Business

For thousands, dedication to work outweighed storm’s obstacles

Despite howling winds and blinding snow, DeKayla Graham of Roxbury climbed into her tiny Toyota Yaris late Monday and again early Tuesday, creeping along barely plowed streets for 45 minutes. She didn’t have much choice: A 50-year-old quadriplegic woman needed her help.

Graham is a home care worker, a job that requires a level of commitment that often transcends take-home pay of about $20,000 to $30,000 a year. At the height of the blizzard she made her way to the client’s home, fixed her tea, lifted her into bed, and, perhaps most important, offered her companionship.

“She’s home by herself,” said Graham, 24. “I try to think like I’m in her position.”

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Graham is among the thousands of workers in Massachusetts — from health care professionals to grocery clerks — who, despite bitter cold, drifting snow, driving bans, and a closed transit system, found ways to get to their jobs. And do them.

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In some cases, once at work, they just stayed there. Richard Olden, a 47-year-old orderly from Dorchester, spent the past two days at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, making sure patients had clean linens and other supplies. Olden said he was looking forward to going home, maybe Wednesday.

“Hopefully tomorrow half of the crew should be going home, another group will be coming in,’’ he said. “I have family at home, but you gotta do what you gotta do.”

MacKenzie Bohlen, a physician assistant in the emergency department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, knew she had to get to work Tuesday so she chose the most reliable mode of transportation — cross-country skis. She and a friend on snowshoes navigated the snow-filled streets of Boston, carefully dodging plows. The 2-mile journey took an hour.

“It was definitely really windy and blustery out there,” Bohlen said. “I did get some funny looks. I felt like I should have a sign on that said, ‘I’m working, I’m not doing this for fun.’”

DeKayla Graham, a home health care worker, made sure her car was dug out so she could respond in case of an emergency.
Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff
DeKayla Graham, a home health care worker, made sure her car was dug out so she could respond in case of an emergency.
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Ben Lee, a pharmacy manager, left his home in Revere at 9 a.m., Tuesday, bound for CVS in Charlestown, slipping along snow-covered roads as his normal 10-minute commute grew to 40 minutes. But that wasn’t the end of it: When he arrived, snow blocked the entrance to the parking lot and, as he waited for a plow to clear the way, his car battery died.

He jumped the battery with a charger he carries in his trunk and got to the store, where they filled more than 100 prescriptions Tuesday, including one for a child with a bad case of the flu who urgently needed medicine.

“Stuff like that makes my job more meaningful,” Lee said.

Pamela Bell, another home care worker, knows what her job means to a 77-year-old client in a wheelchair, so on Monday night, Bell drove to and from her client’s home in Canton through the whipping snow.

“I was afraid,” said Bell, 54, of Brockton. “It was white-out conditions for a while, I couldn’t see and it was slippery down hills.”

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To get to her post as a nurse at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Jackie Hatton also did what everyone was warned not to do: She drove. The trip would have been 15 minutes on a normal day. In the middle of the storm, even in a four-wheel-drive Jeep, it took her an extra hour.

The roads were almost empty, except for police cars and plows. The visibility was terrible. “The top speed I went was 22 miles per hour,” Hatton said. But she made it, safe and sound.

David Vinson’s job is to provide a different kind of necessity: food.

He spent Monday night in a nearby hotel, then trudged a half-mile through snow drifts in the morning to help about a dozen workers open the Whole Foods in Charlestown.

“I really love snowstorms, said Vinson, 25, of Somerville. “I was born in Maine, so I was made for this stuff.”

Vincent Miller, meanwhile, is a home improvement contractor who, during storms like this one, transitions to offer snow removal for homeowners. He heads out anytime the snow tops 5 inches.

He left his home in Middleton at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning to clear a few homes on the North Shore. Then he went to Charlestown and worked on nearly a dozen more homes. His snow blower broke early in the day, so he and two other workers shoveled.

He planned to keep shoveling out his clients through the night. He provides an essential service, for sure, but that’s not the only motivation. “If I don’t work,” says Miller, “I lose money.”

Casey Ross and Priyanka Dayal McCluskey of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Megan Woolhouse can be reached at megan.woolhouse@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @megwoolhouse. Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com