Rebecca Hyde began working at an assisted living facility shortly before the beginning of the pandemic. As an essential worker, she quickly adapted to an expanded role to ensure the residents of her facility were well cared for.
Submitted July 15, 2020
The last few years have been big ones for me personally. I went back to school, was diagnosed with cancer, had surgery, watched my father decline, and quit school to be by his side when he ended up in the ICU and then Hospice. This past fall, after my father’s death, I moved to a new city to be with my partner. And my once-hectic life turned quiet again. Working from home as an editor kept me busy, but I didn’t have friends in my new city and my quiet life was a bit too quiet.
So in November I took a job as a receptionist at an assisted living facility (ALF)—a residence for older adults who need or want help with daily activities. It was just one day a week, and it was perfect. I especially enjoyed getting to know the residents. Then in March the COVID-19 pandemic began dominating the news, and New York State ordered ALFs like mine to close their dining halls and begin serving meals to residents in their rooms. This required more kitchen staff. I began working at the ALF five days a week—four in the kitchen, and one at the reception desk.
I also carried in my car’s glovebox a letter from our executive director. It said I was an “essential worker.” It felt good to be needed, to be part of this special army of people. But I was also nervous. Schools and universities were closing. Hospitals were overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure I had the nerve to leave my house, much less go to work with dozens of people.
I was jumpy at first. Staff were required to wear a paper surgical mask, but some people fidgeted with them. A coworker would keep touching her mask, or pull it down and let it rest against her chin. In response, I would freeze. Or quickly leave the room. Or back up. … Needless to say, I didn’t make many friends.
But then, after a few weeks, I stopped worrying so much. The virus still raged and some long-term-care facilities were in the news as hotspots, but our facility seemed to be COVID-free and I was busy. In my hairnet and my mask, I would knock on people’s doors before letting myself in. “I’m here to talk about food!” I would announce. Residents who were isolated from their families and often alone in their rooms seemed to appreciate my company, even if my visits were brief. I enjoyed my work.
Of course, my kitchen and receptionist duties were small potatoes in comparison to the work of doctors and nurses. Those essential workers save lives. But I am glad I had a chance to be useful, and to be busy. From a mental health perspective, I was happier when I was busy.