Even Our Elders Help Their Elders
*All names besides the interviewee’s have been changed for privacy reasons*
*Interviewee’s quotes have been translated from Spanish to English*
Some would think that once a woman is passed the age of 65, she should be laying back in her house, retired and living off her pension. However, for those like Luisa Figueroa, that isn’t necessarily an option. All the same, Mrs. Figueroa says, “Even if I could quit my job, I wouldn’t. I’d die faster doing nothing than I would doing something. And I like keeping myself occupied.”
Mrs. Figueroa, 71, has been working as a home health aide for nine years. She has had several different jobs since she first immigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic in the seventies, but her career as a home health aide has been the most fulfilling for her.
Being a home health aide is one of the few professions in this country that does not require a high school diploma, which was a very important factor for Mrs. Figueroa because she never received one. This profession is actually one of the most fast-growing career fields in the country, with an impressive job outlook. The projected percent change in employment for home health aides is 49%—much larger than the average growth rate for all occupations, which is 11%. Mrs. Figueroa took a training course to become a certified home health aide and she is good at what she does. She loves to help her patients, and because there will always be someone who needs help, she feels comfortable enough to say “my job is good and I am good at my job, and I will have it for a long time, I think.”
As a home health aide, Mrs. Figueroa cares for people with disabilities, mental impairments, and those with chronic or age-related illnesses. A majority of these patients are above the age of 65—a fact that did not faze Mrs. Figueroa in the slightest.
When questioned about the irony of her being almost as old as some of the people she has cared for, she said, “Age doesn’t matter. I have seen young kids that need aides and old people that need aides and even older people that need them. I may be one of the older aides, but that only means that I get the even older people.” According to her, the youngest patient she ever had was in his early eighties.
Mrs. Figueroa wakes up at 5:30AM everyday and spends an hour or so getting ready for work while listening to Mexican music on her old-school record player. She used to have a car, but now she takes the train to get to her patient’s house in the upper west side of Manhattan by 9AM every morning. Her current patient, Carlos, is a ninety-year-old man living in a retirement home in the city. He suffers from severe arthritis that has made him wheelchair-bound. Mrs. Figueroa was hired by his children to care for him and help him with his everyday needs.
“I take him to his doctor appointments. I pick up his medications for him at the pharmacy. I clean his house. I also cook for him,” she adds. “He’s a Puerto Rican, so he likes the food I know how to make, which is good.”
Mrs. Figueroa enjoys her job very much, even if her own health issues have not always made it easy. For almost a decade now, she has had issues with her left leg. Poor circulation and other medical issues have led to several incidents of serious infections that had kept her off her feet for weeks at a time. Not that she stayed off them for long. Soon enough, she was back up to work and “getting done the things that needed doing.” But, even up to now, walking on that leg is not easy. Though she claims she is in no pain, she did let it slip that “walking to far places is no good.”
Mrs. Figueroa has had a lot of patients over the years and they’ve all been as good to her as she was to them. When speaking more on her current patient, she said, “He is a good man. Very kind. Not much trouble at all.” In fact, Mrs. Figueroa said that all of the patients she has had were always kind and charismatic people who just needed a bit of help. But, they are not the only ones who need help from her once in a while.
Mrs. Figueroa’s husband, Benito, suffers from dementia. He still has his long-term memories for the most part, but in conversations he forgets things easily, and he has to be reminded to do certain things such as shower and take his medications.
The one thing he does remember is that he loves his wife. At a moment when Luisa was out of earshot, Benito said, “I help her when I can. I carry the groceries up the stairs because they are too heavy for her. When her leg hurts I help her up the stairs, too.” He does not like being so dependent on her, so doing things like this makes him feel like she depends on him, too. And she does. Mrs. Figueroa does not feel like coming home to him is coming home to more work. After working a full day of taking care of someone else’s every need, reminding her husband to take his meds is just “a thing wives do.”
Mrs. Figueroa plans on staying with this job for as long as she is able, until she cannot work anymore. Additionally, she has plans to better herself for her work. “I’ve been in this country for forty-five years,” she said. “And I still do not speak English well. That is bad and I want to change it.” When she does try on the English words she knows, she comes across well enough to understand but feels that she can do better, even though she has done quite well for herself so far.
After having lived most of her life of trying to obtain stability here in the US, she expresses her happiness with the results: “I thank God every day for blessing me with so many good things: a good job, a good home, a happy family, and the many other blessings that I have. I will be going to Israel with my church group this summer for the third time. Not many people are as lucky as me.”
Not many people are as deserving either.