Nearly 10 months after 92-year-old David Chalberg overcame COVID-19, he’s working to ensure he won’t have to do so twice.
On Sunday, the longtime Santa Clarita Valley resident received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Oakmont of Valencia community, where he resides in the memory care community — a day his daughter Chris Morley said felt like she was a kid at Disneyland again.
“I have been waiting and waiting for this and counting it down,” she said. “I was so excited for the whole thing to happen. … For me, it’s another step rounding that corner. I feel like there’s a light.”
Remembering the virus
COVID-19 has turned not only Chalberg’s, but also Morley’s life upside-down this past year, as both have had to adjust to pandemic living.
For Chalberg, the pandemic was hard to grasp at first, as he has advanced dementia, and the situation continues to be difficult to understand well after it became an important part of his own story — though he doesn’t remember.
Chalberg spent 18 days in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 in April, struggling with shortness of breath for a few days, then remaining asymptomatic for two weeks before he received his first negative test result.
He spent much of that time confused as to why he was in isolation — and though thrilled to be back in his own apartment once released, less than a week later the whole ordeal was all but forgotten.
“I have no idea (what happened) a few weeks ago — I’ve forgotten everything,” he said, just a few days later.
Each visit, Morley finds herself re-explaining the current health crisis, to which Chalberg usually replies, “‘Oh, yeah, that’s right: the virus,’” Morley said.
“He was a history teacher, so I try to catch him up on world events and whatnot,” she added.
‘One of the lucky ones’
For Morley, an exercise instructor at Oakmont who had been accustomed to being there almost daily, the separation from her father was the most difficult part.
The Oakmont community has gone through “evolutions” over the past year: From mid-March, when residents went into lockdown amid growing COVID-19 concerns, to restrictions being eased and outside visits allowed in July, then right back to quarantine just weeks later as cases began surging once again, Morley said.
“I know they’re doing the best they can (at Oakmont), but it’s just the little things, like not going outside for walks,” she said. “To me, that’s like the salvation of my day.”
It’s been tough, as life has been small for Chalberg without many of his usual activities to occupy his time, Morley said.
“I’ll say to him, ‘Dad, are you going nuts sitting in your room?’ And he’ll say, ‘Not really.’ And so that’s almost scarier to me because he was such a goer,” Morley added. “He was still volunteering at an elementary school at 87 years old, and always active, golfed, walked, so when he said he’s content in his room, I’m like, ‘I don’t want you to be content in your room.’”
Even so, Morley considers them among the lucky ones.
“It was easy for me because he’s got the downstairs apartment, so I would ride my bike there and park at his window. I didn’t figure that out for quite a while,” she added, chuckling, “but once I did, that’s what we’ve been doing ever since. … We’re the lucky ones. Trust me.”
In July, when outside visits were allowed, it was still difficult, as they weren’t able to hug, let alone touch, and everyone was instructed to remain more than 6 feet apart.
“My dad turned around to hug me the first time, and the caretaker said, ‘Oh, no, no, David, we can’t do that.’ And he just started crying,” she said.
Vaccination efforts underway at Oakmont
Chalberg was part of the second round of vaccination clinics held at Oakmont’s communities beginning this month, with all residents and team members now eligible to receive the vaccine.
“Just as Oakmont Senior Living was quick to adapt safety and health protocols to keep residents safe early on in the pandemic, we also were among the first to begin a coordinated vaccination effort in January,” Crystal Robinson, the company’s chief marketing officer, said in a prepared statement Monday. “We are encouraging residents and their families to share in the excitement and optimism around the vaccines and what it means for the future.”
Though Morley couldn’t have been more excited for vaccination day, for Chalberg, getting vaccinated was another question mark.
“He just could not figure out what all the hoopla was about,” Morley said. “I’m like, ‘Dad, you got the vaccine. This is great. We’re turning a corner.’”
“Oh, OK. If you say so,” Chalberg replied.
Nevertheless, Morley certainly appreciated the celebration.
“They had the room all decorated and did an awesome job making it a huge deal about it,” she said. “It was beautiful, and he was like, ‘Why am I sitting here?’”
To date, Oakmont has administered an estimated 2,700 vaccines to residents and team members, including Chalberg, who’s had no side effects since.
“David’s recovery from COVID-19 has been an inspiration to all of us at Oakmont of Valencia,” said Stephanie Funderburg, the community’s executive director. “Our residents are like family, and their health and safety is our top priority during this challenging time. We are all celebrating the vaccination clinics and grateful that our residents will soon be able to enjoy the people and activities they love without fear of coronavirus. All of our communities across California are accepting move-ins, and new residents will be eligible for our next round of doses at Oakmont of Valencia and other Oakmont communities.”
Now, Chalberg said he’s looking forward to just doing anything that’s normal again, as it’s been difficult to not be with people outside of Oakmont — though he said he’s very grateful for where he is and the care that he gets.