At midnight on October 2nd, 93-year-old Bertha Bernal was admitted to St Jude Hospital, in Fullerton, with a condition that was later described to the family as “low sodium”.
The text from Maila Soliven, Bertha’s caregiver, came a good 11 hours later – not even a phone call she deemed necessary.
What follows is an emotionally charged chapter in the Bernal children’s fight for their mother. One that mixes the joy of the encounter, with the apprehension for her well being.
[Artvoice is following the Bertha Bernal’s case, and reporting on her children’s relentless efforts to resume visitation with her, and perhaps even take back the conservatorship that was awarded to unattached ‘professionals’.]
Friday, October 2nd.
“Although I was anxious about Mom’s condition.” Sandi explains, “I was so excited to drop everything and rush to the hospital to be by her side.”
Sandi’s arrival in the hospital on Friday made Bertha clearly happy, although she was still a bit disorientated.
Photo evidence shows what no second-hand medical opinions in the world can deny:
Bertha thrives in the care of those in the world who love her the most. This is patent for all to see. All but California Probate Court, that is.
The usual family photos, playing cards, games – all those familiar stimuli benefit her. She enjoys playing with her children. The nurses and staff were all very friendly, which was also a good departure from Bertha’s everyday life.
“When I prepared to leave, at night, she became anxious and kept asking me not to go – but I promised her I would be there, by her side, in the morning.”
As she drove home that night, so many things went through Sandi’s head, besides the joy of seeing her Mom again.
Saturday, October 3rd
Sandi was there, bright and early, first thing in the morning, on Saturday. Not a minute could be wasted in this window of opportunity to be with their mom. Cathleen was flying in from Northern California, to also be by Bertha’s side.
It had been several months since any of them had seen their Mom. A cruel and unwarranted separation that had been temporarily lifted.
Besides the joy, being with Bertha afforded the opportunity to learn more about her current health situation.
“I noticed some wrapped padding in her room, and shortly after the orderly came in and proceeded to put padding on all the bed rails.” Sandi recalls. “When I asked what they were for he informed me that she has seizures and this was to protect her.”
“Imagine my horror when I heard this, as I was not nearly aware that the condition was so advanced.”
The information flow from the conservator to the family is so flawed it’s almost unbelievable. There is, actually, a continuous effort to deny the family even the most basic medical information.
So, it was no surprise when the nurse, that morning, informed Sandi that Ms. Suzette Smith, Bertha’s court-appointed conservator, had called in and informed the hospital staff that they were NOT to give any information to the family.
The usual modus operandi.
“Why is that? We are not asking to make decisions for her (even though her family should be doing that) but we are concerned about our Mother and her condition.”
“It was a joy to order her meals, play games with her, make her laugh and to just be by her side to love on her and help give her some familiarity to help make her feel happy and secure.”
Cathleen came in straight from the airport, and was able to be with Bertha, too. It felt like a small miracle.
Sunday, October 4th
Cathleen went back for Sunday, and spent the day with Bertha. It felt so natural, it should be the obvious way to go – allow her grown children to be with her.
“From morning until she fell asleep, we laughed, looked at photos of her children and grandchildren and her 2 siblings,” tells us Cathleen. “We played cards, tic-tac-toe, watched TV. I combed her hair, because she said she didn’t like her bangs combed back. ‘Comb down, down’, she asked.”
That we even have to be defending what should be an obvious, inalienable right, is shocking to the core.
With all the love around her, as well as the competent and caring medical attention she got, her medical situation soon improved, and she was scheduled to be discharged on Monday.
One of the doctors said, “Wow, she looks so, so much better!”
That should be a happy development for the family – if it was not for the fact that she was to be handed over back to her “caregiver”, and go back into the unreasonable, unacceptable isolation she has been subjected.
Monday Oct 5th
The daughters arrived very early, lest they miss the chance of being with their Mom a little bit more.
“We got there at 7am before visiting hours,” Sandi explained, “because we feared that the caregiver [Maila Soliven] would come early to pick Mom up so as to avoid us completely.”
[That’s exactly what the caregiver did at the last hospitalization of Bertha. She coordinated with the rehab center staff to call her when Sandi left the hospital premises, subsequently only checking the elderly lady out of the rehab facility after 10 pm.]
“This time, the conservator arranged to have her medically transported back to the board and care,” Sandi says. “The whole experience was a roller coaster of both joy – of being able to be with and comfort Mom – and sadness, for the condition she was in.”
Daughter Cathleen was told several times by a hospital doctor that “they needed to make sure she eats enough and stays well hydrated, so this won’t happen again.”
“We always suspected she was not getting enough food at her residence,” shares Sandi, “based on how fast and intensely she would eat her lunch at the activity center. After what the doctor said to my sister, it seems like our darkest fears may be realized.”
Despite the Conservator’s orders for the medical team not to relay any medical information to the family, the daughters were able to read that, on the patient chart in her room, Bertha’s weight was recorded as 125 lbs.
“I was shocked when I first saw her, and noticed the bones protruding from her neckline!”
“Each day, I would go down to the cafeteria to buy her a big to-go container of fresh fruit,” says Cathleen. “You see, the conservator and mom’s “keeper” (caregiver is too generous of a term) wouldn’t know mom’s favorite fruit is watermelon, and cantaloupe.”
“So I cut up the fruit, and every couple bites mom would say, ‘Boy that’s good fruit!’ I’d always say, ‘Sweet, huh?’ She would nod yes.”
The happiness of a mother and her daughters together. The natural way of life that we are fighting to restore.
And so it happens that Bertha Bernal is back to the house of caregiver Maila Soliven, where she lives in complete isolation from her loved ones, as one of the elders taken care in what is essentially a family home. Where it seems to be the case that, the least she leaves the bed, the better. Where she is not eating enough, where she has apparently not being hydrated to the doctors satisfaction.
A place where she can’t see her family – but she can vote? How is that even possible that a dementia patient under conservatorship can be deemed able to vote?
How long will the family be tortured in this fashion?
We call on California Probate Court authorities to reunite Bertha Bernal with her children Sandi, Cathleen and Anthony. NOW!