Claudette's Retirement Party
Serigraph, edition of 26, 11 x 15 inches
Printed by Master Printer Dewey Tafoya at Self Help Graphics & Art
Featured in the exhibition Essential Workers: A Visual Narrative
Interview with Claudette Walker, Patient Care Associate for 32 years at Jacobi Medical Center Emergency Room, Bronx, New York. Interview by Audrey Chan on January 30, 2023.
What was happening at the moment this photo was taken?
It was my retirement party the staff gave me. It’s like a family. Everyone knows me as the grandma that supplied the coffee at my job.
What drew you to medical work?
I started out doing patient care in the home, taking care of one person. I got used to that, so I branched out and I went to the hospital. I used to escort the patient to their x-rays and telemetry, and then I crossed over to direct patient care. I went up again as a Patient Care Associate with a nurse’s aide degree and did phlebotomy and EKG. It’s kind of fun. The patients are sick, so they want to talk to somebody, especially older people. I have patients that were in World War II and the Vietnam War. By the time you finish taking care of them, they tell you their whole life story.
How do you feel about the term “essential workers”? Was that term ever used before the pandemic?
Before that, we were “support staff,” believe it or not. We were not “essential workers.” We have ten doctors who need support staff: the nurses, the nurse’s aide, the EKG technician, the x-ray technician, and the housekeeping. And then all the offices are closed so the essential workers become the bus driver, the garbage collector, the nurse’s aide, the nurses. So for each stuff that happens, they give us a different name, which is basically the same. New recognition but the pay didn’t change.
There are a lot of intense things that you all witness and experience on a normal day in the ER.
Yes, because you didn’t just have the COVID patients coming in. We have three trauma bays at Jacobi. We have a trauma bay when they have a severely sick patient – motorcycle accident, car accident, cardiac arrest. So you also have the accident victims coming in. You have gunshots coming in. So it wasn’t just one thing; it was everything. And you’re in a city hospital, you cannot refuse patients. So you have to make space and you just have to roll with the punches. You have to be able to jump from one thing to the other. You gotta go fast.
You had mentioned that you had seen a lot over your thirty-two years in the ER, like the AIDS epidemic.
That was a very hard time. I got there in ‘90 when it affected adults, teenagers, and children. And the drug epidemic was very high so most of the people getting it was either from drugs or from their partner or from blood transfusion. So that was kind of heavy.
How was it for your team to experience COVID over the last few years?
COVID was kind of heavy. Say, 70% of the new nurses did not experience the AIDS epidemic, so this was their first situation where they were overwhelmed. So you couldn’t say we experienced this already so this is just a second wave. The only person who could say that was the older people about to retire. It was like, okay, we went through the AIDS epidemic, we can handle this but this one was very heavy.