This piece is part of our Coronavirus Diaries series, which charts people’s day-to-day lives during the pandemic.
Throughout the pandemic, care workers — nannies, housekeepers, live-in nurses — have remained essential. Many have pointed out that unpaid domestic work has disproportionately fallen on women during this time, but for those in care work, this burden is two-fold: They often do it for their jobs and for their families.
Kieran is a 42-year-old domestic worker living in Brooklyn. Her client, who she’s been with for two years, requires around-the-clock care and lives in Manhattan. Kieran — who has been asked to be identified by her first name in order to write candidly about her job — has been a domestic worker for 20 years. We asked Kieran to keep a 30-day diary. Here’s what she recorded.
My client wakes up at 5 a.m., irritable after only sleeping for four hours. She needs total care. I freshen her up, brush her teeth and feed her breakfast. She needs to eat a good meal, because she did not eat substantially yesterday. An hour later, she falls asleep. This gives me time to have a cup of hot tea before going back to bed. I’m able to get some rest before being woken up at 9 a.m., when my client wakes up crying. I give her a drink, comfort her and put on a program on Netflix for her to watch. Later, I make breakfast while listening to my feel-good jam on YouTube. God knows I need it after not being well rested. My shift is going to be long, because my co-worker is not able to come tomorrow morning.
I had four hours of sleep last night, so I am especially tired this morning. After taking care of my morning responsibilities with my client, I’m able to take a nap. My body is so tired. I’ve been working for 72 hours.
It’s 6 a.m., and I am still on the job. My replacement from the agency will arrive on Friday morning. I am so tired. Suddenly, I get a call from my former employer. She tells me that my ex-colleague has passed away. I’m in shock. I had just spoken to my colleague a few days ago, and though she mentioned that her daughter was ill, she did not tell me she was sick as well. I don’t want to accept the news, so I call a mutual friend to confirm. In my heartbreak, I can only wonder — was it coronavirus?
Holding my breath, I forge through a scheduled Zoom training that will help me provide virtual doula assistance to pregnant mothers.
Some tasks take two people. When my replacement from the agency arrives, we bathe our client in bed. Then we do laundry. I’m extremely tired, but it needs to get done. Finally, I take an Uber home, where I lie in bed for a few hours. I’m too irritable to sleep. That evening, I take a phone call with the National Domestic Workers Alliance to speak about what domestic workers need right now and what we can do for each other. I end the day with a hot shower, tea and meditation.
I wake up at a reasonable hour, having slept through the entire night. This morning, I have no appetite. I feel so anxious and lonely, and just want to be embraced. So I wrap myself up in a soft blanket like a burrito and tuck two pillows behind my back. After a while, I go back to sleep and sleep most of the day.
We care, we support, we nurture — and we do not think twice about it. It is ingrained in us. On top of that, many of us have families of our own, who most of the time get put in second place because we are too exhausted to share time and space with them after long workdays. There needs to be a balance. Things have been bad for so long, but this pandemic has made everything so much worse for us as domestic workers. I’m only now starting to feel the emotional aspects of this. And still, I know it’s a lot worse for others.
I’m due back at work in the morning, and I am concerned about not feeling recharged enough. Fortunately, love comes when you least expect it. An old friend checks up on me. And another friend, very dear to my heart, also calls. It’s amazing how kindness and thoughtfulness can save the day.
It was difficult coming into work today. I greeted my client and we ate breakfast. After that, I started to feel quite uneasy. I felt that wiping the doorknobs and light switches was not sufficient. So I sanitized the entire apartment.
The afternoon is quiet and I am focused, so I check my messages to find out the latest about the pandemic. I had previously limited my access to television so that I could keep a positive outlook. I check in once a day for updates.
That night, my employer calls to inform me that my co-worker has been hospitalized due to coronavirus. My heart drops. That is not what I wanted to hear! I can feel the tension building in my body, so I take a deep breath and count backwards from 10 to one.
This morning, I am feeling numb. Surprisingly, I slept through the entire night.
I attend to the client and take a long, hot shower. Showers are usually quite therapeutic for me, but this one is not helping. I start singing, slow and low at first. I start crying, but I sing through it.
I have no appetite, but I make a smoothie and force myself to have it. Then, I meditate and pray for all those being affected. The pandemic is hitting very close to home.
As per a new schedule from the agency, I will be at work until Sunday. Not excited about it, but it is necessary.
My client is irritable. I wonder if she can feel my distress. I sit with her for a while and watch a bit of television. She likes it sometimes when I share space with her.
I’m feeling sad and start to panic. I go out on the terrace to meditate. I try to envision myself walking on the beach and feeling the sand between my toes.
This morning was unusually tough. I was so tired, I could barely care for my client. I have no appetite, no thirst. I take several short naps throughout the day.
Luckily, my client also sleeps through the day. I do the usual check-ins. Other than that, I spend my time wrapped in a blanket for comfort.
How I long for a long walk at the park or being able to shop for new finds, soaps in particular. Checking out coffee shops. Hearing people laughing and talking. Being able to hug a friend or just sharing space with someone, anyone.
It is such a challenging time for everyone with this pandemic. I am aware of the struggles my fellow domestic workers are experiencing right now. Being out of work, no safety net, no insurance, no benefits, no laws to protect us. Many have been let go by their employers. I am reminded that we must come together to build our power.
This pandemic is affecting us all, and it warms my heart to see so many acts of kindness: the dedication of front-line workers, risking their health and their family’s health.
I consider domestic workers to be front-line workers, but in a different way. Without us, so many families would not be able to go to work, to build their dreams and a life for their families. And yet as domestic workers, we are living paycheck to paycheck.
That’s why I’d like to see a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. We are all human beings and we are all deserving of love, of care, of dignity, of respect.
I am so happy to be going home today, but I am thinking of the ones who aren’t so lucky. I’m thinking of my colleague; there has been no improvement. I’m praying for a positive outcome for her and her family. However, I have prepared myself mentally that it can go either way.
There is so much fear around us. I get out of the cab and sneeze, with my mask on, and a woman gives me a look that scares me. Fearing she might physically hurt me, I run upstairs.
I followed up with my friends and loved ones by phone and video chat today. Throughout this pandemic, my friends and family have called me with concerns about my safety.
Focusing on self-care today. Lots of rest, music, stretching, reading, receiving calls from friends.
Staying hydrated. Building myself up for the grind. But mostly resting. This is taking a toll. Watching the news on television is out of the question.
Spent some time today calling people and checking in on them. The stories I’m hearing are just unbelievable and painful to hear. So many people I know are out of work, and I can’t imagine what they are going through. They are beside themselves.
Before the pandemic, I thought I had problems. Now these problems seem to be the size of pebbles.
Back at work again. I sanitized the entire apartment; what a tedious process.
My client is irritable. The usual techniques are not working. I know that her understanding is limited, so I let her know that I am here and she is not alone. As I am saying this, I can feel that I am exhausted. It’s only my first day back on the job. When I realized how I felt, I told the client that I was bummed out and going for a nap. She said okay, and I left her watching “The Honeymooners.”
My client now has a sleep aid. It helps to keep her relaxed, so I am able to get some rest. Yippee!
Breastfast, lunch and dinner go by smoothly. At the end of the day, I say my prayers. This time it included the whole world.
We do not know how long this pandemic will last. Its impact is just so devastating. Domestic workers are hard-working and have been serving a great need in our communities, and yet we have no legal protections that support us in this time of crisis. We do have a Coronavirus Care Fund, which you can donate to here. We appreciate any help.
Up all night, and I can’t wait to go home and get to bed. Counting down the hours. Three more to go.
I have to imagine what it feels like to have a warm embrace. I meditate, doing breath exercises with a humidifier and essential oils. Oh, that feels so good.
I have learned that my co-worker has passed away from covid-19. This is devastating. I am feeling very sad right now. I cannot imagine how her family is feeling — her children, her grandchildren. She cared for and supported them.
Self-care, self-care, self-care. I ask myself, what is life going to feel like without her presence? I cannot predict my future feelings. I tell my family that I will not take their calls for the next few days.
I’m awake early and was able to sleep through the night. What a blessing.
Feeling a bit suffocated, I go out for a walk around the block a few times. I attempt to go to the laundromat to do laundry, but end up turning around and going home. I sit down at the kitchen table with a large hot tea and ask myself: Why can’t I do this?
I have not washed clothes since the pandemic began. I am afraid.
I think it’s funny, because caring for others comes naturally to me. I just do it; I don’t stop to think.
But when it comes to myself, I hesitate. I don’t know why.
I am surprised to make it back to work. I greet the client. She is in a relaxed place. I make breakfast and sanitize the kitchen. I feel that I am in a good place to care for her.
A very busy morning today. My client barely slept for four hours last night.
The afternoon is wonderful. I feel at peace. But I have to make a few personal decisions about relationships with family and friends concerning social distancing and boundaries.
Later, I find out that my friend’s father passed away. I try calling her right away, but no one picks up.
Feeling a bit lost, really. I wake up feeling like someone has pulled the rug under my feet. I do not want to get out of bed, but nature calls. I check in on my client. She is still asleep, so I take a shower.
There’s complete silence. I prepare breakfast for us and force myself to eat. I can’t, so I make a smoothie instead. I need to keep my strength, to keep up with caring for my client.
I feel a way that I cannot name. However, I am happy to be heading home. In the cab, I think of my friend and her family and how they are doing, but I cannot bring myself to call.
I get home, take a shower and soak my feet in Epsom salt while drinking a cup of tea. Afterward, I get some rest, taking no calls and making no calls. I cannot attend to anyone right now.
I’m up early. Again, self cafe, self-care, self-care. I do some yoga, take a hot shower and have tea with lemon. Then I have a few bites of breakfast. It’s hard to eat right now. I end up drinking a smoothie for lunch and then again for dinner, with a lot of water in between.
I feel like I’m too tired to do anything. I could use someone to take care of me right now.
I get up and say a prayer. For a moment, I think that I’m not being a good friend because I haven’t called her. Every time I want to call her, my stomach cramps. I do not know yet whether it was coronavirus, but I suspect it. Her father was healthy the last time I heard.
Her father loved being on the outside, basking in the sun. He was an avid reader, coffee lover and jazz listener. I loved that he just loved life.
For the short time that I knew him, he had a great impact on my life. He taught me how to live life in the moment and how to be accepting of myself and allow myself new experiences by just saying yes. What a great loss for his family.
I go for an early morning walk. Then I make some calls to my family and friends. I’ve been so out of touch with them.