See this post in the original Spanish submission here.
My name is Marta Martinez, I am from El Salvador and I have been living in the United States for twenty-eight years. I am a member of the Golden Steps cooperative for elder care and we say “present” to the International Women´s Strike.
I work with a seventy three years old lady who is diabetic, has a pacemaker, and has difficulties walking. I thought I was going to spend little time with her, but it has already been one year and a half. Some time ago she stopped receiving therapies at home, but I have continued helping her with physical exercises. Even if her recovery is slow, I think I have helped her a lot. She depends on me greatly, without me she feels very weak, very nervous. She likes me to be present when a nurse or doctor visits her. She feels stronger if I’m by her side.
I am the mother of two little girls ̶seven and four years old ̶ which demand a lot of my attention. My husband helps me, but Mom is Mom, so I have to spend time with them. I do not have enough time for everything I have to do. At work, I often do overtime without payment because I feel that I cannot leave her abandoned by herself.
I am passionate about this job. Before I was cleaning houses. However, when I got pregnant from my youngest girl at forty two, I decided that I had to find a job that required less physical strength and that I liked. I like to be with older people, listen to their stories and learn from their experiences. In short, to understand the progression of a lifetime, which is one of the issues we learn at the cooperative. We have trainings of all kinds, for example on Alzeheimer, malnutrition and CPR. I have the need to be in every single training session because I feel there is something new to learn every time. We recently had an open house. We are going to get new people. I am very demanding; I want them to have to have passion about this job, bringing together mind and heart. Sometimes I feel that I am exaggerating, that I become too passionate. I give more than I should give, and I expose myself much more than I should.
It is very difficult to put work first and home second. For example, on the day of my client’s surgery, we had to be in the clinic at 7:00 am and transportation arrived at 6:00. That day my daughter had school. My husband works at night and arrives at dawn. I begged him to get up early and take the girl to school, but it is very difficult. You know: husband, father, man. I am a woman, my client is a woman and I try to understand many things about being women. A woman identifies with a woman, we understand and know each other. I had a strong need to accompany the lady because she has no family. There are times when emotions win over me. Her son, a young male, who is the one who should be by her side, is present, but he is also not. He listens to the word “needle” and gets scared, says he cannot withstand it. She is hiding her health condition in front of her son. With me at her side, it is no longer just her two eyes, but two more eyes, two more ears, and one more tongue, even though hers is already quite something!
Elder care is something that touches one, no matter how strong the person may be. When you are a mother, a sister, a daughter, it is inevitable to feel that way. Sometimes it is not quite in the open, it is not exposed, but it comes out with time. Laughter is shared. You are fond of the person who cleans your house; a thread of feeling starts to appear. There are things about her that her daughters do not even know. Through these conversations you discover things that bind you to that person. The lady I work with speaks Spanish. I believe that people who speak Spanish have another vein that binds us.
I had another patient with Alzeheimer, she was American and I attended her with Medicaid. We clicked since we saw each other. Around six people were taking care of her. Thanks to the training I received, I noticed that she no longer knew who was who. She told me about some of the women who came from agencies, who would arrive and start doing gym exercises. She was sitting wanting to go to the bathroom and the agency people doing exercises. In this work one faces things like that that hurt. The lady had a hump and her head would almost hit the chest. When I stopped working for her, somehow she got my phone number and called me. “How did you get it?” I asked her. She laughed and said, “come to see me, I’ll wait for you sitting at the door”. Sometimes I would go just to see her, even though I could not go work for her. She had a heart attack. I do not know if it was due to carelessness, it was at dawn. She was ninenty seven years old and to this day I remember her. It got me hard. I’ve been digesting it little by little, like a little love that lived in me. I still have a lot of love for her memory.
Another lady I worked for died under my care. Yes, with me. Her husband had died and she had no children. She had a very good nephew, who cooked food for her. The nephew told me that he had businesses upstate and that he could not take care of them because he needed to be with her. Because of my daughters I cannot extend my work schedule, but he begged me to work for his aunt. They had tried several people, but she was very difficult to handle. With me, she was another person, she even let herself be bathed. I arrived on a Friday, bathed her, and fed her. We chatted. She had a little chair that was her favorite spot. After the bath, I would sit her on that chair. That day I said: I will leave now, there are leftovers in the refrigerator. I found her dead in the same spot that I had left her. The bed was intact. Everything was as I had left it. We thought with the police that she died that same Friday. I think it was seconds after I left. When I arrived and I opened that door…
The cooperative was founded in 2011 and I started working with them in 2015. When it was founded, there was a huge desire to set it up as a cooperative, but at the same time they could not find a way. They were very few at first since working in groups is not easy because everyone has different opinions. However, now we are fourteen, most of the members have jobs, are active and are learning.
There is a difference between working alone, working with an agency, and working with a cooperative. When I work alone, I am my own boss, I boss myself around, but also I only manage to achieve what my personhood allows me to. I cannot get very far on my own because I’m not educated. The cooperative has given me education and I have learned to work in a group. We are all the owners, but we also have a leadership table that supervises us. We have a statute, rules, guidelines to follow. I am currently chair of the leadership table, which is a committee where decisions are made. When something cannot be fixed there, the discussion is brought to the entire membership. In the cooperative we have a contract with the client. If I’m on my own, they’ll throw me out whenever they want and it’s over. With the cooperative I have a contract, I have insurance and legal advice.
In the cooperative, the payment I receive for my work is mine. In the agency, they charge the client and give me whatever they want. The agency does not educate me and, when they send me with a client, I do not know if the client has Alzeheimer or what situation I’m going to find. With the cooperative, I do know. The person who takes the call finds out in what condition the client is and what is the family situation, so that the worker is prepared as best as possible and is guided by other colleagues, if necessary.
The agency is bad for the client and bad for the employee. The client does not know if the person that they are going to send knows how to read and write, they have no idea. In the cooperative, we are several workers and if there are clients with specific needs, they are channeled to those who are more qualified. In the cooperative we are trained. For example, we know how to perform CPR, while when working with an agency, they not only do not teach us how to do it, but we are prohibited from using it if an emergency arises. When the lady I worked with passed away, I called 911. They told me: Perform CPR! I told them: no, she’s dead, she’s dead! They did not understand that she was dead or maybe they were saying that to keep me alert. In the agency they told me, “If she had been alive, you still could not have done CRP. When you are working for us, it is prohibited”. At Golden Steps, we are stronger as a cooperative than alone or as an agency employee.
This March 8 I would have loved to attend the march, but I have no one to leave my daughters with. However, I will join the strike. Tomorrow my client will be without me. I will not cook for her, I will not do errands for her, I will not wash her clothes, I will not buy her groceries. I will not take her pressure, I will not accompany her to the doctor, I will not remind her that she has to inject herself with insulin, nor monitor her pacemaker. I will not massage her for her circulation and we will not do movement exercises so that her feet do not get rigid. I hope she takes her own medicines!