Grace Brulotte is seen wearing a handmade mask delivered to her by a generous community member. Photo Submitted

Living with a disabiliy in the time of COVID-19

Fernie local Grace Brulotte reflects on her experience with the COVID-19 pandemic

While COVID-19 has affected everyone in the community, the challenges sprouting from pandemic related changes are increasingly felt by those with disabilities. Grace Brulotte, Fernie local and founder of the Gracie Lou Foundation, is one of the many people who have been negatively affected by the additional weight of isolation.

To ease the burden faced by those with disabilities, caregivers are deemed essential workers. Though Brulotte has been forced to reduce staff to limit health risks, her caregiver Scott Courtemanche continues to support her, performing all tasks with a heightened focus on hygiene.

“COVID has changed the level of commitment and seriousness I need from my employees, and in some cases my physical care has become more involved. My caregivers, along with the many others like them, are the real superheroes of COVID-19. We may be directed to look up to our leaders in stressful times such as these, but I look up to the many people who choose to give themselves and continue to help individuals such as myself,” said Brulotte.

Having previously lived in an apartment alongside many other people, it was recommended she move elsewhere for the duration of isolation. Currently residing at Courtemanche’s home, they have not been able to see family or friends since March 20, as they take social distancing very seriously. Currently, Courtemanche carries out most outings. Besides embarking on her daily walk, Brulotte remains totally isolated. While isolation is nothing new for her during the winter months due to limited accessibility, she is used to enjoying the outdoors in the springtime, leading to numerous difficulties with regard to routine, sociability, and general wellbeing.

“COVID has impacted people with a disability in so many ways that it would take an hour or two to explain it all. These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. They are also the least likely to be given a ventilator if the choice between them and a person without disabilities has to be made. So it makes them even more nervous about interacting outside of the home regardless of social distancing, because catching the virus could very likely be a death sentence,” said Courtemanche. “My hope is that people will heed the warnings and practice proper social distancing, assist the disabled and elderly and their neighbours who need it when they need it and remember that we are all in this together. While you might be healthy and survive the virus, you may pass it along to someone who may not.”

In terms of program cancellations, many of the services Brulotte depended on are no longer operational, or have transitioned virtually. While virtual therapy allows for continued treatment from home, the closure of facilities means many of Brulotte’s exercise options, such as zero gravity exercise in pools and chiropractic visits for spinal pain, are no longer available. Alternately, her physical therapy has been reduced to floating in a tub and stretching.

“The hardest part of this is not having my weekly therapy sessions, such as chiropractor and swimming, to relieve the constant chronic pain I experience. I don’t think I’ve ever not seen my chiropractor for more than a couple weeks in probably four or five years… As a person with a disability I still experience medical issues, whether there’s a pandemic or not, so receiving the treatments I need has either been extremely difficult or not able to happen at all. Unfortunately physical treatment can’t be done online,” said Brulotte.

With all of these challenges, Brulotte and many others who are also considered high risk often struggle to find hope. To deal with those thoughts, she puts her efforts into urging the community to abide by social distancing protocols, and to come together in an effort to protect one another’s lives.

“Because my lung capacity is restricted and I have a compromised immune system, I know that contracting COVID-19 would be most likely deadly. Coupled with knowing that I would not be chosen to receive a ventilator should there be a shortage and someone who is “normal” needed one, COVID becomes an even scarier monster. Helplessness is a pretty dominant feeling right now for many in my situation. But knowing that I’m doing everything I can to keep myself safe, and that I have the support to do so, is reassuring. Besides that, one can only take it one day at a time,” said Brulotte.

For more information on the Gracie Lou Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting social and physical inclusion for individuals with disabilities, visit the Gracie Lou Foundation on Facebook.

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