After a long day of work at the care home, Nanay–my paternal grandmother, Remedios, or Reme, for short–would sit in the laundry room with a contraption that looked like it was separating her head from her body. After years of working as a caregiver in a care home (or Residential Care Facility for the Elderly/RCFE), she had hurt her back and her neck. But without benefits, she could only afford a clinic visit.
After one fall where she had unbearable pain, Reme went to go get her back looked at. She came home with a contraption that clipped on to the top of the middle of a door, with a long rope hanging down that had a chin rest on the bottom. Reme would scoot a chair over to that door and with her seat back resting on the door, she’d hang her chin on the contraption for 30 minutes. She looked as if she was in a fight with gravity. Chin and face moving downward, only kept up by this neck and back stabilizer.
My 8 year-old self, an adoring fan of Nanay, would sit on the ground across from her, my back resting against the thudding of the dryer and I’d watch her read her prayer book. She’d shoo me away but I’d come back and just watch her. After all, she was pretty immobile stuck in her chin contraption.
Nanay’s day as a caregiver would begin at 5:30 am. Making a delicious breakfast for 6 elderly people, two who were developmentally disabled, and for 3 children (me and my siblings), and her husband. She’d spend all day doing her rotation of chores: cleaning the floors, vacuuming the carpets, dusting, changing linens, disinfecting bathrooms, yard work, tending to her vegetable garden which she then used to cook three square meals and coffee breaks in the middle of the snacks. Of course, she’d clean up her cooking mess, wash the dishes, set up and put away the kitchen. She’d administer medication, keep track of everyone’s medicines, call for refills if needed, make sure doctor’s appointments were set and rides were set for her patients. She would ensure everyone bathed, collected dirty clothes, wash and dry and fold and put away every person’s laundry. She’d make sure they had books and board games to bide the time with, or a TV show. She facilitated daily walks around the neighborhood and some garden time for her patients. She’d end her day at 9:30 pm and be in her chin contraption until 10:00 pm.
Of course, it didn’t end there. Because, Reme, she was a world class act. She’d sew frocks for the womenfolk. She’d sit and joke around with Uncle Joe, whose laugh echoed down the hall. She’d ask Uncle Harry about the new book he was obsessed with. She’d sit with Elizabeth and dust her porcelain collectibles. She was not just a caregiver. She was their friend, their maternal figure, their confidant.
On top of taking care of my siblings and I, Nanay was the ultimate caregiver, devoting so much of herself to her work and her patients. And still, she couldn’t get a medical appointment to help her with her back. Instead, it was the chin contraption 30 minutes a night and a big pill of Ibuprofen twice or three times a day.
This was the beginnings of the CARE Project 2.0, I suppose. I’ve always wondered about the conditions of caregivers: the logics and avenues under which they get their work. But recently, I’ve been more interested in what the occupation does to their body.
Often, Filipino migrants working as caregivers are at elevated risk for various health risks because of their occupation and worries about family in the Philippines. The CARE Project research hopes to understand the experiences of caregivers working in their jobs, physical and mental health outcomes and being a migrant to the US through online surveys and in-person interviews with Filipino researchers.
Are you a Filipino Caregiver or know one living or working in the Bay Area? All Filipino caregivers who participate will receive a $20 Target gift card for their time and participation.
Remedios won’t be able to take this survey, won’t be able to report how the job really affected her health. She passed away in 1995 but if you are a caregiver, please take the survey here: https://bit.ly/CAREproject
Help me find out the effects of this occupation on caregivers’ physical and mental health.