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.
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