How Surviving Covid-19 Put This Maintenance Worker on a Mission to Set Cleaning Standards for Students and Staff
Henry with his wife Beatriz
Henry was one of the first victims of the disease
“I just told God… make sure you look over my wife and son if you’re going to take me, you’re going to take care of them.”
Henry Plasencia, a Maintenance Worker at Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District reflects on the day his life was nearly taken by COVID-19 back in March 2020.
It was also back in March when the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
“Decisions had to be made between life and death for me, that’s why it is important to keep taking this virus seriously, even though the numbers are going down.”
Henry’s wife Beatriz convinced him to check into the hospital. “I figured I’d be back home in an hour, but they decided to keep me. They took x-rays on my lungs and chest, and my lungs were solid black.”
At this point, Henry did not know what any of it meant. He recalls the hospital staff getting quiet, a strange feeling he does not wish upon anyone.
“I’ll never forget the look that the staff gives you; the eyes that you see — you’ve never seen that before in your life… They’re seeing someone suffer and not knowing if they’re going to close their eyes for the rest of their life.”
That is when life completely stopped for Henry. As his symptoms began to worsen, reality started to kick in… Covid 19 is real, and it kills.
“I accepted that, and the nurses handed over my phone to call my wife, but the phone wasn’t working. My cell phone was at 1%. I had no contact with my family.”
Henry was alone in this “extra” nice room, where they offered him a variety of different foods. “It was almost like this was going to be my last meal… so many things began to cross my mind.”
As Henry began accepting his fate the phone started to work. He was able to speak to family and some close friends. But as he was talking to them, he was running out of breath. “I could no longer maintain the conversation. I was getting weaker. The hospital knew it. I knew it. And I said well, there is nothing I can do now and closed my eyes.”
Six weeks later Henry woke up from his coma, dazed and confused with many questions, “Where am I? How soon can I get back to my wife and son? When can I return to work?”
He said it felt like only two hours had passed by and the doctor was quickly trying to insert oxygen into his brain and lungs.
“I finally opened my eyes… I looked around and I realized I was alive again.”
Back to Work With a Mission to Combat Covid
On October 15, Henry was able to return to work and perform minor duties.
Although he has gone back to work and home to his family, Henry is still learning how to live his life after Covid. “I have to sleep on a lazy boy now because my heart rate can’t be high, I have to take more breaks, I can’t stand on a ladder, and physically I am still weak.”
Henry has been a maintenance worker for a decade, and he helps service two high schools, two middle schools, seven elementary schools, and one adult school.
His day starts with printing out work orders for different school sites.
During this pandemic, he has been working six days a week preparing schools to reopen safely, “I have installed hundreds of hand sanitizers and signs to ensure students stay six feet apart. I also work on building desks and shelves to keep our classrooms organized and assist plumbers, air conditioning crews, and electricians to make sure our schools are properly maintained and ventilated.”
According to Henry, the district has been very good at providing his crew with all the tools that are needed to get his job done, but the protective gear is not provided quickly enough. “N-95 masks are needed, and we often have to use 3-layer medical masks.”
There are areas where he feels additional staff would improve the ongoing maintenance of schools. “We need more staff to provide the crucial cleaning of classrooms, restrooms, meeting areas, and high traffic areas.”
Staff is needed to sanitize these areas and maintain them to prevent the spread of covid-19.
“Our custodial staff already had a full workload before this pandemic began and now it’s doubled, but there’s only so much they can do in the 8-hr. work shift.”
Henry says his maintenance department could use a full-time aquatic facility tech, a carpenter, and a second locksmith to address everyday issues that meet the demands of the facility.
“As frontline workers, we’re in the profession of learning and teaching and helping these students become the future of America. We need to come together, and I hope the district recognizes the challenges we face day-to-day to reassure parents that their children are learning in a safe and healthy environment.”