Pablo Perez and one of his caregivers, Carla Arrindell.

We were all a little lonelier this Thanksgiving as COVID-19 means that visiting with friends and relatives is risky business. With the stress of working and living with the threat of this deadly virus running through our communities, we’ll be digging deeper to find the things for which we are grateful.

As a 59-year-old man who uses a wheelchair and has a very compromised immune system, one of the things I’m most thankful for is the unwavering support, help and caring shown by my personal care attendants. They are the reason I can be home for the holidays and all the other days of the year.

I realize that I’m only one of thousands of people who benefit from the dedication and hard work of those who go out into the community every day to serve those of us who are sick or unable to do all of life’s tasks if left on our own. There can’t be enough signs of gratitude and hearts on doors and lawns to thank the health care workers who have continued to go to work despite the pandemic.

I was in the hospital a lot two years ago as doctors and physical therapists worked to help me recover from a spinal cord injury. I wasn’t sure how long I would be away from home and I needed a lot of help just to handle the daily functions of life.

Fortunately, I was able to hire personal care attendants so that I could live at home. They are with me 83 hours a week and do everything. They wash me, cook, make sure I get my medication and give me rides to my medical appointments.

They haven’t missed a day because of the pandemic. When the virus first came to Connecticut, we scrambled to find protective gear and my attendants modified some so it would be more comfortable for me. They do all this for $16.25 an hour, with no paid sick days, holidays or vacation time and no health insurance.

The lack of benefits is not right. I mean they do a full-time job. They did finally get worker’s compensation protections, but that’s just a start. They provide essential services for people and deserve proper benefits. I think they are worth much more than they get. Connecticut’s long-term care workers have demonstrated over and over again that they are willing to risk their own lives to provide much-needed services. They must be compensated accordingly.

My attendants are like family, maybe better than family in some ways. They do things that require close personal contact. I have a special snug fitting suit, for example, that has to be pulled up my legs, which helps push the blood back up toward my upper body and improves my circulation. My personal care attendants help me wrestle the suit on, which would be impossible for me without them.

Because of my condition, I can’t use normal transportation and need rides to my appointments. Generally my attendants are able to take me where I need to go and they are paid less than I am charged when I have to use an outside ride service. Again the value of their work goes underpaid.

The thing I am most thankful for – beyond all the help I receive in getting through my daily routines – is that the personal care attendants have made it possible for me to be at home. This lets me see my significant other, who otherwise would be stuck trying to visit me in a rehab or nursing facility. Being home was a 100 percent relief from being in a facility. The personal care attendants do the things I can’t and at quiet times in my day we just sit and talk or watch a movie. So, it’s not me being alone in an empty house. That’s something I’m very grateful for.

Pablo Pérez lives in Waterford.

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