RANDI: I don’t think I thought about myself as an essential worker until this moment, and now I realize how much we’re part of the glue of the community. But it is exhausting.
This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC. I’m Anna Sale.
In the past few days, we’ve heard from so many of you who aren’t staying home right now because your job has been deemed essential.
ADRIANA: I am the essential worker that grows your food.
ASHLEY: I am a funeral service professional.
KAZIO: My wife and I run a little grocery store.
CHRISTINE: We’re working our asses off in the wine world.
JESS: I work in defense industry manufacturing.
ANONYMOUS: A lot of folks might not think of bankers as essential workers, but we are.
We also heard from a lot of you who work in healthcare. EMS workers, licensed mental health counselors, nurses. And we asked all of you essential workers to tell us about what’s on your mind right now and what you’d want in your pandemic tool kit.
COURTNEY: I need people to let me know they’re thinking about me.
MUZZ: I’ve been meditating, reading, and making music every day.
SARAH: What I want in a toolbox is of course enough ventilators, enough ICU beds, enough personal protective equipment. Hell, even a vacation after this.
WAYNE: I’m not sure what my support box looks like, but it’s big and it’s got a lot of moving parts.
KATHY: What I would like in my healthcare professional tool kit at this time would be a dose of calm and a dose of understanding from the general public.
This primary care nurse, named Kathy, sent in a voice memo from Wisconsin.
KATHY: That being said the second thing I would like in my tool kit would be to have this giant megaphone and tell people to, pardon my words, but to stay the fuck home.
That sentiment was echoed over and over again in our inbox. And not just from healthcare workers. This came in from Laura in Seattle.
LAURA: I work at a credit union, which is sort of a, like, kind of unique - it's not a grocery store. I'm not a nurse, but I'm still required to go to work. Um, and I think the thing that I'm struggling with the most right now is that people are still coming in. And coming in for things that seem really non-essential, um, and saying that the wait time was too long on the phone or they couldn't figure out how to do it. And it's honestly just really frustrating. Um, I feel like I'm having to put myself at risk because other people are wanting to get out of their house. Um, and that's just really hard.
So my ask of everyone is that if you know someone who's going into the bank or their credit union, I guess, and you think that you can help them over the phone or figure out how to get them to use the app instead of coming in to get their statement printed, it would be really appreciated. So just think about the people you're affecting when you leave your house.
OLGA: Working in a grocery store has been really isolating in its own way. I feel like everybody is talking about how they're staying home and staying away from people, and I see so many people every day. Sometimes I see the same people every single day. People keep coming into the grocery store with their whole families every day, and that kind of thing doesn't make me feel safe at all.
Um, I feel like I'm in the line of fire. I feel unprotected and I feel scared. I share custody of my son, and I've been really worried to have him at my house. My ex-husband thinks it's no big deal. But I'm just seeing the desperation on people's faces every day and it's so real for me and he works from home, and I don't know if this is real for him.
I am thinking about buying a homemade mask off Etsy to wear? I don't know if that's going to help me at all, but maybe it will? I don't know.
That listener, named Olga, wrote in from Pittsburgh. This next listener, Katrina, recorded a voice memo from inside her workplace outside Seattle.
KATRINA: I am a security guard at a very small clinic, uh, that is one of many small clinics for a larger health insurance company. And our clinic is closed.
Her clinic is still seeing patients, but not in person. It’s all telemedicine.
KATRINA: And the result of this is our clinic got egged last week because somebody was mad about it. Uh, I had a woman, uh, upon finding out we were closed, get mad and tell me "If you die, you die. It don't matter."
[Sigh] Which is all just work stuff. That's all just work stuff. Doesn't even tap into the people in my life who are high risk, who I'm scared for, my immediate family members who I've had to personally yell at to tell them that you need to be safer and you need to be doing safer things with your body and your presence in the world. Because the actions you are currently taking are putting you at risk and putting the people around you at risk. And then there are the community groups where people are really trying to help one another out. And that's very good. But even in my little clinic where we're hardly seeing anybody and we're not at high risk over here, we're just not, it's stressful and it's scary and we just need people to be kind.
SHARRON: My name is Sharron and I am a CNA who works at a hospital, and I'm on the front lines taking care of COVID-19 patients. Unfortunately, like most doctors and nurses, I am getting paid very bottom of the barrel wages and putting my life in danger without proper PPE equipment.
So right now for me, the only thing that is keeping me sane, is getting everything in order for my child who I am the only parent for. I have a will done. I have a box of important information set aside. I have been writing little notes and letters to her. I have called my insurance and life insurance policies to make sure that everything is okay, if anything should happen to me. And all the information is written down in the box that I have stored away for my mom to find. I have been taking lots of pictures and spending lots of time with my daughter.
It seems morbid, but I have a chronic asthmatic problem that I've had since I was 15. And have been on oral corticosteroids since that point. So my immune system is shot as well as my lungs. So if I were to get the virus I, there is not a good outlook for me. So just getting things in order is the only thing that's keeping me sane is knowing that if I'm not here, I've done everything possible to help the next person take care of my kid.
TRISTAN: My name is Tristan. I am an essential worker. I am a product operator for a small engineering company here in Long Island, New York. Uh, we provide, um, power supplies and equipment for the military as one of our clients. And what I'm thinking about right now as we go through this coronavirus epidemic is reliance on my faith, reliance on my faith on God to help us get through this.
In the Book of James, it is written that we must count it as all joy when you fall into various trials. Knowing that "the testing of your faith produces patience, but let patience have its perfect work that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."
And I know it's really hard to hear something like that. When you hear “count it all joy.” But I just feel it's true, to have patience. That this too shall pass and it'll be okay.
Coming up, more of your voice memos about being essential workers and what’s helping you get through this time.
COURTNEY: I've watched a lot of Harry Potter because it's familiar and comforting, and, um, I've been reading just easy books that don't require my brain much because it's an escape. Um, and that is how I am coping. Not well, but also not awful, I guess. I don't know. Somewhere in the middle of normal.
Isn’t it great to hear all these voices? For me, someone who is sticking close to home and hasn’t seen a lot of people I’m not related to, I really appreciate hearing from those of you who are still going in to do essential work, day in and day out, for the rest of us.
We are also thinking about those of you who are suddenly out of work. Or, who may have a paycheck now but you’re not sure how long it will last. Today is the first day of the month—a day most of us are doing some version of checking what money’s coming in and what’s going out. It’s a scary time to be doing that math.
For those of you in financial flux right now, tell us what’s going on at firstname.lastname@example.org—you can record a voice memo or just write us an email.
Also, for those of you who are “staying the fuck home,” as nurse Kathy requested, we wanted to let you know about a really cool website that another one of our listeners, Mary Casserly, made during her at-home time. It takes all of your suggestions for things to keep you busy at home that you put into our Death, Sex & Money Pandemic Tool Kit and randomizes them so you get a different suggestion each time you click. Check it out at pandemic-toolkit.com. And thank you Mary!
Finally, if you get our newsletter, you’ve noticed we’re putting it out a little more frequently, sharing more of what we’re hearing from you along with photos, audio recommendations, and more. If you’re not getting our newsletter yet, please subscribe. Go to deathsexmoney.org/newsletter.
This is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC. I’m Anna Sale.
Many of you who wrote to us about being essential workers aren’t the ones who made the call about whether to stay open or close up shop. But for a listener named Kazio, who runs a small grocery store in upstate New York, the decision to keep his store open is one that he’s had to make. And he’s struggling with it.
KAZIO: At no point has it completely obvious what to do. I mean, for me, I bake bread for the shop, and if I hear people on the street or in the store telling me that the big grocery store is out of bread, it's hard to find flour, and I've got a thousand pounds of flour and the know-how to make hundreds of loaves of bread, it's pretty hard for me to not go into work and not make that bread and not sell that flour. Um, but at the same time, every day, keeping the business open, there's a part of me that feels like, what if we're creating a hot spot in town? What if we're the place where everyone is going to get infected? I've definitely got friends and other people telling me like, that you don't have to stay open. You could just close and go home like so many other people and have some nice family time.
But, I don't know. One little bright spot maybe that I've observed through all of this is that I feel like a lot of people are, uh, I don't know. It feels like we've gone back in time 80 years or something a little bit, just in the sense of the world shrinking in a certain way. Um, so many people are shopping at all the tiny little farm stores and direct to farmers and, um, we're watching, like the big global supply chains all kind of fall apart. But the farm down the street still has chicken. So people are going there and, um, yeah, I just hope after all this is done, that people continue in that new habit.
BETH: Hi Anna. My name is Beth. So I just got out of work. I'm a mail carrier. I work in rural Maine. Um, my mail route is 54 miles and I have one bathroom that I can access on my mail route. It's in the beginning of my route, which doesn't help me when I'm out in the middle of the woods and I need to wash my hands so that I can eat my lunch.
I don't know if this virus is on the mail. The packages, the mailboxes, and I touch every piece of mail. Every letter that somebody's licked. Every mailbox, every package. I touch everything, and I wonder if I am carrying this virus in my truck.
I wonder if I'm leaving it at somebody's house for somebody else to get. Am I giving it to the disabled vet that can't leave his house? That gets his medication from me? Am I giving it to the breast cancer survivor? Am I giving it to the pregnant women on my route? Am I giving it to the little girl who gets her food from me every week because she has severe food allergies. Am I, am I leaving the virus on the package that she opens every week? It's scary. And I asked my postmaster if I could have some hand sanitizer and he said we didn't have any.
And people still walk up to my mail truck and say, "Hey, how's it going?" And they don't, they don't stay six feet away. And I just, I worry. And I have an eight year old daughter at home. She's out of school. She stays with my mom while I have to come to work every day. And am I bringing this virus home to her? And then I worry, she's been out of school for two weeks now. She's going to be out of school for another month as far as we know, it could be longer. How far behind is she going to be in school? She already struggles. She's already in special ed. Yeah. As a mom, I'm just so worried.
I'm working, you know, anywhere between 40 and 60 hours a week and I have to come home and homeschool my kid and I'm just so stressed out. And I just feel like nobody's taking this seriously.
JACKSON: Hey, my name is Jackson. Um, I work at an independent bookstore in Chicago, which is closed to the public, uh, but still sending books to people in the mail.
And it's been kind of interesting to see what people are buying right now, what people want to read. There's like some really on the nose kind of things. But also some people are just sort of buying things that have nothing to do with what's going on right now. Um, people getting like big stacks of, like, philosophy books and obviously cooking stuff. Um, I definitely, I know that I'm not, uh, really on the front lines, like the health care professionals and grocery store workers and janitors out there doing the really dangerous stuff right now.
Um, so I'm very lucky that I can keep going in, uh, and sort of doing normal days when it seems like everything else is so not normal. Um, and I feel lucky to be able to send books to people who may be stuck inside or maybe are still going to work and need something to take their mind off of what's happening when they get home.
I'm just, yeah, trying to do my tiny, tiny, tiny little thing that maybe is helping somebody, um, feel something or learn something or just have a page to turn.
ORIANA: These last few weeks have been the strangest of my nursing career. The last two days I've worked really hard in my mind to switch my mentality. There are many factors about the situation that I cannot change. Whether we'll go to work and have enough personal protective equipment to protect ourselves and the people we care for.
But I do have control over my own mind, my own mentality. And I've decided that I need to show up with strength and a smile as I typically do and do my job. The what ifs, the unknowns, the things that lie ahead. I don't know.
I do want to say that it's okay to be afraid. I know many people that I love and respect and work alongside are scared and that is okay. I just know for myself that I cannot operate from a place of fear. That's never been my style. That's not how I've lived my life, and now more than ever, I need to dig deep and show up.
Thanks to all of you who are showing up and who wrote in. We here at Death, Sex & Money really appreciate you. So much so that on Facetime, we all just had to clap about it.
[Sounds of the DSM team (and pets!) applauding essential workers.]
Death, Sex & Money is a listener-supported production of WNYC Studios in New York. I’m based, usually, at the studios of the investigative podcast Reveal in Emeryville, California. Our team includes Katie Bishop, Anabel Bacon, Afi Yellow-Duke, Emily Botein, and Andrew Dunn.
Our intern is Ayo Osobamiro.
The Reverend John DeLore and Steve Lewis wrote our theme music.
And thanks to Suzanne Winchell in Rochester, New York, who’s a sustaining member of Death, Sex & Money. Join Suzanne and support what we do here by going to deathsexmoney.org/donate.
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I’m Anna Sale and this is Death, Sex & Money from WNYC.