to really try my hardest. I got it in my heart that I’m going to do it. My husband up there watching me, I know he’s going to want me to — ‘Carolyn, get up. Get up Carolyn. You know you were not always like that.’”