‘Like being in jail’ | Isolation amid pandemic takes its toll on Grand Rapids veteran

Tony Spallone plans to spend his 74th birthday alone at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans due to COVID-19 restrictions. He also spent his 73rd birthday alone.

GRAND RAPIDS, me. – With his 74th birthday in two weeks, U.S. Army veteran Tony Spallone has resigned himself to spending it on his own. Once again.

He spends his days looking out the window on the second floor of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, where he has lived for more than a decade.

He hasn’t left the facility since March 2020 when coronavirus restrictions were put in place.

“I lost a year here,” said Spallone. “It’s like being in prison. You feel like you’ve done something wrong. ”

Spallone is one of 135 veterans living at the facility on Monroe Avenue NE. 19 have died of COVID-19.

“I’ve lost a lot of friends,” he said.

Veterans and staff received both rounds of the COVID-19 vaccinations earlier this year. Spallone was among them.

“All of my antibodies are in my system. There is no problem, ”he said. “I should be able to leave here without being quarantined for two weeks. It is ridiculous.”

According to Spallone, the facility’s staff come and go every day. he doesn’t understand why vaccinated veterans can’t too.

Anne Zerbe, executive director of the Michigan Veterans’ Facility Authority, said safety precautions were in place, including quarantines, as there are no definitive data on a vaccinated person’s ability to transmit the virus.

“While it is true that employees come and go daily, employees must also follow strict PPE and infection control practices to reduce potential risks of transmission,” Zerbe wrote in an email. “Resident members stop by but don’t always take the same precaution. ”

Zerbe said she was confident that existing restrictions can be relaxed but said state and local health officials need to provide guidance.

“Few of us can imagine what it would be like to live under the restrictions our members had to endure,” wrote Zerbe.

Ray and Nancy Henkel have an idea.

They are long-time friends of Spallone and speak to him on a daily basis.

“We’ll talk on the phone, we talk every day,” said Ray Henkel, who served in the US Marines during the Vietnam War. “It keeps him going.”

She and another veteran, Mike Kloet, go to local restaurants bringing back food for Spallone. You have to leave it at the front door with the staff.

Spallone misses going out with his friends for lunch and dinner. They also met at the nearby American Legion Boat and Canoe Club for roast beef dinners and other special occasions.

“We’re talking about getting out there and doing that stuff again,” said Ray Henkel. “He’s looking forward to it. ”

Prior to the pandemic, Spallone drove to area stores to pick up sundries for other veterans at the Grand Rapids Home. He drove to Grand Haven and used a friend’s indoor pool. He would go for a walk too.

The exercise now consists of going back and forth to the bathroom and down the hall to take a shower. He gained weight.

“He goes from his bed to his chair. From his chair to his bed. It’s five paces at most, ”said Ray Henkel. “The night he’s allowed to shower, it’s 21 steps across the hall, 21 steps back.”

Nancy Henkel worries about Spallone’s sanity.

“He can’t get out even though he got both shots,” she said. “We can say it because we’ve known him for so long. . . that he’s down. ”

Human contact, like a handshake, said Spallone, would mean the world to him.

“Do you know what it means to shake hands with someone? Just to shake hands with them? “” Asked he. “That way you feel human. ”

Spallone traditionally meets with friends for his birthday, which falls on St. Patrick’s Day. It didn’t happen last year and, he says, and looks unlikely this year.

“I won’t live another 20, 30 or 40 years. I have two or three years of my life left, ”he said. “I don’t want to stay in my room anymore. I want to live again. ”

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