Before falling ill, Eleanor June Schueneman had lived independently, her daughter said, “quiet and strong” as always.
She had married three times. She worked as a salesperson at drug stores in Ohio and in her 60s rode a motorcycle to work. She logged 5,000 hours volunteering at the Bay Pines VA, opening mail and sorting prescriptions. She watched her son die of cancer.
Over a few weeks in April, Schueneman, 94, went from Largo Medical Center to Seminole Pavilion Rehabilitation and Nursing Services at Freedom Square, then Northside Hospital, struggling first with pneumonia, then with COVID-19. She was at Seminole Pavilion only about a week before becoming one of dozens of residents and staffers there to test positive, among the state’s worst outbreaks.
Doctors at Northside gave Schueneman a chance to chat by video with her family — her first FaceTime, said daughter Sandra McKinley. She was short of breath, a tube carrying oxygen through her nose, but sitting up and smiling. McKinley, 75, later wished she had taken a photo.
Schueneman was thin in her medical gown, and her close-cropped hair had grown long. She talked about a planned move to an assisted living facility. She told her family she loved them. She always had.
Doctors called the next day, McKinley said, and “she was totally unresponsive.
“They said she only had a few hours left.”
This is what, in death reports, medical examiners refer to as the decline. It often comes rapidly and without a chance for one more hug or careful words chosen from a long life for a last goodbye.
In Schueneman’s case, records show, she entered Northside on April 17. She died eight days later. She had asked doctors to make her comfortable if things became dire but to not resuscitate.
She stopped talking. Nurses vowed to hold her hand.
On a last call, her daughter told her it was okay to go. “They said she was a strong old bird, she didn’t want to give up. She wasn’t ready. She didn’t want to die.”
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