By Krystal Lambert
It’s eerie to imagine this could be the last Julie article I ever write. That may sound a bit melodramatic, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been obsessing about the possibility of my impending death every waking moment for the last three weeks or so. I’ve never felt the full weight of my mortality as I have these recent days, nor had to consider the horrifying scenario of losing my grandmother and both of my parents all at once should they contract COVID-19.
To preface, I really wanted to write a whole ass socialist manifesto about how ‘Rona was exposing the atrocities and evils of capitalism. How the sins of the rich reap tragedies on the poor. I wanted this article to be meaningful in relation to what is happening in our world right now, and what it means for the new age that is certainly upon us when the smoke clears. However, our newsfeeds are filled with memes and articles with dystopian themes right now. Heck, I get a boner just watching Capitalism get dismantled by this virus. Change is upon us and I sincerely hope I’m around to see what we make of this mess. I decided to go a more personal route with this one because A) My mental health is shot right now, so jot that down and B) I’m reading a lot of perspectives from those who are privileged enough to quarantine, and not as many perspectives from those of us who are on the frontlines of this and don’t have the means or choice to save ourselves from it.
Due to the nature of my day job (in-home healthcare) I don’t have the option to quarantine, as my clients need 24/7 care and it would be fatal for them if we all stopped showing up to administer meds, feed them, bathe them, etc. The other side of this coin is equally as ugly because all of my clients have super fragile immune systems as it is, meaning if I (or one of the other 20+ staff members) expose them to the virus they are not likely to survive it. I’ve been going to work every day gripped with fear that I may be potentially killing one of my clients, who are like children to me.
There are many other fields of healthcare that are even more precarious during this pandemic. The most obvious would be the doctors, nurses and hospital staff treating patients that already have COVID-19. Another grim reality is that of nursing homes, which have hundreds of elderly patients and staff in one building. One staff member could expose the entire facility, and most of the elderly would not survive it. We’ve already seen examples of this nightmare scenario in other countries. Anyone who works in the healthcare field right now is having to make this difficult and courageous decision every single day, knowing with certainty that it’s not “if” we contract the virus, but when.
I don’t feel courageous. I feel like I’m stuck in a constant loop of panic and dread. When I say out loud that I’m afraid I will die, most of my friends and co-workers seem to brush it off as if such a thing would never happen to someone so young. I’m 34 years old, and as it stands, many of the COVID-19 cases in Missouri have been between the age range of 19-29. Youth is not a golden ticket with this virus.
I’m also someone who lives near the poverty level which means I, and millions of other Americans like me, are already at risk for myriad other health concerns. With many essential workers being low-income individuals in food service, retail, sanitation, and manufacturing, there are a lot of Americans out there who are already at higher risk for health issues yet are unable to self-quarantine.
According to this article:
“’Socioeconomic status is the most powerful predictor of disease, disorder, injury and mortality we have,’ says Tom Boyce, MD, chief of UCSF’s Division of Developmental Medicine within the Department of Pediatrics. … ‘It’s difficult to exercise in an unsafe neighborhood, or to eat well in a neighborhood where healthy foods are either not sold or are more expensive than unhealthy options,’ says Nancy Adler, PhD, director of UCSF’s Center for Health and Community. Transportation and time also factor into health behaviors. A person who has strung together three jobs to make ends meet for his or her family, and who must travel by bus to each job, likely does not have the luxury of time for exercise.”
These factors indicate why the poorest in this country are also in the most poor health. I work multiple jobs to make ends meet, and I have to admit that I fit the criteria for many poverty-related health risks. For instance, people with low socioeconomic status are more likely to smoke cigarettes. I’ve been smoking cigarettes off and on for 14 years. Smoking is certainly a choice, but sadly it is one often made out of depression, anxiety, and hopelessness. We all have our coping mechanisms, and I would argue that people living in poverty look for ways to cope with reality more than anyone, even if it’s using unhealthy coping mechanisms. Sometimes a $5 pack of cigarettes is the only thing holding me together when the crippling debt, worry, and constant struggle to survive are eating away at my will to go on.
I also have an insulin disorder that puts me at high risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. So I have no reason to believe my lungs, heart, liver or immune system are in great shape. I can imagine that many other Americans in my shoes are facing similar fears. The people, like me, who can’t afford health insurance are also unlikely to have any type of savings, yet we are on the front lines of this catastrophe with no parachute.
I have had some truly dark moments in the last few years, (all of them linked to financial distress) and a few times I’ve thought maybe it would be better if I just didn’t wake up. I like to think I never would have taken action on those thoughts, but when you spend all of your time working just to be broke, and the debt keeps piling up, things start to feel real futile. The only silver lining I’ve found with COVID-19 thus far is that it’s made me realize how desperately I WANT TO LIVE. This past year has been the best year of my life, despite being consistently poor as fuck. I feel like I’m the happiest I have ever been in my adult life and it’s such a strange paradox to have to consider the thought of possibly dying soon. I have an amazing community of friends that just grows richer with each passing year. I’ve finally accepted my body and my power and leaned into knowing and loving myself. My work with Julie has been so fulfilling and satisfying. JulieFest this past fall was the proudest/best night of my life hands down. I’m falling in love. My job is fulfilling and it’s something I was meant to do. I feel like my life is blooming, finally. I really, really don’t want to die. Not now.
I hope this wasn’t too Daria for you, my dear readers, but I wanted to share my perspective as someone on the frontlines without a safety net. I’m not the only one. I hope we all make it to the other side.