Life in the Time of Coronavirus is a new GEN series where we are interviewing people across the country who have had their lives upended or are experiencing the stress of the unknown.
An anonymous home health aide in the Buffalo, New York, area talks about losing work due to the pandemic and the toll it’s taken on her clients.
I've been in the health care industry since I was 17 years old. This has been my first job and my only job. I’ve never ventured out into anything else. I’ve always loved what I do, and it’s been 34 years. I’ve worked in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. I’ve done in-home care and worked in hospitals. I worked in hospice, but it got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore because I couldn’t take watching people die. That just got to be too much for me because I became attached and then had to let them go. I don’t know how to separate my feelings from my work. It’s just who I am. My joy is taking care of other people.
I work for two different agencies as an aide. My first patient, who I see every day Monday through Friday, is 97 years old, and she is awesome. I’ve been taking care of her for six years. I have another client who has cerebral palsy. She’ll be turning 68 on Sunday. I used to bring her to visit me at my home every weekend until the coronavirus came along. Now I can’t bring her home because I want her to be safe and be at home with her family. I’ve been taking care of her for about two years.
I know we’re all going through something with this coronavirus. It’s scary. The first thing clients say when I arrive is, “How do you feel?” I tell them, “If I didn’t feel well, I would not be in your home.” That’s what I need clients to understand. I have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and my doctor told me not to be out here working. I said to my doctor, “I have to go to work to pay my bills.”
I just lost a client because of the coronavirus. The family decided they didn’t want to have an aide who also has other clients coming into their home, so they let me go. That was 18 hours of my work each week that I lost. I get paid $12 an hour.
Saturday is usually my day off. I only get one day off a week. But now, since I lost clients, in order to try to get to 40 hours of work a week, I have to work on Saturdays too.
I just picked up a new client. He’s 80 and has three clogged arteries in his heart, but they can’t do surgery because of the coronavirus, so he’s at home. His brother just died last night. We don’t know if it was from the coronavirus yet. He lives in New York City. So we’re waiting on that.
My clients are scared. They’re scared because they don’t know what’s going on and they can’t go outside. One of my clients is 98 years old, and she’s stuck in the house with nothing to do. She used to do her own grocery shopping, but I don’t let her go outside anymore. I said, “No, I’ll do everything for you.” I’m the only face she sees all day. And then on the weekend, she doesn’t get to see anybody. It’s hard for her. On Monday, I was late for work. She called me, worried, thinking I wasn’t going to come. I said, “Oh, no, sweetheart. I’m on my way right now.” She said, “Please, please keep coming every day.” I’m her outlet to talk about what’s going on. She said she’s never, ever seen anything like this. Just imagine: She’s seen a lot of things, but nothing like this.
My client with cerebral palsy keeps asking me, “Is it over yet? I’m ready to come over to your house like I used to.” I said, “No, sweetheart, it’s not over yet, it’s just beginning.” It’s making her very depressed. It’s scary to watch older people go through that.
It’s taking a toll on my kids too. They say, “Mom, we miss you. We need a hug. We need a kiss.” They keep saying, “Mom, if something happens, we don’t want to say that in our last days together we just video chatted. We want to hold you.” We are a very affectionate family. We love to hug, and our favorite word is “beautiful.” My daughter called me today and she just said, “Mom, this is really getting to me.” It’s hard.
One of the agencies I work for called and asked me how many clients I have. I have six right now. They said they’re going to give me six masks. I said, “I can’t wear the same mask every day!” When they said that to me, I almost lost my mind.
Since my client with the heart problem can’t have the operation he needs, he and I sat there today, and we prayed. I said, “Come on, how about we just sit here and read the Bible and just pray.” That’s all I can think to do to comfort him. He thanked me so much for coming and listening to him. Everybody needs somebody.
Whether we feel like we’re being appreciated or not, our clients appreciate us. And that’s what counts, making families feel good and safe, knowing that we’re taking care of their loved ones. I always tell my client, who’s 97, “If you ever feel like you don’t want to be in this house by yourself, I will spend the night with you. I don’t want you to ever get depressed or lonely.” And I tell her to call me anytime, day or night. It’s hard knowing that they’re all alone, especially now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.