When Margaret Ditto and her husband made their way to Seattle from southeastern Georgia in mid-2020, Covid-19 already raged on both coasts. As a nurse in an adult home—already “washing our hands every five minutes”—Ditto hesitated at the smallest hint of illness, opting to be tested at every throat tickle or cough. The 10-year Certified Nursing Assistant endured so many swabs “I lost count,” she says. Cross-country relocation brought her here, to the region where Covid first decimated nursing homes and killed 39 residents at one facility alone in what’s considered the first American outbreak. She landed at Bayview, a Queen Anne care facility that traces its roots to a Seattle pioneer and Civil War veteran. For months she tried to alleviate residents’ crushing isolation brought by a near total shutdown to visitors. When Bayview saw its first confirmed Covid case, Ditto volunteered to work inside that quarantine. Now vaccinated, she looks to a future beyond the virus that upended life in eldercare.
The CNAs are on the bottom level of the nurses. We do a lot of the basic health care, bathing and dressing for the day. We help feed them.
I think it is a good fit for my personality. I can work one-on-one with the patients and I’m great working one-on-one with people.
We have to be on our feet, and we have to be attentive to the residents. Answering call lights, getting each person ready for the day.
[Nurses] shouldn’t have favorites, of course. But we do.
I like talking to [residents] about their past, and what their marriages were like, and what their kids are up to as adults. I find a lot of comfort in that.
When Covid hit back in Georgia, I was kind of upset and angry that we had this virus going around and people, like, still refused to wear masks.
We set residents up with Zoom or Skype to visit their families. But it’s not the same. We’re looking for brighter days.
We have gone through a couple of [resident] passings during this time, and it wasn’t Covid. And it’s not easy, especially because we can’t allow the whole family to come into the building.
We have to limit it down to one or two family members to come in. And that to me is heartbreaking.
I volunteered [when a patient tested positive for Covid]. And Eduardo, another coworker, volunteered. We were full-time staff to assist her and we worked 12-hour shifts.
The resident really needed someone to be with her during that time and to encourage her that she can get well—and she did. We gave that extra little TLC touch.
I would wear my uniform, and then a jumpsuit that I threw away each time I entered the room. On top of that, I wore a gown. I wore two masks and a face shield, and shoe coverings. Oftentimes I sweated in the room, but I feel like it was worth it.
We chatted a couple of times about her family and my family. We played with silly putty together.
Before Covid, being a health care worker at a facility or a nursing home, it felt a bit behind the scenes.
We are the frontline workers now. We always have been and we’re recognized for it. And that’s a relief.
Covid has been real rough on residents. When it hit you could feel this black cloud.
I think there is a bit of burnout [for nurses]. But I’ve always think there’s burnout, no matter if there’s Covid or without Covid.
It is physically and emotionally draining.
After Covid, whenever that is, I hope the family members of the residents come in and see their parents and grandparents more.
I hope that they really appreciate and value the life they lived. And that they still live today.