Disability

The Green Card And The Caregiver

My patient was so desperate to stay out of a nursing home, she offered me a green card if I became her caregiver for life. I almost said yes.

Send Me More Stories About Disability

Thank you! We will notify you when there are new stories about this topic.

In my third year of immigration limbo, I was made an offer I almost couldn’t refuse.

In 2017, I moved to the United States from Uganda. Soon after arrival as a refugee, I became the caregiver to Rosemary, a partially-paralyzed, 68-year-old woman in a wheelchair who weighed 90 pounds soaking wet, as well as her 70-year-old husband, who had had five strokes. 

At first, my presence as a Muslim caused some problems. Rosemary’s husband had converted to Islam under the influence of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the brothers responsible for the Boston Marathon Bombings, who had unbelievably worked in the same home where I was now employed.

“I’m shocked the agency sent a Muslim,” Rosemary told me bluntly when I joined. “I’ve been upset with the bombers and when they left, I never wanted other Muslims in my home.” 

Yet soon, Rosemary took a shine to me. Even if she was slightly prejudiced against Muslims after having two terrorist bombers in her house, she liked that I was not the kind of person who would use obscenities, and that I could lift her in and out of her wheelchair, which her previous PCAs had never been able (or willing) to do. 

We soon settled into a regular—but demanding—routine. My job involved not just nursing duties, but vacuuming the carpets, washing dishes, preparing meals, and cleaning bathrooms. I would carry Rosemary to the wheelchair, escort her to doctor’s appointments as well as other outings, including social dinners and church services.

Not a moment of idleness was allowed in her home, which is why so many PCAs had abandoned her and her husband in the past. 

Despite her physical limitations, Rosemary was a vigorous taskmaster. “At 2pm, you will take your 30 minute lunch break, but only after changing my diaper, and we will time it using Alexa,” she would say. Then, while I was eating in the kitchen, she would send her husband clacking down the room every five minutes to give me a running countdown of how much time I had left. 

“I want to make sure you’re earning every dollar,” she would say. Not a moment of idleness was allowed in her home, which is why so many PCAs had abandoned her and her husband in the past. 

The repetition of chores was enormous. Rosemary demanded her diapers be changed every two hours even when they were still clean. She required physical therapy several times a day, and whenever there was a moment’s pause, she would ask me to wipe her nose–not because it was runny, but because she demanded there never be a moment’s idleness in her home. One day, I counted: I’d wiped her nose 60 times. 

It could be an exhausting and demeaning job. When we went out to doctor’s appointments, Rosemary would introduce me to everyone as “my Ugandan worker.”  On my birthday, Rosemary gave me a book: Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe. In Uganda, it is not common for people to give birthday gifts. Ultimately, my gratitude for receiving my very first birthday present ended up outweighing the subtext of the gift. 

“If I helped you get a Green Card,” she asked, twiddling her fingers, “would you promise never to leave me?”

Even so, Rosemary and I had established a sort of friendly bond. And after my first year of working for her, Rosemary suggested taking it to the next level.

“If I helped you get a Green Card,” she asked, twiddling her fingers, “would you promise never to leave me?”

We paused the audio book we were reading. I asked her what she meant. 

Rosemary told me that right before I came to work with her, she’d spent two months at a rehabilitation center, and was petrified of going back, which she would have to do without live-in help. My immigration status had become an existential threat to both of us: if the Trump Administration revoked my application for asylum, she might very well be sent to a home. 

I started thinking about it. Was it possible that Rosemary could help me get my green card, and was this a deal I was really willing to make? To be honest, I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life working for this woman: I wanted to move to another city, to get married, to have a family. But was it worth telling Rosemary what she wanted to hear, just on the off-chance she could help me?

In the meantime, Rosemary began asking her church to pray for me. Within my earshot, she started telling her friends about the deal she’d offered me, and when they told her that there’d be no guarantees that I’d stay, she’d grow dark and brooding.

“If he disappears after I get him a Green Card, it will be World War III,” she said meaningfully. 

“If he disappears after I get him a Green Card, it will be World War III,” she said meaningfully. 

Ten months passed, and still, I heard nothing about my request for asylum. So finally, I broached the subject with Rosemary head-on. She was already married, and I was intent on getting my Green Card honestly. So what actually could she do to help me, besides thoughts and prayers, if I agreed to stay with her?

When I asked her this, Rosemary seemed to crumple. She sank her head. 

“Not much,” she practically whispered, almost as if she was ashamed.

Luckily, soon after this discussion, my asylum application was suddenly granted, taking the pressure off both of us. And frankly, I can’t blame Rosemary for her offer. The current health care system–in which foreign-born aides are the only ones willing to take low-paying jobs caring for America’s elderly–puts an incredible amount of pressure on two equally desperate classes of people. 

At the end of the day, both Rosemary and I wanted to stay in the place we considered our home. The ultimate indictment lays not on us for striking dubious deals to potentially make that happen, but any system that could reduce us to such desperation in the first place. 

Send Me More Stories About Disability

Thank you! We will notify you when there are new stories about this topic.