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Gabriele Swe's picture

This blog post originally appeared in Direct Care Alliance.

I have been a direct care worker for about 10 years. I truly believe we make a difference in the lives of elders and the sick. I love my work and I get paid well for it, but I don’t get paid sick time or paid holidays.

I came here from Germany when I was 25. I didn’t speak any English. I was married to a military man, who brought me here. At first, I just took care of my husband and my house. I volunteered at a thrift shop just to get out, but I was very shy and always worried that I would say the wrong thing.

Then I got divorced and moved to Seattle. I started in a warehouse because I didn’t speak English well. Then I was hired by a large eye care company, where I was promoted to Quality Control Technician until the company moved out of state.

I went to a retraining center, where they tested me and suggested becoming a patient care technician. I always liked working with people, and I really love elderly people—I was 11 or 12 when my grandmother passed away, and up to then I was always with her, even when she was really ill. So I went into the PCT program and then went to work in a nursing home.

But I’m a person who, when someone cries, I just want to hold them. When I did that at the nursing home, they said “Oh no, you cannot do that; you have to just do your work,” so I quit. I went to a home care agency whose clients pay privately. I cared for my first client for five and a half years. She passed away in September 2011. I still miss her very much.

She treated me like a daughter, and I did everything for her. After she had a major stroke, I stayed with her in rehab and worked hard with the physical therapist and the occupational therapist to help her get better. I did all her personal care, made sure her clothes were clean, exercised with her, made all of her medical appointments, shopped and cooked nutritional meals, ordered medication and set up her med set, took vitals, checked her weight daily (doctor’s orders), took her to all of her many doctor’s appointments, and was her emotional support. She treated me extremely well too. I got paid well, and I got holiday pay and vacation pay.

I still make good money—I cannot complain about that—but I don’t get overtime, paid sick time or paid holidays. That makes it very hard to take any time off, especially since I feel so connected to my clients.

I’m remarried now, and sometimes my husband wishes I would spend more time at home, or take off enough time to go on vacation with him. It can be hard for us even to get just a weekend off together, because I want to be there whenever my clients need me, no matter how long the hours are.

With my first home care client, I started out working three days a week about 10 hours a day, then went to five days a week about 10 hours a day. After her stroke it was 4 days a week for 24 hours a day, and I stayed with her 24 hours a day whenever she was in the hospital.

I try hard not to get sick so I won’t have to miss any work. I take extra vitamin C in the winter and I wash my hands twice as much as usual. But there’s only so much you can do. We all get sick sometimes, and we all need to take some time away from work to be with our own families or friends.

It can be very difficult for those of us who love being caregivers to leave our clients when we’re sick or when our husbands or children need us. I don’t think our employers should make that choice even harder by not providing paid time off.

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