Rima El Kouri: «‘Miraculous’ Grandma» [«Grand-maman ‘miraculée’»]

Ms. El Kouri’s article was published today in La Presse:


Below you will find an English translation.

For Bambi, this article was moving to read for several reasons:

First, it describes how one of our best Canadian hospitals is operating in a pandemic, not so gloriously…

Second, we witness the tough journey of covid-19 hospitalized patients. Luckily, some are healed. Others, many others, die.

Third, this disturbing yet beautiful story is about a resilient 77-year-old woman who finally chose to live. In doing so, morning after morning, she kept her focus on positive thinking/visualization of her loved ones, with the help of a talented psychologist! Good for her and her family, as she survived (a happy ending!).

Last but surely not least, the talented clinical psychologist featured in the story is none other than Dr. Mirella De Civita, Bambi’s colleague and good friend for over 26 years!

Mirella (or Dr. De Civita) is one of the most intelligent (brain/mind, heart, soul), compassionate, and yet humble clinicians you can ever meet. “Miraculous grandma” was truly blessed to have her “by her side” every morning… by phone whilst in a traumatizing quarantine.

Dr. Mirella De Civita

This being said, you can read the story of “Miraculous grandma”, as “told” to us by Ms. Elkouri. Thanks to the latter for sharing it:

“On her hospital bed, Jacqueline Henrie, 77, gasping for air, said, “I want medical aid in dying“.

With her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, she did not expect to survive COVID-19. Her children also believed her to be doomed.

A week before her hospitalization, when she started having symptoms, Jacqueline first thought it was related to her lung disease. She started taking the antibiotics already prescribed by her doctor. Five days later, overcome by abnormal fatigue, unable to eat, she consulted. She was put on a waiting list for a COVID-19 test. She was told to call 911 if necessary. She did so on the morning of March 21st after stating to have trouble breathing.

Transported by ambulance to the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, she believed that evening that her hour had come. “I was choking and was not able to catch my breath“.

That’s when she said to the nurse, “I want to see the doctor. I want medical aid in dying“.

It will be alright,” replied the nurse, smiling.

She felt like she was in a daze. Feverish, weak, short of breath. “All I said to myself was: when does death come?

We sent her to a COVID-19 unit, which appeared to be still in the organization. A negative pressure room with no phone or bell to call for help. “Even if we were shouting, we couldn’t hear us with the noise of the engines. The nurse on duty gave my neighbor who had a cell phone her personal number so that she could be called if necessary. “

Madly worried, her son, Nicolas, left her grandson’s smartphone for her at the entrance to the hospital so that they could talk to each other. A nurse was kind enough to show her how to use FaceTime.

The news she gave her children live from her hospital bed was anything but reassuring.

“I was completely disconnected from life. I was talking to the kids, but it was like they weren’t my kids. However, I am an emotional, sensitive person. But I felt nothing, nothing, nothing”. She was waiting for death.

After two days, Jacqueline was sent to another room, along with other patients with covid-19. During the night, one of them died, and the room had to be disinfected from top to bottom. “I was next door. I haven’t slept all night. “

She was then transferred to a third bedroom, without a toilet or sink. Dehydrated, she often had to beg the staff for water. “Once, it was the cleaning lady who fetched me water. She encouraged us all the time”.

One of her roommates, who had mental health issues, used to vomit and answer nature’s call on the floor. Between them, there was a simple curtain.

“A nurse said to me,”Watch her, because I don’t have time“.

She cried five, six times a day. I was the one who had to watch her. She fell twice. I was calling for help. It was taking time. I would say to them, “But what if she was your mother?”

At times, the lady came to bed naked, in Jacqueline’s own bed, without anyone intervening. In the bedroom, the smell was foul. The commodes with excrement stayed there for hours. It was impossible to wash for a whole week.

Although grateful to the doctors and hospital staff, who did their best in an extremely difficult environment, Jacqueline deplores the inhuman conditions of hospitalization. “I understand that they are overworked. It’s not funny. They must dress in their protective gear and undress between each room. But what I found the worst was the lack of humanity“.

How can we explain such a situation when we were still at the very beginning of the pandemic and there were very few COVID-19 patients hospitalized at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, which is facing an outbreak today?

Response from the CIUSSS de l’Est-de-l’Île-de-Montréal [CIUSS means Integrated health and social services centres]: it is difficult to say without knowing exactly where in the hospital this patient was. What we recognize is that the hospital is dilapidated. “Hospital staff are trying to do their best in a physical environment that is not always optimal,” writes Catherine Dion, Communications Advisor to the CIUSSS de l’Est-de-l’Île-de-Montréal.

In the days following the declaration of a health emergency, it was necessary to quickly adapt the healthcare settings – review the ventilation systems of certain units, intensive care, etc. “It is indeed possible that some patients witnessed the agitation that reigned as we prepared to face the pandemic“.

Regarding the quality of care, we say we are “surprised“. “We invite the lady to lodge a complaint with the service quality and complaints commissioner, who can do the appropriate follow-up with the teams concerned“.


While Jacqueline remained convinced that the only way out was death, her daughter, Lucie, said to her: “Mom, would you accept that Mirella calls you to try to give you courage? “

Dr. Mirella De Civita is a psychologist. She is a good friend of Lucie. When she learned that her mother was hospitalized, she offered to help.

“Mirella, it is a heart on two legs. Someone very generous, even if she is very busy“.

– Lucie, daughter of Jacqueline

Jacqueline agreed. From their first conversation, she felt an impulse when hearing the soft voice of the psychologist. “I felt like a 3 or 4 year old child who is told a story and who wants it again and again. She asked me to do visualization. For example, imagine myself in a place where I feel good with all the people I love. I imagined myself in the dining room of my daughter, who often receives the whole family. Then she told me to imagine that I got up and cuddled two people of my choice. Surely, they were my son and my daughter. And there I saw my whole world again…

They repeated the exercise every morning at 8 a.m. “It was my” boost “for the day. After that, I said to myself, “You have to heal. You have children, grandchildren … Life is still good. You have your little dog too….

When she told her grandchildren about her visualizations, they thought it was a little strange and teased her, she says laughing. “They said, ‘What did Grandma smoke?

The fact is, many scientific studies show that guided meditation can improve well-being and decrease patient suffering. For Jacqueline, the benefits have been immense. “If I hadn’t had Mirella, I don’t know how I would have done it“.

The psychologist is very moved by this recognition, but specifies that it was Jacqueline who did all the work. “I am only a compassionate friend who wanted to help by using my expertise, my knowledge. I didn’t act like her psychologist. I would not have been able to live all this with her if she had not made this choice herself“.

What is particularly difficult for patients with COVID-19 is the weight of loneliness. With the help of Mirella, Jacqueline no longer felt alone. She could feel the compassion that made her want to live again.

Of course, it goes without saying that visualization or meditation are not remedies for COVID-19, specifies the psychologist. “Without the medical care that Jacqueline received, I would not have been able to help her overcome the virus“.


When Jacqueline started to complain again, her son saw this as a good sign. She told a nurse that she would rather have given birth once a day than experience what she experienced during her hospital stay. “It would have been less difficult!

In principle, she should have been hospitalized for two weeks. But after 13 days, she couldn’t take it anymore. She was able to get her leave. Thus, on a rainy Thursday evening, Nicolas, who shared a duplex with her, found her outside the door of the hospital. He was moved when he saw her. Accompanied by a nurse, she was in a wheelchair. Still weak and emaciated. But very much alive.

It was time for me to go out.” Otherwise, I would have escaped during the night!

She didn’t want to get into the car too quickly. “Let me just get some rain and some air!

The return home was both happy and unsettling. Her poodle, Choupette, who refused to eat during her absence, has become even more “sticky” than ever. But nothing seemed the same anymore.

I felt like I was landing in another world“.

A strange world where you can no longer hug your children and grandchildren even after you think you are dying and have found a taste for life again.

Her grandchildren named her “Miraculous Grandma”.

She doesn’t like it too much, she said laughing. But she admits that this is how she feels: “miraculous” of COVID-19”.

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