After retiring from Lompoc Valley Medical Center, Lori Cornejo Morris was contacted this month by a former colleague who wanted to interview her about her 36-year career for the hospital's blog.
Morris was completely unprepared for what came next.
After the conversation in front of Morris' home, the Lompoc native said she began to notice unusual activity on the street that runs past her house.
“I was sitting in the front yard and I hear these people honking,” she said.
Those people turned out to be Morris' former coworkers, along with friends and family members, who had converged on her neighborhood for a drive-by retirement celebration in lieu of a traditional send-off due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Six generations of Belia Delgado’s family converged on the Lompoc Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center to share birthday wishes and briefly communicate with Delgado through glass. Although the effort carried some of the festiveness of past celebrations, Delgado's daughter acknowledged that this year’s gathering wasn’t the same.
“I was very, very surprised and very, very emotional," Morris said. "It was nice.”
The 60-year-old Morris, who spent her entire career in LVMC’s dietary services department, was forced into retirement late last year after being diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.
Because her immune system is compromised, Morris has spent much of her nascent retirement at home with her sister and parents. Being disconnected from so many people over the past few months has not been easy, she said.
“I can’t go anywhere,” said Morris, who underwent chemotherapy treatment last year and may need to do it again. “I'm always afraid that I'm going to get [the coronavirus]. I've been away from my grandkids and my children. I really miss them.”
Further complicating matters, Morris is a self-described “people person.”
That trait was evident throughout her career, during which she was responsible for preparing inpatient drinks and desserts and tracking dietary changes at LVMC. Morris sometimes considered transferring to a different department within the hospital, but it was that constant interaction with people that compelled her to stay.
LVMC officials have said they intend to honor Morris with a more traditional retirement party when the pandemic abates.
“I’m looking forward to that, and getting to see my kids again,” Morris said.
In the meantime, Morris said she has the utmost confidence in her former colleagues as they continue to care for those suffering in the Lompoc Valley. She noted, too, that she has been touched by the community support directed at the hospital workers.
“It’s been really hard and I just think they’re doing an awesome job and I really feel for them,” she said of the LVMC staff. “I think it’s awesome that the public is doing so much for them, like volunteering and giving them meals. … I really miss them.”
The series “Our neighbors: Living through a pandemic” is a collection of short vignettes highlighting the struggle and the hope of residents quarantined on the Central Coast. Through their stories it becomes clear that we really are facing the coronavirus together.
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