[ICYMI] A professional caregiver reflects on life during COVID-19

May 14, 2021 | Renee Raketty
[ICYMI] A professional caregiver reflects on life during COVID-19

I was sitting with my slumbering client in the Swedish Edmonds emergency department in late November as I overheard a nurse inform the attending physicians and nurses that another patient had tested positive for COVID-19. A lot of other people there, complaining of a variety of ailments we recognize as symptoms of the virus, could have also been positive.

I spent ten hours there that day, just a fraction of all the time I've spent in hospitals, doctors offices, and COVID-19 testing sites since the pandemic began. This such the life of a caregiver.

In Washington State, professional caregivers are licensed as registered or certified nursing assistants or home healthcare aides. I possess none of these licenses, however (although I do have counseling and phlebotomy licenses), because I am exempt from the requirements, having obtained a Fundamentals of Caregiving certificate while working at a twenty-bed mental health facility. Still, I am honored to consider myself among these healthcare professionals.

The life of a caregiver is demanding work, both physically and emotionally, even under normal conditions. With the addition of the uncertain course of this global pandemic, the disruption to routines, and the potential for infection, what caregivers do on a daily basis can only be described as miraculous.

Unsurprisingly, many of us found that our personal and professional stressors only grew during those early months, while at the same time the requirement to physically distance led to the collapse of our support systems. This increased psychological stress has led to physical fatigue and depression among many caregivers.

I credit my employer for helping me through my own challenges. The Camelot Society, founded in 1970, is a nonprofit organization providing residential services for adults with developmental disabilities. It operates fourteen group homes and supports living sites across King and Snohomish Counties. It released its comprehensive COVID-19 plan has kept most residents and employees safe from the virus. In addition, the management provided virtual social opportunities and even a scavenger hunt involving our cars.

While caregivers are often overlooked when we discuss healthcare heroes, they are the most vital link between patients and the care they need. Therefore, it was heartwarming when the Refugee Artisan Initiative delivered over a hundred hand-sewn masks to caregivers and patients alike. Likewise, a lot of folks worked overtime at the county and state levels to ensure we had the personal protective equipment we need to keep everyone safe.

Caregivers are special people. They often put others before themselves. During a pandemic, the risks involved in this kind of work are amplified manyfold. However, caregivers also leave work satisfied, knowing that their contributions give immeasurable comfort during unprecedented times.

Renee is a successful writer and photojournalist living in Seattle who found herself working as a caregiver during a global pandemic. She is also a longtime LGBT civil rights activist and former managing editor of the Seattle Gay News.