The outbreak’s disruptions suffocate North Gyeongsang family

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The outbreak’s disruptions suffocate North Gyeongsang family

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Kim’s eldest daughter is now spending her days at home after the coronavirus outbreak. [KIM SHIN-AE]

“She was supposed to be having her language disability treatment classes at the welfare center during this time.”

Kim Sin-ae, a mother of two children, who lives in Uljin County in North Gyeongsang, sighed as she talked to JoongAng Ilbo on Monday. Whenever Kim thinks of her eldest daughter and the coronavirus situation, she feels suffocated. Her daughter, currently 23 years of age, has scarred brain tissue, a learning disability and epilepsy. Additionally, issues with her physical development mean she has difficulty ingesting food.

In the family of four, which includes Kim’s husband and their youngest daughter, Kim is the only one who can take care of the eldest daughter. But the time investment required for her daughter has not stopped Kim from trying to raise awareness about children with disabilities. In fact, giving speeches on the issue is a regular part of her life.

However, the coronavirus outbreak is not only disrupting the daily routines of the family but is potentially putting Kim’s eldest daughter in harm’s way.

Normally, her daughter would undergo physical therapy and take language classes at the family’s local community welfare center for people with disabilities in North Gyeongsang. These sessions would span a total of two hours. But from February, along with Daegu, North Gyeongsang became a hotbed for the virus outbreak. As a result, various public facilities were closed. The welfare center was no exception.

Kim’s family needed help - and fast. The most pressing problem related to Kim’s daughter’s issues was with her digestive system, as the only way she can get the necessary nutrients to survive is through what is essentially an IV drip (containing liquidized food) directly connected to a hole in her stomach. And this IV can only be administered by a medical professional.

Fortunately, the family received clearance which allowed a health care worker to visit their home and provide the necessary assistance. The worker arrives at 9 a.m. and stays until 6 p.m., helping during showering and meal times.

But as the coronavirus outbreak persists, the possibility of the clearance getting revoked looms over the family’s heads.

Another coronavirus-related concern the family is struggling with has to do with the huge surge in the need for masks and disinfectants across the country. For Kim and her family, these items were commonplace in the family long before the outbreak, in order to keep a clean environment for her eldest daughter, who is more susceptible to infection. Kim is meticulous with keeping the house disinfected.

But when the country experienced a shortage of disinfectants and masks, it was difficult for Kim to properly sanitize the house.

“Individuals diagnosed with development disorders are not considered priority candidates for masks,” the local public office had replied when Kim had requested emergency supplies.

Furthermore, Kim can no longer bring her daughter to hospitals if an emergency were to arise. In the case of epileptic seizures, the family has to administer first aid and wait until medical help arrives. This waiting time stretched noticeably in recent days, especially since many of the wards are currently taken up by coronavirus patients.

Normal routines, ones with deeper shades of meaning, have also been shaken up by the outbreak.

Every Tuesday, Kim would walk with her eldest daughter around the local marketplace. Thursday, on the other hand, would be reserved for their visit to the library. But with the coronavirus outbreak and the push for “social distancing,” the family had to put a stop to the outings.

“Those outings were special moments for my daughter,” Kim said. “She loved those outings.”

Additionally, according to Kim, lack of adequate social contact can also potentially cause a regression in her cognitive abilities.

But, despite all the difficulties, Kim shared her experiences of uplifting moments.

She was only able to overcome moments of crises through the help of others: For example, another family, who also has a child with a disability, shared masks and disinfectants with her family. These moments have given Kim hope.

“[To all families taking care of disabled children], be sure to take care of the children, but also be sure to take care of your own psychological health,” said Kim, emphasizing the need for such parents to have personal time by themselves, “everyone is experiencing difficulties, so do not forget to help others, and we will get through this difficult period together.”

BY SHIM SEO-KYONG [lee.joongi@joongang.co.kr]

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