Some time ago, as I shared with you, my husband took on a part time job working a few evenings and weekends bringing some happiness and joy to the residents of a local nursing home. He worked a few hours after dinner, and on the weekends, specifically so he could take care of our three boys (now 16, 12 and 5), run errands, go grocery shopping, clean the house, do the laundry, and those other fun domestic things. I, meanwhile, continued to be free in my role as the world-traveling breadwinning woman in tech, working long hours and traveling frequently for work.
And then, the coronavirus changed everything.
Before continuing, I wanted to take a moment to join with the world in condemning the murders of George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others – as well as the systemtic race issues that continue to plague our country. We here at the CMO family are committed to being part of the solution to these issues. If you’re looking for resources to guide you on how you can help, I recommend checking out what the team over at the Plutus Awards has pulled together.
We live in Connecticut, which has been and continues to be one of the hotbeds of COVID in the US (primarily due to our proximity to NYC). Like many families, the coronavirus impacted us slowly, then all at once. Schools cancelled all after school activities on a Tuesday and shut down entirely by Thursday – and we didn’t know it at the time, but they wouldn’t reopen this school year.
My work cancelled a key, week long, overseas (in Scotland) planning meeting with four days notice as signs increased that the coronavirus started to spread around the world. It was replaced with travel to another state – which was then cancelled with twelve hours notice. My March work schedule went from both international and domestic travel for three of the four work weeks…to none at all. All in the matter of a week.
And then, of course, there was my husbands job in the nursing home. His job is something he loves – he adores the residents and enjoys finding new ways to entertain them. At first, the nursing home suddenly shut down to outside visitors. Group entertainment was banned, so he had to find ways to bring some happiness to their rooms. He picked up books, puzzles, playing cards, and magazines to bring to specific residents (based on what they liked!) and walked room to room to help them Facetime with loved ones or play them movies or some music.
Part of the reason this job means so much to him is that, at one time, he was where many of them are. The nursing home is a space for not just convalescence, but often for rehabilitation as well. And he had spent weeks in a rehab center some years ago, after his near death of septic shock back in 2012. He knows just how boring it is to be stuck in your room, to not feel well, and to be bored while recovering. And even for residents who will never recover, who will stay in the nursing home permanently, they mean a lot to him. He loves helping to be the bright spot in their day.
So his job continued with some significant changes, but still, things were going all right.
And then COVID happened. Not to the world, this time. To them.
From Bingo and Music to N-95s and Janitor
COVID struck the nursing home, starting with one resident. Then several more, then more, until now over a third of the residents have or had the virus. In order to go in and bring some joy to the residents, he had to wear an N-95 mask, a face shield, and other PPE. Not exactly what you expect when you sign up to help residents play bingo, or show them movies.
And then, a week or so after the first case was identified, he was asked to step in and help to clean the home. The need for cleaning, re-cleaning, and cleaning some more at the facility was tremendous. There were others who could step in to help fill the gap entertaining the residents who weren’t ill. Those that were ill, and the staff, needed a clean facility.
So many people have asked me, incredulously, “He still goes into work???” upon finding out that he goes to a place where there’s active COVID cases. Many of the people I talk with are used to jobs where you can work from home, staying safe behind your keyboard. And everyone empathizes with the doctors and nurses, charging into the hospitals to save lives.
And especially with having been on a ventilator in the past, catching COVID himself – or giving it to us – is a real fear. I know what it’s like to see someone in person who is having a ventilator breathe for them for days. Trust me, it’s not a good feeling. And I remember being by his side in the ICU for 16 hours a day, leaving only to sleep. I feel such empathy for all these families who can only helplessly watch their loved one struggle to breathe via Facetime.
But if he didn’t go in, then what? If he wasn’t there to help clean, more people – staff and residents – could fall ill. If all the people who need to help care for the physical or mental well being of some of our most vulnerable residents stopped showing up to work, then who would be there to help?
A lot of the employees where he works have needed cheering up at various points in time, and he’s just the guy to give them a pep talk. As you can imagine, it’s an extremely stressful and tragic situation for many of the staff. They didn’t sign up for this, and it’s devastating for them to lose so many residents in such a short period of time to this terrible virus. Unlike a hospital, where you don’t get to know your patients very well, in a nursing home they’re like your extended family. You know them, their history, what they like, their family – and to see them pass away is so hard.
What We’ve All Given Up
The fact that he goes into a place with active COVID cases means there’s family we can’t see, because they’re 80+ or immunocompromised. It means that we stay home a lot, even as places reopen. Because we can’t know if we’re one of the people who have caught the virus and aren’t showing symptoms yet. Even as our state re-opens and many resume visits with friends, family, and others, we hesitate.
At one point he had to work multiple twelve hour shifts in a row from 7 AM until 7 PM. Now, you might remember that I have an extremely demanding job that can be done remotely, as well as a five year old. I’ll tell you, on those days that didn’t mix very well. Like a lot of working moms out there, I just had to do my best to stay on mute when I was barged in on, and whip up an ultra-quick lunch in between meetings.
Even after that, he was asked to change his hours from after dinner (6-9 PM) to afternoons (3-7 PM). That’s still very much during my remote workday, but fortunately it’s also at the end of the older boys virtual school. That means they can help entertain the little guy for a few hours, and then I can run downstairs after work and whip up a quick dinner.
When he comes home from work, there’s no hugs, no sitting down for dinner. Instead, his shoes come off in the garage. He strips off his protective suit and throws it in the wash. Then he heads upstairs for a shower, all before getting to sit down and finally eat dinner.
Essential Workers – They Really Are Our Heros
A few weeks ago, my twelve year old seventh grader was asked to write a letter to someone for “Heros Day” at his middle school. He chose to write a letter to his dad, telling him how proud he was of him.
I write a lot on here about being the financial breadwinner of the family, and I know sometimes people might think that earning more than someone else somehow makes you “more important” than someone else.
The pandemic has laid bare just how wrong a lot of things are, including this assumption. When this is all over one day, I hope we all remember the importance of the farmer, the warehouse worker, the grocery store employee, and so many more.
And yes, the janitor at a nursing home.
Be sure to follow my blog for more great posts via e-mail or WordPress, or connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and say hello! You can also check out what I’m buying or baking on Instagram, what I’m pinning on Pinterest, or the subscribe to the latest videos I’m putting up on YouTube. Once I start posting videos again, that is.
14 thoughts on “My Husband Was On A Ventilator, and Used To Entertain the Elderly. Now He Cleans a COVID Nursing Home.”
Liz, you got me completely choked up with this one. Please tell your husband how grateful my family is for his service. What a selfless, largely invisible act of love he’s doing, especially when he’s been on a ventilator himself and knows all-too-well the risks he’s taking. Hang in there, mama. I had a heck of a Spring homeschooling and teaching full time, and that’s with shorter teacher hours. Not an easy thing to do. I hope that things get easier soon. Sending hugs.
I hear you, it’s been a crazy few months here with working, remote school, no more preschool for the little guy, and such drastic changes in what my husband has been asked to do at work. Doing my best to hang in there but I’m going to need some time off soon just to regroup!
My godmom died during quarantine, and knowing that I couldn’t get to her was one of the hardest things that ever happened to me. One of the only things that made it even a bit better was knowing that there were people like your husband who were brave enough and dedicated enough to be with her. There aren’t enough words in the world to explain what we owe people like your husband. On behalf of all the families he’s helping, I can’t thank him and you and your boys enough. I’ll continue to keep you all in my thoughts, Liz. 💙
(((Hugs)))) I’m so sorry for your loss.
Your husband is a hero, the jobs that pay little and aren’t glamorous are often the ones that are the most needed. I hope that we all pay a little more attention to the cashier at the checkout and the cleaners who all too often get ignored and stepped on.
Thank you for sharing and from a stranger from Canada tell him thank you.
If you are high risk, and I’m not sure having been on a ventilator in the past makes you high risk, but if it does? Then no, spreading a little cheer to suffering people is not worth risking your life if the job can be done by someone healthy and under 65. There is basically near zero risk to them, so it just is a matter of common sense to me. That’s if it was me we were talking about, and as an engineer it would be all about the numbers and nothing else. But I’d never say it didn’t make sense for him. Everyone has their own calculus for what is a prudent risk for themselves.
Fortunately I’ve never seen being on a ventilator in the past as a risk factor for COVID. It just means that we, much more than your ordinary family, know exactly what it’s like to need that particular lifesaving treatment. Luckily he has no other pre-existing conditions and is well under 65, unlike most of the residents.
Liz, thank your husband. That’s a monumental sacrifice for y’all as a family but reading between the lines, it seems like y’all determined it’s the right thing to do. And it is. Someone had to step up and make the sacrifice and he (and by extension, your family, did). From everything I understand, you can work safely in a Covid – 19 environment as long as you have the proper PPE. My partner is a nurse so the severe shortages of PPE (still the large hospital system he works for is short on 18 different inventory items – some of which are PPE, some ventilator parts, etc) – are scary. But if you wear your PPE, follow good donning and doffing protocol, you are not likely to get the virus. My partner’s unit handles non Covid cases, but if there is a spike then they will get turned into an ICU and we have certain protocols and plans of action if he thinks he may have been exposed. Thank you for sharing and thank your husband again.
Fortunately he’s well supplied with PPE-which is a miracle considering that it’s not something a nursing home might “typically” have on hand. And he’s been good about wearing his N-95 since before the first positive case. I hope your partner also stays safe and healthy!
Well, I was doing a great job keeping it together until that hero letter hit me directly in the feels. Essential workers really are heroes — so grateful for the work people like your husband are doing during this challenging time <3
This is just beautiful. Yes, thank your husband and we continue to express thanks to all those who have been working harder than ever during this pandemic! I love the letter from your son too.
Your husband is truly a hero! What a good man you have. I’m a nurse in a major academic hospital and even I haven’t been placed in as precarious a situation as your husband. Thank you to all of you for allowing him to do such great work and to make sacrifices for the rest of us!
Your husband is so brave and generous, and so are you and the kids. Thanks so much for sharing and stay safe out there. 🙂
This is amazing and your husband is so brave. Thank you for writing and sharing this amazing story with us.